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Five years ago we did Free The Birds rally and I’m still proud of it

Posted on 20 September 2011 by Nestor Aparicio

There’s been plenty written about the Orioles demise and the AL East standings and the empty stands at Camden Yards speak for themselves as to what the Baltimore community feels the value of the baseball team is circa 2011.

The stadium is empty most nights. Fans stuck with tickets can’t find anyone to take them for free. The city has tumbleweed blowing down Pratt Street most nights when the Orioles play. The fan base is so angry, so disenfranchised, so beaten down and/or disillusioned that they’re literally all but gone.

It’s the Fall of 2011 — the most recent version of The Apocalypse for any lifelong Orioles baseball fan and baseball lover like me. With the tragic suicide of Mike Flanagan last month – and the subsequent tales of the trail of a broken baseball man who loved this city and the Baltimore Orioles more than words can express – the Orioles have clearly hit rock bottom.

Or have they?

Oh, I’ve now been hearing for well over a decade that “the Orioles have bottomed out.” Heck, Ken Rosenthal was writing that stuff 12 years ago when he was covering the Orioles for The Sun. I’m not sure any of us knew how far into the abyss this situation would go but “bottoming out?”

I’m not really sure any of us know where the bottom is anymore when it comes to the Orioles.

This cesspool of lies and shameless civic profiteering clearly has no signs of receding and why should it when losing is far more profitable than trying to win and the owner has no desire to really win a World Series.

And, apparently, the only “outspoken” and “honest” member of the community is, well – me.

And because I’m the only one who’s not a coward and willing to point out the gigantic orange elephant in the middle of downtown Baltimore, people will continue to write on the internet that “Aparicio hates the Orioles.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the Orioles. That’s why I fight for justice. That’s why I tell the truth. I’m the only one who writes this stuff. I’m the only one who cares enough to speak my mind. I’m the only one who challenges the king of Baltimore baseball, Peter G. Angelos.

So while Andy MacPhail came in here the summer after Free The Birds as “Vice President of Baseball Operations” and got four years worth of big paychecks every other Friday while the team never had a moment of relevance and has finished in last place each fall, he’s about to bow out and quit on this morbid experiment that was allegedly going return the Orioles to relevance by cutting payroll, increasing profit and lying to the media and the fans about the goals of the franchise.

After all, the team is serving hamburger and making $50 million per year in profit. So, then, why would Andy MacPhail and Peter Angelos ever conspire to serve you filet mignon?

Maybe the players on the field can’t pull up in the stretch like a lame horse but the fans of the Baltimore Orioles – even some of the most diehard and patient and former orange Kool Aid drinkers and baseball worshippers – pulled up a long time ago and moved on to other pursuits during the hot summers in Baltimore.

So, was I really wrong for shedding honest light on this issue five years ago when we did the “Free The Birds” rally on Sept. 21, 2006?

In the immortal words of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” you’re goddamned right I was right.

I’m proud of Free The Birds. I’m proud of what it stood for and as much as Peter Angelos thought it was some “personal attack,” it’s also pretty clear he never read any of the 19 chapters I wrote preceding the walkout where in 75,000 words I expressed why the Orioles were the love of my life and why everything I’ve ever done in my professional life can all be traced back to the first time I picked up a Wiffle ball and bat in Dundalk.

Here’s a link to 19 chapters worth of “Why Nestor Loves Baseball and The Orioles”…

To be honest, I spent that summer of 2006 in the midst of my own midlife questions and answers and I was struck then by how easy it was for many people to simply walk away from baseball and the Orioles and never come back. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was already getting pretty empty even back then but five years later it has been even harder for me to watch the fun and joy of doing sports media for a living be completely sucked out of me because of the way Angelos has treated virtually everyone in my life who loves the Orioles as well.

And then there’s the losing that chases Baltimore sports fans away from the only sport that matters in the spring and summer.

People in Baltimore simply don’t care about the Orioles anymore. In the heat of the summer, the Orioles are annually mired in last place amidst some more failed policies and cheap payrolls while Angelos sucks tens of millions of dollars from your wallet and every wallet in the state via your cable television bill.

A high-ranking person in the baseball community asked me last week if I really believed that if a change in ownership (he called it a “messiah”) were to appear in Baltimore that the “old Orioles” could be restored.

Honestly, given the price tag of skyboxes and box seats and the lack of sponsorship money in the marketplace, I’m not really sure. I do know that people could easily care about and follow a winner. I’m not sure if the Orioles will ever draw 3 million people again given the Washington Nationals proximity and the atrophy of the sport in Baltimore.

But my Free The Birds campaign was designed to bring awareness to the plight of the baseball franchise and the helplessness of the fan base of the Baltimore Orioles. It was designed to give a voice to the fans in the bleachers who were fed up with losing and lies from Angelos.

I feel there’s great value in what I did. And I feel like my words, en masse, have been the most relevant words written about the baseball team over the last decade.

Where is the journalism being done on behalf of Mike Flanagan and his family? Why is it that one of the team’s favorite sons – a former Cy Young winner who dedicated 38 years of his life to a franchise – would take a gun to his head on a Wednesday night in August 2011?

And where are the journalists to ask questions about how this could possibly happen and the circumstances that led to such desperation for a wonderful community man like Flanny?

