I’ve already used both space on Twitter (@WNST, @GlennClarkWNST) and on AM1570 WNST.net to opine about the significance of the Baltimore Orioles giving CF Adam Jones the richest contract in franchise history.
We now finally know all of the details and Jones is set to discuss those details Sunday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
I won’t be attending Sunday’s press conference. I would, but our WNST.net Ballpark reporter Luke Jones has been denied the right to ask questions at previous press conferences and I don’t want to run the risk of causing a scene at what should almost certainly be a day of celebration.
Adam Jones’ contract extension is as much an event to celebrate as almost anything we’ve seen in the last 15 years of baseball in Charm City. The Birds have perhaps addressed both their present and their future and made a major statement about their willingness to do things differently than they have for more than decade while losing many more games than they won.
I’m aware Jones perhaps took a hometown discount in signing the contract a season and a half shy of free agency. I’m aware the team still appears to need more pitching than they currently have to be an annual contender. I’m aware that the team now needs to shift attention to catcher Matt Wieters when it comes to contracts.
There was something bigger than jumped out at me though.
As I was given more time to dissect what Jones’ deal really means, I thought back to December 1997. For O’s fans around my age, Brady Anderson was about the coolest thing to ever happen to the Orange & Black. He had young female fans worship him and young male fans…well…basically worship him. He had it all. Sideburns, muscles, personality, charm, speed, defense and an amazing 50 home run season.
(I didn’t mention anything about performance enhancing drugs. You do what you want there.)
After Anderson’s 50 home run campaign in 1996 and the Orioles’ run to the ALCS in ’97, young fans like myself lived in fear of waking up one morning to be informed that Anderson had signed a major deal with the New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians.
Anderson was certainly not the commodity at 34 that Jones would have been had he reached free agency at 28, but he still had market interest. He ultimately passed on shorter deals with more per season to accept five years and $31 million from Peter Angelos and the Orioles. Anderson’s best seasons were clearly behind him, but it still meant quite a bit for the franchise to make the move.
I also thought back to January of 2009, when Andy MacPhail locked up OF Nick Markakis for six years and $66 million, the richest contract extension the franchise had given to a player until Jones’ deal. (SS Miguel Tejada had received the overall most lucrative contract in team history until Jones.) While certainly not reaching superstar status, Markakis has given the Birds stellar defense and a mostly consistent bat.
But beyond the significant contracts, there is a more important similarity between the two players whose time has spanned much of the team’s “Rock Bottom Era.” The issue is that neither player was able to use his major contract to help keep the team accountable.
A baseball player with a rich contract is in a unique situation with the franchise paying the deal. Because the money is guaranteed, the player has the right to get away with certain things a player in another league might not be able to. In the case of the Orioles, they’ve really needed a player who has been willing to stand up and say “we need better” as the team suffered through losing seasons after losing season.
Allow me to be fair to the two players involved. Anderson was only part of the club at the very beginning of their lean years, and the team was still making at least some attempts to improve by bringing in the likes of Albert Belle and others. (Anderson however has become a well known defender of the Angelos regime in recent years, which has helped him find his way back into the organization.) Markakis has never been much of a vocal type, but he did publicly question the direction of the organization. His participated in a dinner with Angelos that season to discuss those very issues.
Perhaps there is an argument to be made that Markakis’ 2010 outburst DID lead to accountability, as two years later the Orioles have shown themselves (at least for two months) to be one of the better teams in baseball.
But moving forward, I hope it’s a role that suits Jones well. I hope the fire, drive, passion and determination to win that have made Jones an emotional figure in recent years will translate both on field and off. I hope that if the Birds make questionable decisions, he’ll call them out for them. It doesn’t need to be something he does publicly, just a statement made privately from the player slated to receive more money during his tenure than any Oriole before.
I hope Jones embraces not only the responsibilities of an on field leader and star, but as a bit of a caretaker for an organization that has so desperately lacked the right man for the role. I hope he puts pressure on the organization to make the moves necessary to stay in contention every season. I hope he never takes the easy way out and thinks “Mr. Angelos (or insert future owner’s name here) has made me a rich man. It’s not my place to stand up to him.”
I feel as though Jones can be a significant part of the solution for the Orioles. I hope he’s up for everything that comes along with the task.