Monday, November 03, 2014

Looking Forward

Now that the World Series is over and I've had a little time to digest the way the season ended I think I can finally take a look at the Orioles offseason. Here is who we have under contract for 2015:

Guaranteed contracts

  • Dylan Bundy (2015)
  • Wei-Yin Chen (2015)
  • JJ Hardy (2017)
  • Ubaldo Jimenez (2017)
  • Adam Jones (2018)
  • Darren O'Day (2015)
  • Ryan Webb (2015)
  • Suk-Min Yoon (2016)
Arbitration Eligible players
  • Zach Britton
  • Chris Davis
  • Alejandro De Aza
  • Ryan Flaherty
  • Miguel Gonzalez
  • Tommy Hunter
  • Brian Matusz
  • Bud Norris
  • Steve Pearce
  • Chris Tillman
  • Matt Wieters
Notable Free Agents
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Nick Hundley
  • Nick Markakis
  • Andrew Miller
  • Delmon Young

In a perfect world the team would bring back all of these players, but this is not a perfect world so let's look at priorities. I said before the regular season ended that to my estimation resigning Hardy was bigger than anything else up to and including resigning Markakis not only because of Manny Machado's injury history but because it was quite possible that Hardy would've been signed by the Yankees (I don't know if you heard because it flew under the radar, but NY's SS retired after the season), a move that would've weakened the Orioles while strengthening a divisional opponent. Luckily Dan Duquette saw the logic in my stance and signed Hardy before the ALCS so that is one less thing to worry about.

There has been talk that the team and Markakis are in discussions on a 4 year deal in the neighborhood of $48M, which I think is fair market for a player of Markakis' caliber. I am confident that they will get it done, although nothing is certain. There was also talk that the O's have been negotiating with the agents for Nelson Cruz and Nick Hundley. Cruz doesn't surprise me at all even though I think he will wind up signing with another team I expect the team to give him a qualifying offer, getting a 1st round compensatory pick when he leaves. Since they gave up a 2nd round pick to sign him last offseason that is a pretty fair trade and will help cushion the blow of the 1st round pick in the 2014 draft they gave up to sign Jimenez. I think Andrew Miller is gone, possibly back to Boston but likely heading to the NL where my money is on the Dodgers or Cubs. I think they resign Young either as a platoon w/David Lough in LF / DH if they non-tender De Aza and don't resign Cruz or as a situational DH / pinch hitter extraordinaire if they do bring Cruz back. That leaves Nick Hundley.

When they traded for Hundley I thought it was an excellent idea. We had no place for Troy Patton, who had fallen into Buck Showalter's dog house after the amphetamine suspension in the offseason (sound familiar? This will all tie together in a moment) and when it was decided that Wieters needed the surgery it was a good fit. Patton would've been designated for assignment unless he agreed to stay in the minors so basically the team got a replacement part for a part that didn't fit anymore. So with Wieters on track to return in 2015 and with Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger on the 40 man roster why would they even entertain bringing Hundley back? Follow me on this:

While they have said all the right things it is pretty clear that Duquette and Buck Showalter are not happy with Chris Davis' suspension and what it did to the team down the stretch / in the playoffs. Both Davis and Wieters are in their final year of arbitration eligibility and are scheduled to be free agents after 2015. Until this season I thought the Orioles would try to sign Davis to a long term contract and say goodbye to Wieters. Now I'm not so sure. Clevenger, Joseph, and Pearce all have 1st base listed as one of their positions. No one knows yet how Wieters is going to return from Tommy John surgery but before Davis' breakout season there had been talk of moving Wieters to 1B in the near future to save his knees and possibly allow his production to increase / maximize his value. I would not be surprised to see Davis traded, or if he is not traded to see either Clevenger or Joseph (or both) in the minors next year rotating between catcher and 1B and DH (and don't forget 1B Christian Walker is going to be back at Norfolk after having a cup of coffee with the Orioles after Davis' suspension) and Wieters taking reps at 1B during his rehab and spring training. Even though we can expect Pearce's offense to regress at least a little bit in 2015 he played a decent 1B, and he is the kind of player that Showalter covets because of his versatility.