And where is Angelos to answer questions about what the Orioles are doing for Flanagan’s family, who understandably are trying to digest and mourn and make sense of why a 38-year employee of the franchise and one of the most prominent athletes of our generation would take his life on a summer night in Baltimore County.

But this city is full of cowards. Cowards in the business community who won’t speak the truth. Cowards in the media – all with out-of-town, corporate management councils who seek to profit off of the Orioles at any cost and “journalists” who are as soft as the Pillsbury dough boy. And cowards in the political system, who are too eager to take a campaign contribution and look the other way as more than 2.5 million people have been chased out of downtown every summer over the last decade.

Shameful isn’t a strong enough word for what’s happened in Baltimore. It’s more like a civic tragedy.

I called them all cowards five years ago when I did Free The Birds. And I’ll call them cowards now because their ability to “take a check and cough” has led the Orioles and the downtown business community and any ancillary business (like mine at WNST.net) into the abyss with a baseball team that is guaranteed tens of millions of dollars in profit every year and contributes nothing to the quality of life of Baltimoreans who foot the bill for a greedy franchise that leeches off of the banner “sports” in a way that doesn’t bring any sense of pride to our community.

If you really think about it, the Orioles are a source of civic despair. Who in Baltimore wants to brag about a team that finishes in last place every year and seems to have a black could of tragedy and darkness follow it everywhere — from Steve Bechler to steroid scandals to the suicide of their Cy Young Award winner who went on to hold every role in the organization except manager.

And here’s the dirty little secret – there’s absolutely no incentive for Angelos to improve the team and have it compete. And, like Willy Wonka, he never seems to appear, answer questions or give clarity to the direction of the franchise.

The dirty little secret for this segment of MLB owners is very clear.

Here’s the new formula:

LOSING = PROFIT

And that’s a very, very difficult concept for most people to grasp because I can’t think of another line of work or a business in any sector where you can guarantee profit lines by serving the worst product in your industry.

Of course, I don’t know many companies that use their television network as a public utility to print money from every home from the state that subscribes to a cable television package.

Just like the folks at WBAL-AM, who call themselves the “news leader” who had people chanting “Free The Birds” repeatedly on their airwaves for an hour on Sept. 21, 2006 and never mentioned what the chants represented. And even then, Angelos stripped them of the radio rights and made them grovel before ditching CBS Radio last year to continue their cozy “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” style of journalism.

As I wrote in my 19 chapters in 2006, until more people in the Baltimore business community and political scene and what’s left of the “media” challenge these issues and ask hard questions, the Orioles will continue to profiteer, hide, dodge questions and accountability and inevitably finish in last place in the American League East Division.

I’m not passing the buck. It’s the fans of the Orioles and the citizens of the community who have given this franchise a hall pass and allowed and made excuses for how this team could be irrelevant for 14 years running.

If you want the truth, I believe that we get the baseball team that we deserve.

Tomorrow, on the 5th anniversary of our walkout, I will present a current state of the franchise and on Thursday we’ll look to the future to examine how the Orioles will ever become a relevant and/or beloved franchise again in Baltimore.

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O’s fall to Angels 9-3: Is Guthrie done in Baltimore?

Posted on 24 July 2011 by Peter Dilutis

BALTIMORE – On Sunday, the Orioles fell to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 9-3 in what amounted to yet another series loss for the Birds.

Jeremy Guthrie started the game and pitched seven innings in what Buck Showalter called “tough conditions,” likely referring to the heat, lack of defense, and questionable umpiring that Guthrie had to battle through during the game.

Guthrie gave up six hits in his seven innings of work, allowing three earned runs and four walks while striking out one.

After the game, Jeremy Guthrie was very short with reporters, expressing frustration over his most recent outing that went much like numerous others over his 4 1/2 seasons in Birdland.

“My stuff was better than my mound presence, absolutely,” Guthrie said. “I showed a lack of mound presence on the mound; how one reacts, how one responds.”

Guthrie was asked if he was frustrated by the circumstances surrounding his start, especially considering his offense failed to get him a fair amount of runs in yet another decent start by the right-hander.

“I’m just frustrated with my own job,” Guthrie said. “Don’t worry about things you can’t control. The things I can’t control don’t frustrate me as much.”

Of course, the elephant in the O’s clubhouse is the fact that Guthrie may not be making the flight back to Baltimore when the Birds return home on August 5th. When asked if he was thinking that this could be his last start in Baltimore, Guthrie responded with frustration.

“I don’t think so, but if it were, it was kind of a perfect microcosm of my career in Baltimore, if it happened to be that.”

When asked to expand on his comment, Guthrie responded “next question.”

Asked if he’s heard the rumors, Guthrie pointed the finger at the media for bringing them up so often.

“I only hear it because you guys bring it up every 3 1/2 minutes. Most players don’t hear the rumors, most players don’t know. I guess it’s exciting for everyone else to talk about it, so we hear about it through those avenues. They don’t call us players. I never got a call from another GM saying I’m being discussed.”

Guthrie’s teammates were also asked about the possibility of losing their staff ace.

“He’s here right now,” Adam Jones said. “Until he’s gone, or if he even gets dealt, I’ll address that then.”

Matt Wieters also commented on Guthrie’s importance to the Orioles.

