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Davis problem growing even more uncomfortable in Orioles rebuild

Posted on 08 April 2019 by Luke Jones

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis hit one “right on the screws” in the eighth inning of Saturday’s loss, as manager Brandon Hyde described it.

After quickly falling behind 0-2, Davis fouled off two mid-90s fastballs from New York Yankees reliever Chad Green and took two pitches to work the count even. It was a competitive at-bat that ended with him making hard contact, regardless of the unsuccessful outcome.

That we’re breaking down a routine grounder to the first baseman in the eighth game of the season, however, illustrates how extraordinary this problem has become with someone in the midst of a seven-year, $161 million contract running through 2022. Davis concluded Sunday hitless in his first 27 plate appearances of 2019 and is now 0-for-44 since collecting his last hit last Sept. 14. That leaves him two at-bats shy of the longest hitless streak by a non-pitcher in major league history, set by Eugenio Velez from 2010-11.

But this story is no longer about futility records or punchlines, though they will certainly persist in the foreseeable future. This isn’t a “slump” or something easily explained by the simplistic theories we’ve all heard or discussed at times, ranging from the effects of infield shifting to the aftermath of Davis’ 2014 suspension for Adderall use. It isn’t a debate about whether fans paying big-league prices should boo their own players, though we do need to remember this is still a human being when the criticisms turn too personal.

This situation grows more uncomfortable by the day with Davis’ historic fall from being a useful major league player contrasting with an Orioles club focused solely on the future. That was never more evident than in the home opener when Davis struck out three times — the boos intensifying with each one — and was replaced by Hanser Alberto in his final scheduled at-bat. The utility infielder sporting a career .489 on-base plus slugging percentage — worse than Davis’ .539 mark last year — received a rousing ovation simply because he was someone else stepping to the plate.

Even the loudest critics of the Davis contract three years ago never predicted it going this poorly this soon, but to continue this partnership much longer in its current state is unfair to virtually everyone involved.

With Davis still owed more than $100 million when accounting for deferred money, the hope was a new analytic-minded front office and coaching staff might be able to help him make the adjustments to become a passable major leaguer again like he was as late as 2017. In 44 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League against various levels of pitching, however, Davis batted .189 with three home runs and 19 strikeouts. So far, he’s struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances in the regular season.

Manager Brandon Hyde continues preaching patience and is doing his best to note positives, but it’s evident the new regime is already handling Davis differently as he batted seventh, was benched against two lefty starters, and was pinch-hit for two other times over the first nine games. The 33-year-old didn’t start on Saturday despite owning nearly twice as many career homers as the entire Baltimore starting lineup combined.

“Chris is on the team, and we’re going to support Chris like I support everybody else,” Hyde said. “I feel like I have a really good relationship with Chris and I’m behind Chris. I know our coaching staff is as well, and I couldn’t be happier for what he’s put in so far this year and how he’s gone about his business. It just hasn’t happened yet. From spring training, he really has been focused to improve. He’s been a team guy, done unbelievable in defensive drills, has worked really good with the hitting coaches. He’s been present every single day and is a nice voice in our clubhouse. He’s just off to a slow start. And I’m going to support him, and I’m not going to stop supporting him. He’s one of 25 guys that I’m going to be positive with, and I want to believe he’s going to turn it around.”

As much as general manager Mike Elias and Hyde wanted to take a clean-slate approach with incumbents and wouldn’t draw any conclusions based solely on 27 plate appearances so far this season, no one can ignore Davis’ rapid decline since 2016. Even breaking the nightmare body of work into smaller pieces for signs of short-term success, Davis hasn’t produced a single month with an OPS above .800 since May of 2017. The last time he produced an OPS above .750 — a decent mark at best — was August of 2017. Since then, his best month has been a .695 OPS last July that was buoyed by six home runs and still accompanied by a .169 average.

So far in 2019, Davis is striking out more frequently than ever, making less contact than ever, and swinging less frequently than ever. Small sample sizes, yes, but part of a much larger historic decline showing no evidence of changing course for the better.

That brings us to ownership and what the endgame is with Davis remaining on a rebuilding club at this point. Even if he magically rediscovers his stroke, there isn’t a single club who would take as much as a phone call about a trade involving Davis, and his contract will be expiring right around the time the Orioles realistically hope to be competitive again. Hyde’s comments reflect favorably on Davis’ character, but it’s a hard sell to get anyone to buy into what the Orioles are doing for the long haul if Davis continues to play and remains on the roster without substantial improvement sooner than later. You can only imagine how such intense failure impacts any individual and their personality, leaving one to wonder if that would be the healthiest environment for younger players trying to find their way.

The greatest of cynics might even suggest this situation could become a game of “chicken” in which the Orioles hope Davis will grow so despondent and humiliated from failure that he’ll quit, which would allow the organization to recover money. But remember we’re talking about a human being — albeit a highly-paid one — whom the Orioles were never forced to sign to a guaranteed contract three years ago. Davis is far from perfect and deserves great criticism for his play, but you don’t get to the point he did in his career without caring about your craft, even if not always taking the proper steps.