Payroll is definitely going up and that's before the arbitration players are signed (the Orioles have done a good job of avoiding the nastiness that is the arbitration process) and there are some places that the team may need to make a move or two. Currently they have six starting pitchers (Jimenez, Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Norris, and Kevin Gausman) plus Bundy who is coming back from Tommy John surgery and some arms in the minors who are knocking on the door in Mike Wright & Tim Berry. Tillman isn't going anywhere unless contract talks break down completely. Jimenez isn't going anywhere because no one will take him right now. The team has Gonzalez under control for the next 3 years. Gausman isn't even eligible for arbitration until 2017 and won't qualify for free agency until 2020 so I cannot see a way where he would be gone. That leaves Chen and Norris as candidates for a trade. Norris would get a better return but if either of them are moved my money is on Chen. Norris has a bulldog mentality that you could see rubbing off on Tillman and Gausman. It reminded me of Rick Sutcliffe's effect on Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald back in the early 90s. The outfield is crowded with or without signing Markakis and / or De Aza, but I wouldn't expect both of them back next year unless the team doesn't resign Cruz OR Young and doesn't bring anyone else in to fill the DH role, in which case Pearce is the likely DH with Wieters getting time there while he recovers and players like Jones, Markakis, and Davis getting time there to rest while keeping their bats in the line up. Lough had a horrible start to 2014 but he did come around some so I expect him to get a fair shake at being an every day player at one of the OF positions, usually LF but filling in at CF & RF as needed. Flaherty will continue to be the super sub at all four infield positions as well as OF if needed. The hope in the warehouse is that Machado's knee problems were the result of a flaw in both knees that the surgeries have corrected but until he plays a full season without knee problems there is no way of knowing, which makes Flaherty even more indispensable.

Knowing Dan Duquette he will make some moves that leave us scratching our heads and sign a few guys with ML experience to minor league deals. Some will work out, some won't. But if the last few years are any indication the Hot Stove League will be an interesting time for Orioles fans. At this point all we can do is sit back and see what happens.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Drinking Party

For those who know me as Fake_Buck on the Twitter, here is your chance to drink with the guy you find moderately amusing. So below please sound off on some good date / time combos for you and I will pick the one that works best for most people.

Breathe Deep The Gathering Gloom

I should be working right now.

I have a pile of paperwork that isn't getting any smaller and a report that my boss wants yesterday staring me in the face and I just don't care. Why? Because barring a miracle the Orioles season will be over soon, possibly today, and that is all I can think about.

When the playoffs started there were two teams I had no problem with playing and beating and two teams that I felt like, if my team had to lose I wanted it to be to one of these teams. I was all for playing and beating the A's and the Angels. The A's because of all the drama between us this year and the Angels because it feels like they are trying to become the Yankees / Red Sox of the West. I wasn't as gung ho about facing the Tigers or the Royals. The Tigers because while they have spent money and they have had success they haven't won the World Series since the year after we did and because if ANY city could use something to rally around it is Detroit, and the Royals because they reminded me of the O's. Scrappy team with young talent, fighting to break through against some big money teams, a long playoff drought, and passionate fans. If the O's weren't in the playoffs I would have been the biggest Royals backer in the mid-Atlantic. But now things have changed...

It's a lot of little things that have me so distracted. The biggest thing is how close these games have been. Mental errors cost us Game 1 and Games 2 & 3 could've gone either way. I think I'd rather lose by 6 than by 1, because in the close losses you keep looking back and thinking "if we had just done this ONE THING we would've won". When you get blown out you just tip your cap and say "it wasn't our night" and move on. It still hurts to lose, but not nearly as much (at least not to me). But the bigger thing is how the Royals have been acting. I get that Jarrod Dyson is young and I know sports have changed from when I played and trash talking is commonplace but I was surprised that none of the veterans pulled him aside and told him to dial down the rhetoric. Even so, it wasn't nearly as hurtful to me as a fan as the shirt that Jeremy Guthrie had on in the post game press conference last night. In case you are the one fan who hasn't seen it, here it is:

It just feels like such a slap in the face to O's fans, especially since so many of us have been supportive of him even after he was traded to the Rockies a few years ago. I and other O's fans have interacted with him on Twitter and he has acknowledged the love we have continued to show him. I have to think he still has some friends on the O's roster. I know it is a business to the players and they don't have our passions for our teams but still that has to be a slap in the face to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, Nick Markakis and who knows who else. I think more than anything I am disappointed in him. I expected a guy who wears his faith as such a badge of honor to not slap a fan base in the face and he is a smart guy who knew exactly how we fans would react. Jeremy Guthrie lost a fan last night. I have no doubt that my statement is as impotent to him as the patron who declares "I will never shop here again" when they don't get what they want from a store, but it is what it is. I was a Jeremy Guthrie fan regardless of uniform because I saw him give everything he had every time he took the mound for my team. Last night he spat in my face.