“Guthrie’s big for us, we’re not going to think about that,” Wieters said. “We still consider Guthrie a guy that’s going to go out there every five days and give us a good outing. Since I’ve been here, he’s been able to go out there and eat up innings every year, eat up quality innings, and he’s been what the staff has needed.”

As Guthrie quipped as he ended his brief chat with the media…

“Good talk guys.”

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After Scott’s injury, Orioles should look even harder at trading Guthrie

Posted on 23 July 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With the trade deadline only a week away, the Orioles have a very difficult decision to make when it comes to the future of Jeremy Guthrie, who could be making his final start with the club at Camden Yards on Sunday afternoon.

Do you trade your most consistent pitcher — even with an ugly 4-13 record — and further destroy a starting rotation sporting a 7.88 earned run average over its last 23 games entering Saturday’s action? Or do you retain your lone veteran presence on a club still hoping to develop the likes of Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, and Brian Matusz and forgo any potential return of younger players for the future?

The trade winds have whispered Guthrie’s name for a few seasons now, but the Orioles ultimately viewed their de facto ace as more valuable to them than any other team trying to pluck him at the deadline. Despite a 42-61 record in five seasons with the Orioles, Guthrie has a career 4.10 ERA over that span, including three seasons in which he finished with an ERA below 3.85.

By no means should the Orioles simply send Guthrie to the first taker, but perhaps a look at the unfortunate case of Luke Scott should make president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail think long and hard about trading the 32-year-old pitcher. Scott was once again placed on the disabled list Saturday with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and will miss the rest of the season as he opts to either undergo surgery or go through a lengthy rehabilitation program.

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A year ago at this time, Scott was in the midst of becoming the team’s most valuable player when he hit 27 home runs and posted a .902 OPS. Instead of trading Scott at last year’s deadline or moving him in the offseason, the Orioles abstained and now face the decision of what to do with the 33-year-old power hitter in his final year of arbitration and making $6.4 million this season. While a team-friendly offer is within reason this winter, it would be unwise to offer arbitration and to pay Scott upwards of $7 million with his health being such an uncertainty at age 34 in 2012.

Instead of moving Scott — who has a .826 OPS in his four seasons in Baltimore — when they had the chance to get younger value in return, the Orioles now face the prospect of allowing a declining Scott to walk for nothing.

“My heart’s desire is I’m going to be here when the organization makes that turn to get back to where we need to be,” Scott said. “But that’s out of my hands. All I can do is just get ready for this challenge that’s coming up to get myself ready for next spring training and to bring to the table what I bring to the table when I’m healthy. The rest is the Orioles’ decision. The good Lord has control of my future, and my hope is it will be here.”

The comments are unsurprising and echo the thoughts of Guthrie whenever the pitcher’s been asked about his desire to remain with the Orioles amid trade rumors the last few seasons. The Stanford product has done everything asked of him and has always said the right things during his time in Baltimore, with very little in return in the way of run support and accolades.

However, Guthrie will also enter his final year of arbitration this winter after making $5.75 million in 2011. He will be 33 years old next season and will likely seek a three-year contract and relatively substantial dollars. With the Orioles mired in last place with a 40-57 record, does Guthrie really fit the profile of a pitcher who will still be productive by the time the club might — and that’s a major hypothetical at this point — be ready to compete?

It’s not smart to offer multi-year deals to 33-year-old pitchers when you’re not close to contending, which is where the Orioles will likely find themselves a year from now.

As tempting as it is to simply maintain the status quo — you know what you’re getting from Guthrie every fifth day — perhaps it’s time to grant him his release from baseball purgatory. There’s little doubt the right-hander could be of great help to a contender looking for an effective third or fourth starter. In return, the Orioles will hopefully fetch a player or two close to being ready to contribute at the major league level.

While no real fault of his own, Guthrie hasn’t made the Orioles a winner, and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon as he approaches his mid-30s. Failing to get good returns for productive older players has happened far too often over the last 14 years, and it’s really no excuse if you’re trying to eventually contend and not just concern yourself with being a .500 team the following season.

Are the Orioles worse without Guthrie in the immediate future? Yes.

Will Guthrie put them over the top if the Orioles find themselves on the cusp of being a contender? Doubtful.

As brutal as it might be to the current starting rotation should Guthrie be dealt, it’s far more painful watching Scott limp away from his 2011 season with the Orioles knowing the possibility of getting something for him is all but gone.

If the right opportunity arises — a fair trade for the pitcher’s services — MacPhail and the Orioles need to make a deal.

If they decide not to, I hope we’re not thinking back to this conversation again next summer.

And wondering what might have been had they decided to pull the trigger.

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Regardless of anything else, hold your chin high today

Posted on 04 April 2011 by Rex Snider

If your workplace is populated by a fairly representative group of baseball fans, there is a good chance supporters of the Yankees and Red Sox exist within it, right?

In fact, some local businesses are dominated by fans of the AL East’s most popular and successful franchises.

While some such souls are imports and understandably loyal to their HOMETOWN team, a substantial number of local Yankees and Red Sox “so called” faithful are natives of Baltimore, who committed to selling their souls and allegiance, years ago.

Some people can’t handle losing, so they start backing winning organizations, until …. those teams start losing. While the Yankees and Red Sox are both riding a wave of success in this latest era, nothing lasts forever – NOTHING.