As various theories will continue to be discussed, it becomes more likely that his once-impressive talents simply aren’t there anymore, especially if a front office with new information and technology and a new coaching staff with fresh eyes and ideas can’t help him make any improvement. To deliberately prolong that reality in hopes of “breaking” him would be wrong.

Ultimately, this is a decision falling at the feet of Louis and John Angelos as there isn’t a general manager in professional sports who’d be able to jettison a player still owed nine figures without ownership’s approval. The Angelos sons made excellent hires in luring Elias and analytics guru Sig Mejdal away from Houston, but their next test will be how much longer they allow the Davis saga to play out.

The organization having the conviction to want to give him a little more time in a new season to try to figure it out is fine, but his start makes the need for a long-term plan and exit strategy that much more urgent, especially with legitimate prospect Ryan Mountcastle now playing first base at Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles shifting Trey Mancini to a corner outfield spot these last couple of years is one thing, but Davis also hindering Mountcastle’s development would add organizational malpractice to an already-painful sunk cost.

Whether a long-term stint on the injured list for Davis to try to rebuild his swing in Sarasota or an outright release by a certain date is in the cards, the Orioles can no longer just sit back and assume — or even pray — this will get better.

How fans already being asked to endure a lengthy rebuild reacted in the first home game of the season made it evident how uncomfortable this has become for everyone.

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Nine questions on the 2019 Orioles entering the season

Posted on 27 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With a new season upon us, here are nine questions on the rebuilding Orioles entering the 2019 campaign:

Will the Orioles be even worse than last year?

Their 115 losses last season set a club record and were the fourth most in the majors since 1900, but the Orioles now begin 2019 without Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach, who all began 2018 with the organization and made meaningful contributions to previous playoff runs. Of the four other clubs to lose 115 games in a season since 1900, all won at least 11 more games the following year and only the 1962 Mets suffered triple-digit losses again. In other words, the probability of the Orioles plummeting to the same level of ineptitude remains low with many projection models forecasting somewhere between 98 and 105 losses. Still, looking at that Opening Day roster reminds you of those early scenes in Major League, doesn’t it?

How will manager Brandon Hyde handle his first season?

The former Chicago Cubs bench coach received positive reviews in his first spring camp for creating an upbeat and efficient working environment, but now the games count and the dark shadow of losing lingers. No one expects Hyde to be a miracle worker with a club that wasn’t constructed with any intention to contend, but how he handles a young clubhouse and how hard players compete on a nightly basis will reflect on his managing acumen more so than the AL East standings. The 45-year-old knew what he was getting into when he accepted this job in December and understands the organization’s focus on the big picture, but the reality of a long season is upon him. No matter how ugly it might get, the Orioles still have to show up and play the games.

Who will begin — or continue to — establish himself as a piece for the long run?

The late-spring demotions of catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Austin Hays, and lefty reliever Tanner Scott took much of the air out of this balloon for fans desperate to at least watch interesting prospects in what’s expected to be a losing season, but Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins certainly stand out on a 25-man roster consisting mostly of fringe placeholders and veterans likely to be long gone before Baltimore’s next competitive window opens. With so many changes over the last year, we forget Mancini has just two full seasons under his belt as he tries to find more consistency after a rough first half in 2018. Meanwhile, Mullins opens 2019 as the starting center fielder, but Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have shared the potential they see in Hays as an eventual center fielder, which should serve as motivation for the incumbent. There are fair questions about his throwing arm and ability to hit from the right side, but the switch-hitting Mullins will have his opportunities to establish himself as an everyday player this season. Though not exactly prospects, Miguel Castro, David Hess, and Jimmy Yacabonis are under-the-radar pitchers who could benefit from the analytical advances introduced by the new regime.

Which veterans will play well enough to become trade chips?

The reward for guys like Jonathan Villar, Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, and Mark Trumbo having good seasons is a likely ticket out of Baltimore as Elias aims to add more talent in the farm system. That’s just reality in the early stages of a rebuild, regardless of how much an organization might say it values veteran leadership. The cases of Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens will be more interesting to monitor as they’re both under club control through 2021 and would carry more trade value than the aforementioned names if they can rebound from their underwhelming 2018 performance levels. Some might add Alex Cobb to the list of potential trade chips, but the 31-year-old would have to pitch exceptionally well for another club to be willing to commit to the additional $29 million he’s owed beyond 2019.

What will happen with Chris Davis?

We’re all aware of the historic nightmare that was last season for the 33-year-old first baseman, but where does the new Orioles regime go from here with a player who is still owed $92 million over the next four seasons and will be collecting deferred money long after that? Davis fared a little better late in the spring, but he still batted .189 with 19 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League. It will be interesting to see where Hyde uses him in the batting order – Davis batted third or fourth for much of the spring before dropping to sixth in Monday’s finale – or how long he sticks with him as a starter if he looks like the same guy from last year. Everyone hopes a new front office and coaching staff can salvage some semblance of value, but the Angelos brothers will be the ones to make the ultimate call on Davis’ status if he’s no better this year. It’s one thing to talk about Davis as a sunk cost on a losing club, but Mancini has already been pushed to left field and a strong 2019 from Mountcastle — who worked extensively at first base this spring — will have him knocking on the major-league door. You don’t want Davis blocking other young players ready for the majors.

