With each passing day and each Orioles win the team’s chances at actual playoff qualification are becoming more and more realistic. Given the previous decade and a half or so of Orioles baseball, as fans now find themselves on the precipice of the success that they’ve been pining for, it would seem almost a given that fans would be coming out in droves to see the spectacle that has become winning Orioles baseball. That however, at least until now, hasn’t been the case.
We’ve been talking for months, as the team continues to exceed any reasonable expectations, about when the fans could and would begin to truly “buy in” and when they’d back up that faith with their attendance at the ballpark. Yet here we sit, in the latter stages of a legitimate playoff chase, and still the ballpark sits empty.
Maybe it’s time we looked a little deeper at how we arrived here in order to understand how we can all begin to move forward.
In his Masterpiece “The Prince” Niccolo Machiavelli lays out some political ideals that have not only stood the test of time and that remain viable in modern political theory, but also may have given Orioles ownership the blueprint by which they’ve been operating throughout the Peter Angelos regime.
One of the most popular and debated Machiavellian questions arising from “The Price” is the question of whether it’s better to be loved or feared. Machiavelli suggests that while being loved is nice (I paraphrase), it is fear that stirs the hearts of men and keeps them in line. People will turn on those that they love when the going gets tough, but with fear comes the expectation of hardship, and that more than anything compelled by love will cause men to think twice before crossing their benevolent leaders.
During the early Angelos years, the owner operated the club like a fan would, bringing in high caliber baseball architects to build his club, giving them the authority and financial means to do their work and although at times still overbearing (rulers still have to remain the boss) Angelos, in comparison to previous regimes, was easy for fans to endorse and (dare I say?) love.
As the 1997 season wound down however and fans became disenchanted with the team, they weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure over everything from the crowds that now filled the stadium (wine and cheese) to the talent brought in to do the job (mercenaries). Fans complained about everything from the aging talent, to the misguided leadership of the club, to the seemingly preferential treatment given to Cal Ripken Jr. to the length of the speech that the owner gave on the night Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record. Love indeed didn’t keep the fans from turning (at least in word) on the team and its owner.
That love didn’t compel the fans either to consider the plight of the Orioles when the city gave a far cushier deal to the Browns to relocate to Baltimore and become the Ravens, it didn’t compel fans to stand together with Angelos in his battle against the teams cable outlet or against Major League Baseball to keep the Expos out of DC. The goodwill built by the owner, with the fans, didn’t seem to serve him at all once the going got tough for the Orioles. Nor did the goodwill built by the owner toward his players (in taking care of them financially and in standing by them during baseball’s strike/lockout or in siding with a star player during a battle with his manager) serve him well when other teams came waving bigger checks, better chances to win or opportunities to play with their family members.
Maybe the 1993-2000 chapters of Orioles baseball did prove to Angelos that it was better to be feared than to be loved. It also seems that it’s cheaper, easier and more profitable too.
At that time it also likely became apparent to Angelos that he’d have some dirty work to do, and that no matter how he elected to run the franchise from that point forward, there was little the fans, the city, the league or anyone else could do about it. Angelos could (and arguably did) tear down the magnificent franchise he had helped to build and polish and in the process remind fans that not only was he the boss, but also that whatever he decided to do, he could do, and that everyone would simply have to accept it. Angelos laid the groundwork for fear. The fear that he could and would run this franchise in any way that he saw fit, from a competitive standpoint that he could and would be willing to run them into the ground, and that those who didn’t like it had no recourse.