For the Baltimoreans who traded in their orange – or for those who’ve never really worn it with pride and unconditional loyalty, God bless ’em …. they have just as much right walking into Camden Yards as anyone else …..

But, today, is NOT their day.

This is your day, BALTIMORE ORIOLES FAN.

If you’re fortunate in having an Opening Day experience at the ballpark awaiting your arrival, have a great time and enjoy the renewal of the greatest sport returning for another season. It’s going to be a warm and dry day for ushering in the home schedule.

However, if you’re among the greater contingent who must work today, seize this opportunity to hold your chin even higher as you walk past both the authentic and fabricated fans of the OTHER teams. Your co-workers who root for the Yankees and Red Sox will be waiting for you – but, don’t crumble !!!!

You’ll likely hear some negatively-spirited banter aimed at breaking the will of the weak-hearted. No problem …. you’ve made it through 13 years; there is nothing weak about you or your devotions. Just know you’re going to hear something like this:

“Yo, it’s just 3 games …. don’t print playoff tickets.”

To a point, they’re right. But, don’t allow yourself to cave. Take the high road and resolve yourself to knowing the Baltimore Orioles are a better, stronger organization than the product of just a mere six months ago.

Be optimistic.

While only 3 of 162 games have evaporated from the Orioles schedule, the team has displayed the very strengths of organizations that win with consistency; solid starting pitching and great defense.

Indeed, if the birds would’ve taken 2 of 3 against Tampa, with scores of 11-7 and 9-8, I would be a little less buoyed, this morning. But, they’re continuing a trend that arrived with 57 games remaining in last year’s schedule – they’re throwing strikes and converting fielding opportunities.

Are the Yankees and Red Sox still better, as we sit here on Opening Day, in Baltimore? Yes …. and throughout 162 games, the more talented teams emerge atop the division. But, this past weekend has delivered proof of some daunting realities:

Zach Britton and Chris Tillman possess big league potential.

Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis are different hitters with Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero behind them.

Matt Wieters is still maturing.

Can the wheels fall off this machine and a return to failure realized? Yes, because anything can happen. However, this Orioles team is now 60 games into a new era and some true consistencies are evidenced. They’re playing good, fundamental, disciplined baseball, and it’s refreshing to witness.

They’ve only played one series, but this Orioles team has that different, better swagger about it. No doubt, the Yankees and Red Sox will offer a more challenging and potentially punishing offensive perspective against this young pitching staff.

But, don’t allow their fans to squash your hopes and desires.

It’s Opening Day, in Baltimore. This is YOUR day …..

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Superb opening win for Guthrie, Orioles marred by Matusz injury

Posted on 01 April 2011 by Luke Jones

Even with an excellent on-field start to the 2011 season, the Orioles couldn’t escape a swift kick to the gut on Opening Night for the second straight year.

Jeremy Guthrie pitched eight shutout innings in a 4-1 win over star pitcher David Price and the Rays on Friday night, but the positive vibes dissipated quickly with the news of Brian Matusz being placed on the disabled list. A strained intercostal muscle will reportedly sideline the young lefty for three to six weeks, leaving a huge hole in the starting rotation.

Last year, it was Mike Gonzalez blowing a ninth-inning lead in a 4-3 loss to the Rays, but this year’s buzzkill may prove to be more costly. Chris Tillman will start in Matusz’s place Saturday while top pitching prospect Zach Britton will be called up to make his major league debut Sunday afternoon in the series finale.

The news ruined a perfect start to the season for the Orioles as Guthrie turned in one of the finest pitching performances of his career. Effectively using his off-speed pitches to keep Tampa Bay hitters guessing all night, the Orioles’ lone veteran starter allowed just four baserunners while striking out six before being lifted after throwing 94 pitches in eight innings. Guthrie attacked the strike zone aggressively, throwing first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 27 batters he faced.

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Despite the seemingly annual criticism for his de facto ace status and his not-so-impressive peripheral stats, Guthrie continues to prove doubters wrong. The soon-to-be 32-year-old picked up where he left off in the second half last season when he went 8-4 with a 2.76 earned run average in 14 starts.

Guthrie received all the run support he needed from the Orioles’ two longest-tenured position players, as Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis each drove in two runs. Markakis’ opposite-field single plated the first run of the game in the third, and Roberts’ two-run triple drove in Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy in the fifth. In one night, the Orioles quadrupled their run output against Price to that of a season ago when the power-throwing lefty allowed one run in 15 innings against Baltimore.

The only blemish on the field came when reliever Jim Johnson gave up a solo shot to Ben Zobrist on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth, ending the Orioles’ bid for a shutout. Johnson recovered to retire the next three batters to finish off the victory and erase the memory of Gonzalez’s collapse in the opening game a year ago.

If that had been the final newsworthy occurrence of the night, Orioles fans would be feeling just fine. It doesn’t count any more — or any less — than the next 161 games, but it sure feels good winning on Opening Day.

But reality sets in Saturday night with a big dark cloud hanging over the starting rotation.

A group already short on experience with veteran Justin Duchscherer starting the season on the disabled list will now look to Tillman and Britton — two young men who were vying for the fifth starter job in spring training — to match up against James Shields and Wade Davis, two stalwarts in the Tampa Bay rotation. Tillman’s struggles are well documented, and we’ve yet to see him come close to living up to the hype created by his impressive minor league numbers.