How will the Rule 5 picks fare?

The Orioles will enter a season with three Rule 5 picks on the roster for a second straight year as reliever Pedro Araujo has a couple more weeks to go to fulfill his requirement in the majors and new Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson both made the team. It appears Martin will begin the year as the starting shortstop despite a difficult finish to spring training while Jackson was used in a super utility role this spring. A rebuilding club desperate for more talent is smart to carry promising Rule 5 picks, but let’s hope the practice brings more value than it did for Dan Duquette. For all the roster headaches and shorthanded situations the Orioles endured carrying Rule 5 players while trying to contend from 2012-18, those players netted a total of 1.1 wins above replacement in their time with the organization.

When will more interesting prospects be arriving in Baltimore?

Aside from Sisco and Scott, Hays appeared to be the next prospect on the cusp of the majors before spraining his thumb over the weekend. Beyond that trio, many fans will follow how Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle fare at Triple-A Norfolk with hopes of them making their major league debut later this season. Of course, how Elias handled Sisco, Scott, and Hays – three prospects already having major league experience – should make everyone take pause about the development timeline for any prospects at this point. The Orioles are prioritizing player development over attempts to squeeze out a couple more wins at the major league level or to appease fans hoping to watch more exciting young players. That said, other names acquired in last year’s deadline deals – many of whom already made cameos in Baltimore — appear likely to show up at some point this season. Lefty Keegan Akin, a 2016 second-round pick, and 23-year-old right-hander Dean Kremer, acquired in the Manny Machado trade, are two starting pitchers to monitor in the high minor leagues.

How much innovation and experimentation will we see from a club with nothing to lose?

Entering a season with expectations lower than they’ve been at any point in the history of the franchise, the rebuilding Orioles should embrace the opportunity to innovate and experiment, making it refreshing to hear Hyde reveal plans to use an opener in the second game of the season against the New York Yankees. Why not dive even deeper into infield and outfield positioning and explore new ideas for pitch sequencing, bullpen usage, and batting orders? Why lose with conventional practices when you can at least explore some new ideas and theories contenders might be afraid to try? Perhaps the Orioles even discover an edge or two that might help in the future when they’re ready to contend again. Much of this work with technology and analytics will remain behind the scenes, of course, but any new ideas making their way to the field will be interesting.

What will attendance look like at Camden Yards?

Asked to give his pitch for why fans should still come to the ballpark this season, Elias offered the following on Tuesday:

“We’re doing things the right way, the way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to try to cobble together a one-year-wonder .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work out right and then we spend a few years digging out of that hole. We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way that we need to go about it. In the meantime, there’s going to be young talent on the field. These guys are going to be hustling, playing hard. There are going to be ‘tools’ as we say in the scouting world — big talent out there — that we can watch. And we’re in a wonderful baseball environment here in Camden Yards and here in the Inner Harbor. You come appreciate the sport and see some good baseball and watch this team grow.”

While I agree with those sentiments, expecting fans to pay major-league prices to watch a rebuilding team is a lot to ask, especially with attendance having already fallen annually since 2014 when the club was coming off a 96-win season and still in the midst of its competitive window. The Orioles ranked 26th in the majors in average attendance (20,053 per game) last year despite there being some hope of contending entering 2018. To be clear, no one should be crying the blues for an organization that’s cut its payroll in half over the last 18 months, but an empty Camden Yards hurts nearby businesses and seasonal stadium workers. The “Kids Cheer Free” initiative is a positive step that will be continued this year, but more ticket deals, promotions, and imagination are required if the Orioles hope to draw people to watch an inferior on-field product.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on end of Duquette-Showalter era

Posted on 04 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter officially being dismissed on Wednesday, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Their relationship wasn’t always harmonious, but Duquette and Showalter — with a hat tip to Andy MacPhail — guided the Orioles to their most successful five-season run in the last 35 years. They made mistakes and paid the price for a 115-loss season, but that shouldn’t wipe away good feelings.

2. Not using Zach Britton in the 2016 AL wild card game was the beginning of the end, but that shouldn’t define Showalter’s legacy. His 2010 arrival eventually brought legitimacy and a higher standard not seen here in a long time. As he likes to say, I have a long memory.

3. Acknowledging a working environment in which others had influence on decisions, it’s difficult to accurately assess Duquette’s tenure. To say he only reaped the benefits of MacPhail’s work is unfair, but he had his share of bad trades and signings. The Chris Davis contract wasn’t his doing.

4. Wednesday’s press release deliberately stating the plan to hire a head of baseball operations outside the organization who “will have the final determination on all baseball matters” sounds great, but is that a sincere vow rooted in self-awareness or merely lip service? Time will tell.

