Why does Andy McPhail get a pass? –updated

June 09, 2009 | Keith Melchior

In about 11 days, it will be 2 years since Andy McPhail was hired by Peter Angelos to run the Baltimore Orioles.  In those 2 years, McPhail has pulled off maybe 2 or 3 decent trades and made a few moves that may solidify the Orioles for the next several years. He promised a bright future here in Baltimore because of the retooling of the farm system. “..grow the arms and buy the bats,”  I think was one quote.

Since the 1-0 win last week in Seattle last Monday, the arms are growing tired, the bats are sleeping, and the patience level is dropping as we approach July and the opening of the NFL Ravens’ training camp.

So why are people willing to give McPhail a pass during his first 2 seasons here?

The Orioles have been a trainwreck since 1998. Manager after manager tried to follow the success of Davey Johnson, but all failed miserably. Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Lee Mazilli, Sam Perlozzo and Dave Trembley all had opportunities to right the ship and build and motivate the players they were given, but the train could not get back on the right track. On June 18,2007 Sam Perlozzo was dismissed as Oriole manager and bench coach Dave Trembley took over. Two days later, Angelos hired Andy McPhail as President of Baseball Operations (a fancy schmancy word for General Manager) and Mike Flanagan was suddenly MIA, not that Flanagan did that great of a job to begin with. What a great hiring this was. McPhail has been successful everywhere he’s been.

Has he?  In who’s opinion? What constitutes success by this days standards in major league baseball?  Look at the 2 teams he was with before joining the Orioles. The Minnesota Twins andChicago Cubs. Both were in what was considered to be weak divisions, although St Louis, Houston, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago White Sox may dispute that claim. Nothing matched up with the powerful AL East and West teams in the 90′s, while the Braves, Giants and Dodgers dominated the NL East and West for quite a few years.

McPhail had a decent resume, which included winning 2 world titles with the Minnesota Twins in 1987 and 1991. In 1987 the Twins won the west with a record of 85-77, which isn’t exactly Earth shattering. In 1991 they won 95 games  after 2 sub-.500 seasons. On the championship teams, McPhail had players like Chuck Knoblauch, Brian Harper, Shane Mack, Tom Brunansky, Roy Smalley, Dan Gladden, Greg Gagne, Chili Davis,Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Scott Erickson, Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, Frank Viola, Jeff Reardon, Bert Blyleven, and Jack Morris. Manager Tom Kelly was there for both championships and the Twins averaged 83 wins over a 7 year span and topped the 90 win mark 3 times. Both times they made the playoffs, they won the World Series, both times in 7 games over Atlanta (the Buffalo Bills of MLB) The only consistent person with the Twins since 1986 is farm director Jim Rantz

McPhail moved onto the Cubs in 1994 and was there until 2006. He was GM for parts of 3 seasons ,July 2000 thru July 2002, and the Cubs never finished higher than 3rd.  In 12 years, his Cubs finished as high as 2nd place two times, made the playoffs both of those times, (1998 and 2003) were below .500 in 8 of those 12 seasons and hit 90 wins only once.  The Cubs had 5 managers during  McPhail’s reign. McPhail had players like Sammy Sosa, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, Ryne Sandberg, Steve Trachsel, Jaime Navarro, Turk Wendell, Randy Myers, Terry Mulholland, Kevin Tapani, Lance Johnson, Henry Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez. Their two highly touted pitching phenoms, Kerry Wood and  Mark Prior turned in more time on the DL than in regular games, yet they stuck with those 2 year after year.

So McPhail was associated with 2 teams that made the playoffs a combined 4 times in 20 years and his teams finished below .500  12 times. Now he is with the Orioles and the team will again be below .500 for his 3rd season. So, in 23 seasons, teams that McPhail had been in charge of have been ABOVE .500 a total of 8 times or, for you stats guys,  that’s 34% of the time.

To me, those statistics are not exactly a sign of being successful.  Is success measured by mediocrity? How long will people put up with this? The Orioles cannot afford to be mediocre for very long. You see the signs of their sub-mediocrity in ths stands game after game. There are flashes of a promising season with a hot 6-2 start,  5 wins in a row 2 weeks ago to pull within a few games of .500, followed by a meltdown of 5 losses in a row on a west coast trip. The 2 high priced players, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis are slumping badly, veteran Melvin Mora is suffering a power outage and has become a singles hitter, Aubrey Huff is slumping, the pitching has been terrible, and about 10 days into his major league career highly touted rookie savior, Matt Wieters, is hitting .154 with no HR’s or RBI’s.  Remember when people, including myself, were clamoring that Wieters should have been here since day 1?  Now, I hear some people saying he should not have been called up in the first place.

