“Where have you gone, Frank Robinson? Bird nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo woo woo).” Everybody sing it with me. Ok, Ok, It is a good thing this blog is the written word; because if you heard me sing you probably wouldn’t stay around for the rest of it.
I did take some poetic license with this classic Simon and Garfunkel song; however it is so après pros. This will be the most important off season for the Orioles for a long, long time. In fact, it is not a stretch to say this might be the most important off season ever for our Birds of Baltimore, and number one on the off season agenda for Andy McPhail should be to find this generation’s Frank Robinson.
Now I am not some old coot that waxes nostalgic about days gone bye; however, after watching the Orioles play this summer it is so clear that the team needs some direction. More importantly it needs someone who can change the team’s direction. It is a tactic that the Baltimore Orioles have employed on more then one occasion. No one can argue with the success that was born of the Frank Robinson trade. In 1965, the Orioles acquired the Hall of Famer in exchange for the pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and the outfielder Dick Simpson. The Orioles also tried the same approach with the pitching staff when they signed Rick Sutcliffe to shepherd a young pitching staff in 1992.
It has been 12 years since we have seen meaningful baseball for our baseball team. There are a myriad of reasons for this decade of deficiency; all of which I am not going to recount here. But there is good news. We have some very good young position players and pitchers. That is not Baltimore Oriole hype as in years past it is true. Matt Weiters and Adam Jones are superstars in waiting. Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis are going to be very, very good players for a long time here. The pitching staff has touted Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz for a couple years now and we are finally starting to see the fruits of their labor. But the most encouraging pitching sign has been the development and success of the 2nd tier prospects, like Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez. Simply put, Bergeson has been the best pitcher for the Orioles in 2009 and Hernandez has been a tenacious bulldog when he takes the mound.
It is also clear that the Orioles have a plan and direction which has been lacking for quite sometime. Andy McPhail was hired a little over 2 years ago by Peter Angelos, and while it is clear that he has a mandate to turn this franchise around; what is also becoming clear is that he has the power and the juice to make this transformation based on his blueprint. I make this conclusion because we hear less and less regarding the involvement in the baseball operations of any of the Angelos triumvirate. I have no problem with ownership setting the parameters with which the front office must work within. It then becomes the General Manager’s job to set the course to be successful within those parameters. Andy McPhail’s mantra has been, “grow the arms, buy the bats.” I would like to amend that mantra to read, “grow the arms, buy the bats, teach them how to win.”
So Mr. McPhail, it is now time to buy the bat that teaches these kids how to win. It also wouldn’t hurt to buy a veteran pitcher to teach these kids how to maximize their considerable talents. You could make the argument that, teaching a team how to win should be the manager’s job. I would argue that the manager’s job is putting his team in a position to win. Again we could debate the merits of the managing job that Dave Trembley has done; however I think I will save that for another time. Suffice it to say, the outcome of a pitching change or a pinch hitter is viewed by the fans with an eye toward the result of that particular substitution. The manager can make the right decision, but if the new pitcher gives up the winning hit, or the pinch hitter looks at a called third strike, that particular decision, even if it is supported by solid statistics, becomes skewed in the eyes of the fans. I cannot blame Trembley for that.
Where I do fault Trembley is the apparent disconnect he has with his veteran players. Whether it is player indifference, base running mistakes, mental errors in the field or failure to move a runner over in a key situation; I have to assume that a major league manager has addressed these repeated errors with his team, and if he has, the players don’t care about taking corrective action or they are apathetic to what the manager is saying. In either case, the message is not getting through. There is no accountability on the part of the players and no fear of reprisal from the manager. That is a dangerous clubhouse in which the youngsters need to learn.
So, if the manager cannot hold the players accountable, the players need to police themselves. There is no one on this team that has the personality, pedigree or resume to pull this off. In fact, in this era of steroid ball and mercenary players, I don’t think there are many players left out there who take pride in playing the game the right way or playing the game with a fiery passion. Long gone are the Frank Robinson’s, the Thurman Munson’s or the Nolan Ryan’s. While this task won’t be easy it is one that the Baltimore Oriole organization must undertake and one in which it must be successful.
So Mr. McPhail study hard, do your homework and bring us our leader at whatever price is necessary to land that player. Grow the arms, buy the bat that teaches this team how to win.