5. The casual mention of Brady Anderson remaining under contract is the elephant in the room needing to be addressed with any legitimate candidate considering the job. Will Anderson remain? If so, will he answer to the new hire? A clear and authentic chain of command is an absolute must.

6. Who will be involved in the hiring process and ultimately make the final decision? What will be the prioritized hiring criteria? Will any experienced outsiders serve as consultants to help make informed decisions? A press conference would go a long way in providing these answers to a deserving fan base.

7. I’d prefer an up-and-coming lieutenant embracing analytics and innovation to an established “name” who leans solely on more traditional practices. You hope what Duquette preached at the trade deadline about improving scouting, analytics, and the presence in the international market still holds true.

8. Former Boston general manager Ben Cherington has the desire “to build an organization from ground up,” a descriptor certainly fitting of the Orioles. That doesn’t mean he’ll be interested here, but I believe a clean slate is appealing to talented baseball minds — if truly given autonomy.

9. I’m not all that intrigued by how the managerial job will be filled beyond that hire needing to be made by the new head of baseball operations. Give me a younger manager in step with front office philosophies who will relate well to young players. It definitely won’t be easy.

10. I’m lukewarm to the idea of anyone with strong Orioles ties being hired for either position. Speaking as someone who grew up on this team, “The Oriole Way” hasn’t been much more than a marketing slogan for over three decades. There are other ways to involve former Orioles.

11. Talent is paramount, but I’d love to see the organization experiment in the midst of what will be much losing. Baltimore was among the early clubs to embrace infield shifting and prioritize the bullpen, two major factors today. Try new ideas instead of simply losing with “safe” practices. Openers, anyone?

12. John and Lou Angelos will begin to carve out their legacy from this point on. They need to get this right to prove they’ve learned from the organization’s past mistakes and to restore — and preserve — the well-being of the franchise in Baltimore. The pressure is on.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles hitting the All-Star break an unthinkable 39 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Even with a victory in the final game before the All-Star break that featured contributions from Manny Machado and Adam Jones, the Orioles remain on pace to become the fifth major league team since 1901 to lose 115 games in a season. Infamy continues to chase them.

2. Baltimore hadn’t won on consecutive days at home since its season-best four-game winning streak from May 9-12, and it had also been three weeks since the club won consecutive games. Overshadowed by the frustration and anger of the season is how truly astonishing it’s all been.

3. Chris Tillman being bypassed in favor of a bullpen game Sunday should speak volumes about where he stands with his rehab assignment coming to an end. Not even a Jimmy Yacabonis illness could bring him back to the majors.

4. The question isn’t about whom to fire as much as determining who deserves to stick around for the pending rebuild. How do Buck Showalter and his coaching staff come back from such a historically poor season? What’s the justification for maintaining the status quo? It’s a tough sell.

5. Beyond trades involving pending free agents, a top second-half priority needs to be getting Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini on track. Both are too young and talented to have played like this. The Orioles need these two to be pillars around which to build or at least potential trade chips.

6. After being optioned to the minors for the second time in a month, Chance Sisco needs to be left alone for a while. I have doubts about what we’ve seen from him so far, but making him a regular on the Norfolk shuttle isn’t going to help matters.

7. I certainly wouldn’t give away Mychal Givens and his current 4.28 ERA, but the organization’s reluctance to trade him is too shortsighted. No one should be off the table when you’re facing a multiyear rebuild, especially factoring in the volatility of relievers.

8. In his first 23 games since returning from his benching, Chris Davis has batted .176 with five home runs, a .245 on-base percentage, and a .388 slugging percentage. That actually represents improvement, too. He sits at minus-2.5 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

9. The Orioles entered the break last in the majors at minus-87 defensive runs saved, and the cause isn’t players being out of position as Showalter suggested this past week. Players with more speed and better defensive skills are needed rather than a surplus of designated hitters with gloves.

10. An addition to begin changing that narrative would be Cedric Mullins, who entered Monday sporting an .820 on-base plus slugging percentage for Triple-A Norfolk. It’s time to start seeing what the 23-year-old center fielder can do in the majors.

11. Brooks Robinson being hired as a special assistant is a great move, but I can’t stop thinking about how long overdue it is. This is something that should have happened from the moment “Mr. Oriole” left the broadcast booth 25 years ago. Better late than never though.

12. Now, is there any chance John and Lou Angelos can do something about THIS?

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John Louis Angelos

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Dear John and Louis Angelos: Are you a Rocky – or a Bullwinkle?

Posted on 06 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

This is the second of many #DearOrioles letters I am writing in July 2018 to celebrate my 50th birthday and 20th year of owning Baltimore’s fiercely local and independent sports media company, WNST.net and AM 1570.

You can read my letter to Peter Angelos here.

 

Dear John and Louis:

I write to you to gentlemen with complete candor today because that’s what you deserve and that is my role as a journalist. You know who I am and I know who you are. I know (and care) very little about your backgrounds and your personal lives over the last quarter of a century other than being the somewhat semi-famous children surrounding the least popular local sportsman in recent Baltimore sports memory.