I think very few people realize that since 1983 after they won the World Series, the Orioles have only been ABOVE .500 7 times in 26 seasons or 26,9%. From 1963 to 1983, they were above .500  in 20 of 21 seasons or 95.2% (including  16 years in a row from 1968 to 1983,  along with 8 trips to the post-season and 6 trips to the World Series. That’s quite a turnaround. Contrary to popular belief, the failure of the team over the last 26 years is not ENTIRELY Peter Angelos fault, although the term, “what have you done for me lately”, comes into play over the last 16 or so years.

Based on those numbers alone, fans aged 30 or younger do not know what winning Oriole’s baseball is all about, which I guess is why a majority of the young fans are so willing to be patient and see what develops over the next few years with McPhail at the helm. The older generation of Oriole fans is obviously frustrated at the demise of a franchise that was considered to be one of the best for nearly 30 years.

Over the next 3 or 4 years, if all those young pitchers don’t work out, if Matt Wieters doesn’t develop into that franchise player, if Adam Jones and Nick Markakis don’t turn out to be All-Stars, if the ownership doesn’t spend any money to get some proven GOOD veteran players and continues to bring retreads into the fold, what will happen to the fan base and the future of the Baltimore Orioles?

If mediocrity is achieved, will you still continue to give Andy McPhail a pass?

(Addendum – KM..340pm)  I want to clear up some confusion from people who wear the orange colored glasses and are drinking the orange kool-ade and seem to think that anyone who questions the Orioles is a “hater” I am NOT a hater of the Orioles. I want them to progress and win. Look at the above paragraphs about their winning from 1963 to 1983…That was during my childhood. That was when kids were playing baseball all over the place. Go by ANY open field and you saw kids playing baseball all day, every day. THAT was excitement over baseball. THAT type of excitement hasn’t been around Baltimore since 1983 because the team has been less than mediocre for a majority of those years since. Statistics and records don’t lie. People under 30 accept mediocrity simply because kids don’t play baseball anymore like they used to.

I realize Andy McPhail arrived here with a plan to build from the farm system up. I am all for it, because the Orioles had no viable future plans since 1988. The future hope for this franchise is all on McPhail’s shoulders at this point.  He set the wheels in motion. The rest is up to the young players and the men who will coach them throughout their careers. The Twins proved you don’t have to spend big money to win championships, but they haven’t won anything else in 18 years.  The Cubs haven’t won since World War 2.  Plans only work when the parts all fit well and work well together as a cohesive unit. 

After the Ravens went 5-11 in 2007 after the magical 13-3 season in 2006, people were ready to run Ozzie Newsome out of town. Ozzie is still here and  Brian Billick was let go instead. Ozzie proved himself to be a top-notch GM. McPhail came here touted as a top-notch GM.  If McPhail gets all those pieces together and they fail, who will be to blame, McPhail or-  insert manager here- ? 

 How many years of being a plus .500 team will it take to make people care about the Orioles they way they used to?  Will you be satisfied with roller coaster seasons, good one year, bad the next and continue the up and down trend?  Will you be happy if the Orioles turn out like the Twins and Cubs? What will it take to make you happy about the Orioles in the long term?  Will just being a plus .500 team that finishes in 2nd or 3rd place for 5 to 7 years do it for you?

I am not a fan of having all the rookie pitchers here at the same time. There are 3 here now, but there is no proven veteran pitching leadership presence to teach them. Jeremy Guthrie needs to work on his own game plus he isn’t that far into his career himself, so he has no time to devote to any of those guys. Jim Palmer had guys like Tom Phoebus, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson to learn from. Mike Boddicker, Bill Swaggerty, and Storm Davis learned from Palmer, Scott McGregor, and Mike Flanagan. Other than pitching coach Ray Miller, I can’t even remember who was around when Mike Mussina came up. Scott Erickson maybe? I’m not even sure Miller was here at the time. 

 Who is here to mentor Bergesen, Berken and Hernandez? Do you think  George Sherrill, Danys Baez, Mark Hendrickson and Rich Hill are qualified to teach those guys the right way to pitch?  In a few years, who will be here to mentor Matusz, Tillman and Arietta?  Is the plan to just throw them in there and let them go? I hope not.

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