On the other hand, Britton’s debut creates much excitement due to his fantastic spring and being voted the club’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2010. History says the sinker-throwing lefty will face some bumps in the road before he figures it out in the big leagues, but his early promotion will definitely grab attention.

It will also start his service clock, something the Orioles were trying to avoid until later this month to maintain an extra year of control down the road.

We’ll see if the young pitchers are up to the challenge now that the headliner of the group is sidelined for the next month. Fortunately, there’s a far more potent lineup behind them this season.

Because it won’t be easy.

Make no mistake, Orioles fans can — and should — feel good about Friday night’s result. A win on Opening Day is good for the baseball soul, especially in Baltimore.

It’s just a shame it came with an all-too-familiar dose of bad news.

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Orioles in 2011: cautious optimism battles old “in-between” feeling

Posted on 26 March 2011 by Luke Jones

It’s been so long I can barely remember.

Any Baltimorean with a vested interest in the Orioles over the years can easily talk about 13 straight losing seasons and the misery accompanying his or her fandom for the better part of the last quarter-century. We all know about the disappointment and, even worse, the numbness it’s created in a city with a rich baseball heritage.

But really try to think back to the last time the Orioles were a legitimate, formidable threat in the American League East. Imagine yourself sitting in the next-to-last row in section 384 — because it was the only seat available in a sold-out Camden Yards — as you watched the first-place home team take on the Toronto Blue Jays or the Detroit Tigers or the Kansas City Royals in a midweek game in July. There were no promotional giveaways, no pomp and circumstance of a World Series team reunion, and no throwback uniforms.

There was nothing special about the game other than expecting the Orioles to win because they were better than the team they were facing. It was beautiful.

And it feels like a lifetime ago, or even a scene from an alternative universe, doesn’t it?

I was a freshman in high school when the Orioles completed a wire-to-wire run to the American League East title in 1997, their last appearance in the postseason and their last winning season. This summer I’ll attend my 10-year high school reunion.

At the time, Baltimore was a baseball town, with the infant Ravens playing their games at Memorial Stadium, still a few years away from captivating a city that now eats, sleeps, and breathes football season and Sundays in the fall at M&T Bank Stadium.

Fourteen years ago, as you sat in a packed ballpark watching Mike Mussina mow down an inferior opponent, you would have never dreamed the Orioles would become an afterthought, not just in the baseball world but in Baltimore itself. Of course, a sector of diehard fans has always remained, but it doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to interpret the fallout of a drop in attendance from 3.7 million in 1997 to 1.7 million in 2010.

Irrelevance.

For several years, I’ve equated being an Orioles fan to a bad marriage in which you’re hopelessly trapped for the rest of your life. You still love her unequivocally — many times wondering why — but haven’t felt that love returned in what feels like an eternity. It’s been so long, in fact, that you don’t remember if she ever really loved you at all. But you still hold on, waiting and hoping for things to change someday, because you’ve invested far too much in the relationship. You might even have kids involved — who have never enjoyed the fruits of that love.

It especially hasn’t been easy for fans of my generation and younger. Born two weeks before Cal Ripken snagged the last out of the 1983 World Series in Philadelphia, I grew up rooting for the Orioles in the shadow of their last championship.

With my dad working as an usher at Memorial Stadium, I attended 20 to 30 games a season, proudly wearing my Orioles gear (see below) despite the lean years of the mid- to late-1980s. The club had fallen on hard times, but the pride felt as a young fan was very much palpable, understanding how successful the team had been in recent history.

Dad

Sadly, other than the brief postseason runs of 1996 and 1997, fans of my generation have been unable to experience their own postseason memories as the idea of the “Oriole Way” continues to grow fainter every year. Much like we were cheated out of the NFL for much of our youth, the mystique of World Series baseball has continued to elude us as we’re now well into adulthood.

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Putting aside the reminiscing and hokey metaphors, I’m reminded of a quote from Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane of Moneyball fame. Considered a genius by many for the competitive teams he’s fielded in Oakland while working annually with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, Beane’s philosophy rings loudly as an indictment of the Orioles’ failures over the last 13 seasons.

“You’re either rebuilding for something special, or you’re on the verge of something special. To be in between is foolish.”

“In between” is exactly where the organization found itself for years, stuck in the purgatory between rebuilding completely and reloading halfheartedly. It’s the dangerous place that not only results in continued losing, but moves you no closer to where you want to be in the future.

Years of the Marty Cordovas and David Seguis and Omar Daals not only resulted in more losing, but did nothing to improve the team’s prospects for the future.

Thankfully, the organizaton has improved over the last five years, as a farm system that once went 20 years without producing an everyday position player (Cal Ripken in 1981 to Brian Roberts in 2001) has now produced a number of big-league ready players. The verdict is still out on the cavalry of young pitchers that has now mostly arrived in Baltimore and a couple more position players who have shown signs of promise — albeit inconsistently. However, even the loudest pessimists have to admit the current Orioles actually have a ceiling in which to grow unlike the many teams of the last 13 years that were merely putting fresh flowers on a coffin already six feed under.