You have a lot on your plate, not the least of which is an 89-year old father who is ailing. I lost my Mom last year at 98. Aging is never pretty, never easy and never without incredible emotions and unique challenges. Yours is more unique because it’s playing out in the front of the community because your father chose that fate when he purchased the Baltimore Orioles 25 years ago and summarily wrecked the franchise.

He chose to be famous. You boys have now been drafted into it.

Your last names are Angelos – so as a community and fan base, we’re just assuming that whatever becomes of the Baltimore Orioles moving forward is going to fall to you. And your names are next on the corporate flow chart. Louis, I know you’ve been representing the team at MLB meetings, where you feel the heat of 29 very agitated and angered partners. John, I know you consider yourself an expert on the MASN deal and all things new media and the business side of the operation, so I know you guys don’t just fly in these days to make decisions from a pool somewhere.

I also understand your mother to be a very involved person within the organization and the decision-making process. Very quietly, she’s always been involved. So is her brother.

Like I said, you’ve got a lot going on.

I have very publicly been in Baltimore and discussing sports all my life. It’ll be the 20th anniversary on August 3rd that I founded WNST – the city’s first sports radio station at AM 1570 that was literally dedicated to promoting your family business around the clock. I’ve written books about the Orioles and Ravens. This is what I do. Baltimore sports is the story of my life. It’s all I’ve ever cared about. It’s all I’ve ever talked about. It’s what has fed my family since I was 15 years old with a pregnant girlfriend in Dundalk.

I get around. I’m from the east side and live downtown but my company is not limited to east or west or black or white or rich or poor and certainly not Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. I have no bubble. I get all around Baltimore in all sorts of ways – music, politics, art, events, charity work, hospitals, networking, business, oh and sports – and I don’t think I’ve been in a room with either of you more than a handful of times over 25 years.

I know you don’t remember this, John, but I waved at you with an offer to come join me in the dugout in Fort Lauderdale one chilly morning in 2003 when WNST was broadcasting and promoting your family’s business for Baltimore sports fans – justifying over the airwaves why it was so important to be an Orioles fan and to care about baseball with your spare time on a cold day in February on the beltway.

You waved me off.

Other than that, we’ve never spoken. So, I guess we’ve still never spoken.

And, Louis, well other than a guy who I saw almost reluctantly dedicating statues on my television from Camden Yards a couple of years ago and maybe I’ve seen from afar once at a Living Classrooms event, I’m not sure I’d even know what you look like if I walked past you at Wit and Wisdom or on the streets of Harbor East.

Plenty of folks tell me I’d recognize you because you’d be the ones standing next to Brady Anderson trying to plot the next course of action for your family’s baseball franchise that has made you fabulously wealthy since your childhood.

Fellas, if the Peter G. Angelos era of Baltimore baseball ownership is not over, it’s certainly entering the last phase of dusk. I write to you today with many concerns about the future of the city and your role and that of the team you are apparently about to try to take control of and lead into whatever that next phase will be.

And if you don’t like my questions, wait’ll you hear from Rob Manfred and the old fellows up in New York once they get to pass the gavel on whether you guys are “fit” to be Major League Baseball owners. You can choose to ignore me. You can choose to hide in Baltimore. But I assure you they will have an even more stringent barometer of your worthiness for their club if they ever get that opportunity.

As I was inking this letter to you gentlemen, I saw that you hired a once-local guy named John Vidalin to “run some things.” I’ve seen his resume. Nice Canadian fellow. He’s been a lot of places. A friend of mine who once worked in The Warehouse and works in the industry sent me a text regarding his fate: “That poor bastard!”

I’ll be writing John Vidalin a #DearOrioles memo welcoming him to Baltimore very soon. He can rest assured that I’m a very available individual with delusions of grandeur. I’ll offer him what I’m offering you: a lot of valuable history and a little friendly advice.

It’s because I care a lot.

I hope you guys are better at this “running a baseball team” thing than your father but some of the early warning signs are less than encouraging. If Brady Anderson is the general manager, Buck Showalter is a special consultant to the president and Mike Bordick or Rick Dempsey are managing on Opening Day, I’m going to say there’s not a lot of hope for you guys making any significant “change” in the direction of the franchise.

Make no mistake: there will be a tomorrow for the Baltimore Orioles. And who will be running that show and taking on the enormous responsibility and challenge of repairing and rebuilding an enormously damaged legacy brand that is wayward ­– if not lost? – is now a daily part of my conversation all over town.

And if you just scoffed or bristled at that last sentence then you’re already in a state of denial that will be your continued demise.

Damaged. Wayward. Adrift. Last place. Historically bad.

Machado and Jones leaving. Brach and Britton about to go. Duquette and Showalter gone.

And the Red Sox and Yankees will be playing baseball in October and it looks like a trend.

And along with the Chris Davis contract, the one thing we’re certain is that you two gentlemen will be holding the decision bag.

So many questions without question marks.

And never any answers.

The Oriole Way. The Angelos Way.

“What’s going to happen to the Orioles?” has become a refrain as this eternal shitshow has hit rock bottom once again for a franchise that has experienced a crustacean-like grip on the ocean

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The Peter Principles (Ch. 10) – Syd Thrift, Confederate money and the new Oriole Way of 21st century

Posted on 04 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

(Author note: This is Chapter 10 of my book “The Peter Principles,” which I was working to finish in March 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia the first time. I will be releasing the entire book for free online this summer – chapter by chapter. These are the true chronicles of the history of Peter G. Angelos and his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. If you enjoy the journey, please share the links with a friend.)

 

10. Syd Thrift, Confederate money and the new Oriole Way of 21st century

 

 

“Mr. Angelos feels the term general manager is obsolete and I agree with him. We’re going to keep working to turn this thing around and we’re all going to be working together.”

Syd Thrift

Orioles Director of Player Personnel

January 2000

 

 

BY NOW ONE OF THE biggest problems Peter G. Angelos was discovering was his inability to lie or buy his way out of the dilemma of the very public and ongoing accountability of running a Major League Baseball team. By all accounts, those around him would say that he had very little natural interest in baseball at all before he bought the Baltimore Orioles. He was a boxer as a kid and a bookish, nerdy, difficult, know-it-all political aspirant who was least likely to get a player autograph or spend a free day at a lowly baseball game on 33rd Street as a kid.

 

Mr. Angelos was far more interested in ruling the world than being a peasant local sports fan.

Angelos was much more serious and interested in law, government, politics and pontificating for anyone who would deem him significant enough to listen to him drone on about his expertise in the world and his world view. Buying the baseball franchise bought him an audience to listen, and an initially fawning media that hung on his every word. Angelos was once called a “windbag” by a rival politician during his City Hall-aspiring days and six years into his reign of terror with the sputtering Orioles, his many words and lack of success with people would lend some credence to that claim.

Now, with an evolving track record and many knee-jerk executive decisions, his fingerprints were all over every aspect of the Orioles and the fan experience. His check and report card was coming due in the media. There was no way to avoid the humiliation and daily soap opera of despair that the team generated – on and off the field.

Angelos wanted everything his way.

And, now, he had his wish.

And he couldn’t handle how miserably his strategy – if you could call it that – was failing. And how unpopular a guy who was wrecking baseball for lifelong Orioles fans could actually become and how quickly the “Marylander of The Year” accolades could be under siege from the fan base and a media that was simply reporting the bizarre nature of every unorthodox transaction, while watching competent baseball people come in the front door of The Warehouse and get pushed out the side door like yesterday’s rubbish.

The franchise was without a true leader, without a plan and without a clue. But the team still had a legion of disappointed and disillusioned fans. Tens of thousands of Orioles fans turned to the team on a daily basis as they’d done with their parents and in some cases their parents’ parents. Baseball in Baltimore felt like a birthright, like an appendage or a member of the family.

For local fans, the franchise was a “we” not a “them.”

That was the lure and allure that drew Peter G. Angelos to the team to begin with – the significance and royalty of the Baltimore Orioles. It wasn’t his love of a spring afternoon at a baseball stadium or a hot summer night in a pennant race. It wasn’t because he loved a well-pitched game or keeping score with a No. 2 pencil. It wasn’t because he had memories during his formative years with Brooks Robinson or Jim Palmer or even Jim Gentile and Gus Triandos. It wasn’t because he entered debates about Eddie vs. Cal or Frank vs. Brooks.

Angelos bought the team to be loved. He certainly didn’t need the money. He craved the power, the status it would bring. He sold the very concept that ONLY a local owner could make the franchise better and

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Fidel Castro Albert Belle

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The Peter Principles (Ch. 9) – Albert was not the Belle of Baltimore

Posted on 04 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

(Author note: This is Chapter 9 of my book “The Peter Principles,” which I was working to finish in March 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia the first time. I will be releasing the entire book for free online this summer – chapter by chapter. These are the true chronicles of the history of Peter G. Angelos and his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. If you enjoy the journey, please share the links with a friend who loves the team.)

 

9. He was not the Belle of Baltimore

 

“We know [the media’s] intentions are good, but we can’t let you substitute your judgment for ours. We don’t think you know it all. We think there are times when you’re wrong just like we know there are times when we’re wrong. I tell you what: You can trust in our judgment. It’s pretty good. We’ve gotten this far. We’re going to go even further. Just be a little patient, I think you’ll be delighted with the results.”

Peter G. Angelos

  October 1999

 

 

IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG FOR the Orioles and new general manager Frank Wren to feel some foreboding bumps en route to the 1999 season-long collapse. First, Albert Belle was thrust into the situation ­– signed, sealed and delivered totally at the whim of owner Peter G. Angelos. This complicated matters for literally everyone on the team, including manager Ray Miller who was told to figure out how to manage an unmanageable personality. Then, during the first week of spring training, newly signed second baseman Delino DeShields suffered an injury.