President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has finally supplemented this young talent with short-term options in first baseman Derrek Lee and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, two veterans who bring a respected presence despite question marks over how much they have left. MacPhail traded for third baseman Mark Reynolds and shortstop J.J. Hardy in buy-low moves to upgrade the left side of the infield and didn’t surrender — with the modest exception of David Hernandez — any of the Orioles’ most-coveted arms in return.

The optimism is there for 2011 and rightfully so. The honeymoon for manager Buck Showalter is still going strong after guiding the Orioles to a 34-23 finish over the final two months of last season. He commands the respect as a field manager not seen in Baltimore since the Orioles hired Mike Hargrove in 2000. Showalter was the right man for the job, and it’s reasonable to expect he will get the most he can out of the men who will actually pitch, hit, and field this season. He’s clearly tried to create a swagger to eliminate the culture of losing that’s stricken the franchise for far too long.

But as the legendary Johnny Unitas once said (and Showalter would be the first to agree), “Talk is cheap. Let’s go play.”

The Orioles appear to have their best chance in a long time to break the 13-year drought, but the ultimate goal still lies ahead. A .500 season — or slightly better — is well and good until you think back to the real glory days of 1983 and before. You have to ask yourself a simple question:

Continued >>>

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Top 20 moments in Camden Yards history: No. 13

Posted on 23 March 2011 by Luke Jones

As we count down to the start of the 20th season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I take a look back at the top 20 moments in the history of the ballpark. Selected moments had to relate directly to the action on the field at the time. No orchestrated events such as World Series anniversary celebrations or Orioles Hall of Fame inductions were eligible.

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Previous selections:
20. Wieters’ debut
19. Nomo tosses the only no-hitter in Oriole Park history
18. Orioles rally from nine-run deficit against Boston
17. 30-3
16. Showalter takes the helm
15. Palmeiro homers in Oriole debut
14. Griffey’s Warehouse shot

13. Sparring with Seattle – June 6, 1993

The next choice on the list would easily top a list of the ugliest moments in Camden Yards history, but it’s a scene those in attendance will never forget.

After sleepwalking through the first two months of the season, the Orioles found themselves in sixth place and nine games out in the seven-team AL East when the Seattle Mariners came to town in early June. Baltimore took the first two games of the series and was thinking sweep with ace Mike Mussina taking the hill on a Sunday afternoon.

The Orioles got their sweep, but it came in the aftermath of one of the ugliest, longest brawls in big league history. After Seattle starter Chris Bosio had thrown behind Harold Reynolds and Mark McLemore earlier in the game, Mussina drilled Mariners catcher Bill Haselman — who had hit a home run earlier — in the top of the seventh, touching off a 20-minute brawl that resulted in eight ejections and the near-end of Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak.

brawl

Unlike the typical baseball brawl that amounts to plenty of jawing and halfhearted pushing, punches were thrown and the grappling continued at several different points after it looked like order had been restored. When the dust finally settled, Rick Sutcliffe, David Segui, and Alan Mills — who also landed a memorable punch on Darryl Strawberry during a fight in the Bronx five years later — were the three Orioles tossed while Seattle ejections included manager Lou Piniella along with Haselman, Bosio, Mackey Sasser, and Norm Charlton.

The Orioles won the game 5-2 as Mussina improved to 8-2 on his way to an All-Star selection. However, his season would soon be derailed by shoulder issues, posting a 6.37 earned run average in 13 starts following the brawl and spending a month on the disabled list later that summer.

The most significant footnote from the marathon scuffle was the injury sustained by Ripken, who twisted his right knee when his spikes got caught in the infield grass. He finished the game, but his marathon streak was in serious doubt the next morning when he woke up with severe pain and swelling in the knee. “It was the closest I’ve come to not playing,” he later said as he closed in on Lou Gehrig’s historic mark in 1995.

Ripken would play the next night, and his streak of 1,790 consecutive games at the time would continue for five more years. Instead of the melee bringing a nightmarish end to “The Streak,” it only added to the legend of Ripken’s tenacity.

The brawl also boosted the start of a hot streak for the Orioles, who were occasionally criticized as a passive group under Johnny Oates. Baltimore would win 16 of its next 19 games to climb back into the division race, but would ultimately finish the season in third place, 10 games behind eventual World Series champion Toronto.

Regardless of the black eyes it left on each organization — figuratively and literally — the temporary transformation of the Camden Yards diamond into the squared circle would become a benchmark for baseball’s ugliest brawls.

“It happens,” Oates said after the game. “It’s nothing to brag about. It’s not something you look forward to, but it’s part of the game.”

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Orioles FanFest brings optimism, but questions remain for 2011

Posted on 29 January 2011 by Luke Jones

Thousands of Orioles fans flocked to the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday to mentally thaw out from the recent snow and shift their attention to spring and another baseball season.

As is the case every year at this time, the optimistic superlatives were flying from every direction.

Buck Showalter received a standing ovation when introduced to the crowd, proving he’s still the toast of the town — at least in the baseball sense — after leading the Orioles to an uplifting 34-23 record in the final two months of 2010, avoiding the 100-loss mark for a team that appeared destined at the end of July to finish as the worst team in franchise history.

Second baseman Brian Roberts declared himself as healthy as he’s been in two years after missing over 100 games with an injured back and dealing with concussion symptoms that lasted until Christmas.