Then, the losing began almost immediately in April.

It wasn’t anything specific for the 1999 Orioles – it was everything. But it all started with poor pitching and the ominous tone that surrounded every move of the team’s new poster boy: No. 88 in your scorecard program and No. 1 with his middle finger, Albert Belle.

The Orioles still had a vibrant national hero in Cal Ripken, and stalwart mostly quiet All Stars like Mike Mussina, Brady Anderson and Scott Erickson, but it was Belle who set the tone and who made the news seemingly every week for some infraction or some social behavior that was less than exemplary. But Wren had been around baseball and knew to expect this from Belle. Miller knew the day of Belle’s signing that there’d be a change in the demeanor of his locker room, which wasn’t particularly stellar to begin with in 1998 after the noisy and disruptive departure of Davey Johnson the previous fall. But Peter Angelos believed that a MLB player making $13 million per year would be better behaved and easier to control because of the investment ownership made in him.

Once again, it showed that Angelos didn’t know much about people and he certainly didn’t know much about Albert Belle or the egos of baseball players.

It didn’t take long after signing Belle on Dec. 1, 1998 for the saga and drama to begin.

On Christmas Eve, as a goodwill gesture to his new city and attempting to play

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#DearOrioles

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Letting The Warehouse know via #DearOrioles letters that those empty seats are still out here

Posted on 25 June 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

I’VE THOUGHT LONG AND HARD about how I can best shine a light on the significance of the Baltimore Orioles to our city and community in this summer of baseball darkness.

In my hopes of one day becoming a “man of letters” – and in my old-fashioned newspaper columnist way and sans a legitimate press credential that was taken from me 12 years ago after 21 years of covering the baseball team – I’ve decided that the best thing I can do short of delivering a personal message to any of them face to face is write personal notes to all of them. So between now and whenever this mess is dismantled or disintegrates, they’ll all be getting very public and personal letters from me on the way out the door. And for those who are remaining – and most of those are named “Angelos” – I’ll continue to challenge them to answer to the fans, the stakeholders and the community in this tender time in Orioles history.

I’ll ask them all: “What does your future hold? What will your legacy be?”

It’s what John Steadman would do.

You can read them at the hashtag #DearOrioles. I’m hoping folks in the community will write their own #DearOrioles questions, concerns and memos.

This is the 25th summer Peter G. Angelos has owned the Orioles. It is my 27th year of doing sports radio and media in Baltimore. On August 3rd, WNST will celebrate its 20th year serving local sports fans the truth about the teams and the people who create, host and benefit from the games our community has supported with massive tax breaks, stadium erections and credit card insertions.

I was here doing this Baltimore sports media thing long before anyone outside of Bethlehem Steel ever knew the name of Peter G. Angelos – back in the spring and summer of 1993 when he created chaos and somehow usurped control of the franchise away from Bill DeWitt and Larry Lucchino. I wrote about that last summer in The Peter Principles. You can also find the audio read in the Buy A Toyota Audio Vault.

By my count, there have been five summers of relevance under his quarter of a century of involvement. In baseball parlance, that’s batting .200 ­–­ or 50 points higher than the guy they owe $130 million ill-fated dollars to over the next 20 years. By my count, he’s pocketed in excess of $1 billion in profit over the past 15 years, primarily due to a “get out of debt free” deal with Major League Baseball to bring a team to Washington, D.C. and allowing Angelos a spigot to print cable television money via MASN.

Peter G. Angelos and his heirs have been big winners in the Baltimore baseball game. Big with a capital “B” as in billions.

Meanwhile, fans of the Baltimore Orioles and vested community members have consistently been the losers in the baseball game. And the promises that William Donald Schaefer made with Edward Bennett Williams before his death about Camden Yards and a downtown stadium and the emotional and/or economic benefits it would provide for our city and community have all but evaporated.

I’m the guy who did Free The Birds back in September 2006 in an attempt to hold Angelos accountable and publicly discuss the issues surrounding a deserted downtown on game nights. It appears as though I’ve now lived long enough to arrive at holding the next “person of influence” with the Orioles accountable as well.

I pray that the next “caretaker” actually takes care of it because it’s in desperate need of some TLC. There are whispers that the franchise is in jeopardy of leaving Baltimore.

Can you imagine Peter G. Angelos being around to negotiate a long-term lease for Camden Yards and the threats that would come?

I’ve built my life and company and business and personal brand around local sports and the baseball franchise – for better or worse. My childhood love of the Baltimore Orioles is deep and well told. I’ve always loved the team. I live here. I moved downtown in 2003 to attend Orioles games. I wrote about it over 19 chapters of history in 2006 when I did the #FreeTheBirds walkout to shine a light on the horrific ownership and the lack of accountability. I’m no #Nestordamus, but I can say that I very clearly predicted the demise of the brand given the

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buck

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Twelve Orioles thoughts ahead of nine-game homestand

Posted on 08 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles limping home with an appalling 8-26 record after a winless trip to the West Coast, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore needs to play like a 92-win club the rest of the way to finish at .500 and like a 97-win team just to get to 85 wins. Even the obligatory Dumb and Dumber reference rings hollow at this point.

2. If you’re seeking any semblance of a silver lining, there shouldn’t be any danger of the organization having delusions of a chance at the trade deadline as it did in 2015 and 2017. Hovering a few games below .500 in late July and not selling would be worse than this.

3. Firing anyone at this point isn’t saving the season and isn’t going to prompt more fans to come to the ballpark. At the same time, nothing should be off the table when an organization is in this kind of a position and there’s so much blame to pass around.

4. As has been discussed by numerous outlets for months, the Orioles communicating and executing a short-term and long-term direction would mean more than firing or trading any individual. Chris Davis remaining the biggest example of long-term stability speaks volumes.

5. Part of that direction is determining how dramatically to rebuild. Trading pending free agents is easy, but will fetch mostly-underwhelming returns. Dealing Kevin Gausman or even Dylan Bundy would be painful, but they’d fetch more talent. Are the Orioles going to contend again before either hits free agency?

6. The organization should be open to trading Manny Machado at any moment, but I’m not convinced the best offers automatically come now rather than a little later. Teams’ needs and their level of urgency aren’t in a vacuum — even if it would be smart to maximize the rental.

7. Jonathan Schoop returning from the disabled list is a welcome sight. The Orioles would be wise to put on the full press to try to extend him over the next two months. If unsuccessful, trading him at the deadline should be a major priority. They shouldn’t repeat the Machado saga.

8. How to proceed with Adam Jones is complicated on various levels, especially since he has a full no-trade clause. However, he’s not going to have any trade value if he continues to sport a .674 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has two walks in 144 plate appearances.

9. The numbers back up how awful the Orioles defense has been as they entered Tuesday ranked dead last in the majors at minus-28 defensive runs saved. Trey Mancini is at a club-worst minus-10 defensive runs saved while Jones sits at minus-seven.

10. Alex Cobb looking much more like Alex Cobb over his last two starts has been encouraging. As was feared a few weeks ago, however, it already appears too late to make a meaningful difference in 2018.

11. No matter who runs the organization in 2019, persuading the Angelos family to reconsider its long-held position on sitting out the international market is a must if the Orioles ever want to build a strong farm system.

12. Nick Markakis owns a .977 OPS and has struck out 13 times compared to 20 walks in the final season of his deal with Atlanta. The 34-year-old hasn’t been great the entire time, but the Orioles could have used his dependability and .362 on-base percentage over these last few years.

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Hey Orioles: Those empty seats mean that Baltimore is just not that into you…

Posted on 13 September 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

As the first – and only – local sports journalist to poke the bear and pull down the pants of the emperor, it’s now my turn to chime in on the biggest local sports story this month that’s returning to Camden Yards for the next 11 days.

Ok, the most important question in the land of pleasant living at this time of the year is always about the Baltimore Ravens. Facts are facts. They’re 1-0 and headed to Cleveland to (presumably) be 2-0 by Sunday night.

But the very obvious other “water cooler buzz” around our kingdom is about why Camden Yards is so empty in September with the Orioles facing arch-rivals in the middle of a very winnable pennant race in Baltimore?

TOMORROW I’LL GIVE MY “TOP 10 REASONS BALTIMORE SPORTS FANS DON’T GO TO ORIOLES GAMES ANYMORE”

Two weeks ago, during the “homestand of empty” vs. the Blue Jays and Yankees, I was in Europe reading some laugh-out-loud reports from local “journalists” either on the payroll of Peter G. Angelos, the Baltimore Orioles or any of the MASN-based or CBS-owned arms of business partnerships that permeate the local media. Those organizations are strongly discouraged from critical thinking and free $peech so it’s up to places like WNST to get to the truth. Unlike their employees who are intimidated or “compensated” in the Angelos food chain, we get to say what we think here.

The employees of any of the above entities are not allowed to tell the truth. Angelos confirmed this to me years ago.

So, when you write pieces like the one longtime Washington journalist Thom Loverro inked two weeks ago in The Washington Times – in local sports writer vernacular, “a take down” – you get your press credentials revoked. And amongst those who do follow the Orioles and bow at the shrine of the orange cartoon bird, you get called a hack, a traitor or a guy with an axe to grind.

But, of course, no one at MASN or 105.7 The Fan or The Baltimore Sun or PressBox is ever called a shill – even though the dignity of the whole Orioles operation under Angelos is veiled by the fact that no one ever answers a question about anything. Other than playing baseball games when they’ve locked the doors and told the fans to NOT come, we don’t hear from the Angelos clan.

Loverro and his track record as a reporter speaks for itself. So does mine.

On December 13th, I’ll celebrate 25 years of doing sports radio in Baltimore. In 20 of those years, the Orioles haven’t just been an “also ran” – they’ve been a “never ran at all.” The reasons have all been well- …

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