And numerous players and coaches spoke about the marked improvements in the lineup — and defensively — with the additions of veteran first baseman Derrek Lee, third baseman Mark Reynolds, and shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Some even reminded everyone the Orioles had the best record in the American League East over the season’s final two months and pointed to the lack of expectations, both locally and nationally, as an advantage for the upcoming season.

“That’s the best, to fly under the radar,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “Nobody knows what’s going on, but you’re steadily climbing and whipping people’s ass. That’s what I like.”

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The feel-good sentiments are easy to express this time of year, and while the team appears better on paper, doubts remain whether it’s enough improvement to make any tangible difference in the AL East standings where the Orioles, even after the strong finish under Showalter, finished 30 games behind division-winning Tampa Bay.

The signing of an aging Lee and the acquisitions of Hardy and the powerful yet strikeout-prone slugger Reynolds should be significant offensive upgrades over Ty Wigginton, Cesar Izturis (who remains as a utility player), and Josh Bell respectively, but critics point to the club’s failure to sign Victor Martinez and the halfhearted pursuit of Adam Dunn as ammunition that president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail (entering the final year of his current contract) is not doing nearly enough to narrow the gap in the rigid AL East.

In fact, much of the discussion at FanFest surrounded a player not even under contract — free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. MacPhail confirmed the club has made an offer to the soon-to-be 36-year-old slugger, but did not sound overly optimistic about reaching an agreement.

“I don’t really get the sense that he is close to [making a decision],” said MacPhail, who claims he’s already exceeded the projected payroll he and majority owner Peter Angelos envisioned at the end of last season. “I don’t know. We never really know exactly the extent of other clubs’ interest in other players, but I don’t get the sense they’re ready to do anything in the very near future.”

Regardless of whether Guerrero signs with the Orioles or spurns them again as he did seven years ago, the biggest factor in determining how much the club can build upon last season’s strong finish is the continued development of the starting rotation, which is projected to feature four of five starters under the age of 26 on Opening Day.

MacPhail maintained his interest in adding a veteran to the rotation, but the team’s success will be measured largely with the steps taken by Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman, Though Matusz’s red-hot finish to last season (7-1, 2.18 ERA in his final 11 starts) clearly headlines the group’s accomplishments, all have taken their lumps to varying degrees over the last two seasons.

Those growing pains must subside if the Orioles are to avoid a 14th consecutive losing season, regardless of how much the offense might improve.

“For us, the biggest key is still going to be our young pitchers, our young starters,” Roberts said. “Even with the [positional] acquisitions, those young guys are going to have to pitch well for us.”

The rotation, anchored by 31-year-old Jeremy Guthrie, will also need to adjust to a new pitching coach as Mark Connor replaces the popular Rick Kranitz. The 61-year-old spent 14 previous seasons under Showalter with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers, serving as pitching coach for 11 of those years.

Connor has wasted no time in getting to know his new pitching staff, watching hours of video from last season while picking out the nuances and makeup of each individual. He also spent time Friday evening getting better acquainted with his pitchers, with Matusz making the strongest impression by approaching the coach first and sitting down with him for nearly 30 minutes to discuss the craft.

“Young players are exciting,” Connor said. “I love working with young players. I’ve had staffs where I’ve had either five guys who were older than me or five guys who were 20. And it’s two different dynamics. It’s fun to watch the kids grow. It’s fun to be around kids that want to learn and don’t think they know it all, because none of us do. The key is going to be keeping these guys healthy really.”

Yes, the excitement was palpable on Saturday as coaches and players discussed what lies ahead and the hopes of continuing the late-season momentum created a year ago.

However, playing winning baseball when you’re already 30 games out is much different than starting fresh against the heavyweights of the division in April when nothing has been decided for anyone.

The Orioles are an improved team, but the measuring stick remains as high as ever.

“I don’t care about the other teams,” Showalter said. “I really don’t. I’m tired of the Red Sox, the Yankees, who cares? They’ll do whatever they do. What every other team did, that’s a given. I don’t care what their payroll is and who they acquired. We’ve got to take care of our business.”

Fighting words for sure, a major reason why fans have taken to the Orioles manager so quickly, but will they be enough when the snow melts, spring arrives, and those teams venture into town for real?

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As purple Festivus season is upon us, alas the real Grinch continues to be Peter G. Angelos

Posted on 24 December 2010 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s been 51 months now since the initial “Free The Birds” campaign that we launched at WNST.net in “Year Nine of The Black Cat” and motivated more than 2,000 other brave souls who said “enough is enough” to Peter Angelos and the losing and nasty ways of the Baltimore Orioles.

The holiday results are in yet again for another sad orange offseason and I’m feeling pretty confident — as is Las Vegas — that the Baltimore Orioles will not be a playoff team in 2011.

And the real reason the team won’t win this year is the same as last year and the year before that: they won’t (or can’t) spend all of the millions of dollars they have managed to extract from this community via their incredibly wealthy and lean “regional sports network” called MASN.

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We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in direct profit that was allegedly to be spent on improving the baseball team for the community to enjoy. But instead of the $150 million payrolls that were promised to “compete with the likes of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox,” that previously earmarked U.S. money donated by Middle Atlantic cable subscribers is in the pockets of Peter G. Angelos. Along with about $20 million more each year since Andy MacPhail took over in 2007 and slashed the payroll, bought off the local media and preached “young” to the fans while winking “cheap” at the owner that he just made a cool, clean profit for and shared in the financial windfall.

And like any other billionaire businessman without a soul for the pride of his own company and what it represents in the community, all of a sudden it’s very hard for any of them to part with “guaranteed money in the bank.” Especially when there’s no financial upside to giving the likes of Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre or Cliff Lee tens of millions of guaranteed money when winning is so far from being a reality in the AL East that even the once-prideful Angelos has clearly quit on trying to win for the fans of the Baltimore Orioles.

Adam LaRoche or Derrek Lee? This is what it’s come down to for the Orioles as Santa brings goodies and toys and playoff-caliber baseball elsewhere to even the likes of Milwaukee.

If you’re trying to be a .500 team signing the “leftovers” and “growing the arms” might be a strategy. But, really, is the bar a World Series title for Baltimore or is the bar set at being in third place and making $50 million in profit?

The Orioles are so grossly pathetic at this point that no credentialed Major League Baseball player with any other option this side of Pittsburgh will elect to come and play here. And the remaining few lost souls in the fan base are so desperate for any morsel of progress that they’ve even given Buck Showalter a hall pass for lying

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An Unfamiliar Role For the Orioles: “Spoiler” ….

Posted on 30 August 2010 by Rex Snider

As we reconvene for the start of another week, you can assume a few distinct guarantees on this beautiful summer morning …..

1) this is the final Monday of August ….

2) football season is just one day closer, and ….

3) for the first time in a LONG time, the Boston Red Sox flew into BWI during the wee hours of the morning, while wishing they could’ve been landing in the city of an easier punching bag, like Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle or Los Angeles.

Indeed, they’re not encountering one of the typical Baltimore Orioles lineups of the last decade. This scrappy bunch of players is the same core group that dropped 73 of its first 105 games. However, they’re now playing a better brand of baseball under the demand of Buck Showalter.

They’re still a marginal cast of characters. But, they now BELIEVE …..

And, that’s a dangerous pedigree for any opponent to accept.

A few months back, I listened to Curt Schilling’s view of the Orioles from a Red Sox perspective. He said “we looked at them as a break in the schedule.” “It was an opportunity to sweep a series and pad a divisional lead or cut a deficit.”

I don’t doubt Curt’s blunt and painful examination of what a series against the O’s meant to him and virtually any other member of the Red Sox or Yankees over the span of these last 13 years.

But, I do question whether Terry Francona’s current bunch feels that sense of confidence, as they’re holed up in the Inner Harbor Renaissance.

Probably, not.

For one, the Red Sox are beyond the simple description of a “walking wounded.” Count ’em …. Ellsbury, Cameron, Youkilis, Dice-K, Pedroia and Varitek. They’re all injured and out of the lineup.

But, of equal importance, this Orioles team will not furnish the typical accomodations accustomed to a visting Red Sox team – or any other visitor for that matter. The days of laying down and simply pulling up the skirt are done.

Dave Trembley tolerated such an effort. So did Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo, Mike Hargrove and other field generals.

As we’ve learned over the last month, Buck Showalter will not accept anything close to resembling a half-hearted fight. One month does not make a season. But, such a relevant timespan can offer a vivid view of what’s expected from the team’s leader.

And, that’s the difference.

The Red Sox will have a spirited spat on their hands when the series commences tomorrow evening. Terry Francona knows that, and he’ll surely remind his patched together contender before they ever hit the field.

While this Boston team is assembled of a couple 4A players, like Darnell McDonald and Bill Hall, they’re still anchored by the likes of Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett. They’re a more talented team than the Orioles, no question about it.

And, in some distinct ways, the Red Sox have played the same brand of overachieving baseball during the month of August. Some of their best young stars are done for the season. Yet, they’ve found a way to stay in contention with Tampa and New York.

That said, the fight might be nearly over.

After dropping two straight games at the ‘Trop, the Red Sox cannot afford to waltz into Camden Yards and get stung by the same surprising effort that shocked the White Sox, Angels and Rangers over these last 30 days.

Anything less than a sweep will further damage any chance of a miraculous return of postseason baseball at Fenway.

But, the Orioles will not resemble that same easy target described by Schilling. Not a chance …..

And, therein lies the opportunity for this 2010 Baltimore Orioles team, as October approaches and the Ravens assume nearly every single headline. The Orioles have a chance to play meaningful games in the realm of Major League Baseball’s immediate future.

They’ll get plenty of shots at the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees. They can have a VOICE in what happens in the A.L. East and ultimately, the playoffs and World Series.

I’ll concede it doesn’t equate into Camden Yards serving as the backdrop for baseball on chilly, October nights. But, it’s a start ….

The Orioles have a true opportunity to affect the finish in baseball’s most revered division. Yeah, the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees have experienced dogfights in the past, and they’ve all played the Orioles during the final weeks of the season.

But, this is different.

It’s a totally different Orioles team. For the first time in a LONG time, they’re led by a guy who won’t back down from bullies or settle for the “sure thing in the backseat of your car” effort. It ain’t happening …..

I’m actually looking forward to the final month of the season, and it begins tomorrow night.

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