If a miracle happens (and it could) I will be watching every inning of the World Series. If it doesn't, I will likely take a break from baseball for a while. I am sure with some distance from the season I will look back and have some good thoughts on what has so far been an incredible season and a resilient team that refused to believe what everyone outside of Baltimore thought about them. I will look at the preseason predictions and smile because pretty much no one thought we would be any good this year. But I will need a few weeks at least before I can accept perspective. It's too raw right now.

Like I said last night: The problem with living and dying with your team is that dying REALLY hurts.

But some deaths hurt worse than others.

EDIT: Guthrie has since come out and apologized "if anyone was offended" by his shirt. According to the Baltimore Sun, he also said:

"My positive feelings for the Charm City, O's organization, my former teammates and O's fans is well documented," Guthrie tweeted, according to the Sun. "Nothing I wore [Tuesday night] changes that."

According to the ESPN story that second tweet has since been deleted from Guthrie's Twitter account.

I guess it is up to those of us who were offended / bothered / saddened by the whole thing to decide if we think he meant it last night or this morning.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Time To Do What's Right

It took a lot to bring me out of my self imposed retirement. Life does that. But the newly leaked Ray Rice video has put me over the edge.

Before the video came out I was in the camp that believed Rice deserved at least a 4-6 game suspension, but that also thought that we did not know what the NFL and the team knew and had not seen that they had seen. Now this video has surfaced. According to the league they were not given access to this by the New Jersey Police Department. It is your choice whether or not you want to take them at their word on that. If they are telling the truth then this new evidence means that they have to revisit Rice's suspension. If the are not telling the truth then the league has lost a LOT of credibility in how they handled this.

There has been a lot of vitriol and venom being spewed (and rightfully so) online. Calls for Rice to be suspended indefinitely and cut from the team. I cannot say that I disagree with those sentiments. I also understand that this is a business and there is a union involved. Any action by the league or the team is going to be met with a reaction by the NFL Players Association. Whether they want to or not they have to. It's no different that the MLB union defending Alex Rodriguez during the last round of steroid allegations. The job of the union is to defend it's members no matter what.

As I was writing this the Ravens terminated Ray Rice's contract, which puts an end to a lot of the points I was going to make. From now on this issue will be resolved in the courts and by whatever team decides to take a chance on him, which will happen eventually. It is difficult for me to hold true to this sometimes, but I believe everyone deserves a second chance. Lord knows I have been given a few. I am a pit bull owner but I still supported Michael Vick being allowed back into the league once he paid his debt to society. I feel the same way about Ray Rice. He deserves to be punished. He deserves every bit of anger and vitriol being cast at him. He deserves all of that and more. He also deserves a chance to take that punishment and then return to society and work again. This is not sports related so much as it is societal, but this lifetime condemnation of someone for a sin no matter how egregious only leads to more and worse actions. So my advice for Mr. Rice is to not fight this, to not ask the NFLPA to stand for him. Instead, he should continue in the program he was enrolled in as part of his plea bargain. He should accept any retroactive punishment the league gives him without comment or complaint. Maybe, by his actions, he can return one day, if not as a player than as a cautionary tale. That might just be his best hope at this point. In the meantime, Ray, you have a lot more to worry about than what is going to happen when your daughter Googles you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Scarred for life

This team is killing me.

We are just over a week away from it being June and the Orioles are in first place in the AL East. They are 12 games over .500. They have the best record in the American League.

And I have not been able to enjoy a moment of it.

After the way the team closed 2010 fans had hope. In retrospect they probably had too much hope. When the team started 2011 6-1 many fans drank the Kool-Aid. So when the team fell off of a cliff through the majority of the 2011 season (before relishing in the spoiler role in September) it hurt. It hurt a lot more than we thought it would. Now I am trying to not be a pessimist, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. So in order to stop that, let's look at what is going on with the 2012 Baltimore Orioles.

Now the O's are having their best season since 2005, when they were in first well into June before an old roster and some nasty steroid business (be careful where you wag that finger, Raffy) tanked the team and Lee Mazzilli's coaching career. But this team isn't the same as the 2005 team. This is not a team held together with spit and baling wire. There is a core of young talent both in the field and on the mound. The much hyped - including by me - Young Guns seem to have settled into their roles and while none of them wound up being an ace I would say that Jake Arrieta is a solid 3rd starter and Matusz is a tweener 3rd and 4th starter. I think Zach Britton pans out to be square into the 2nd starter slot if he is fully healthy, although it is too early to know for sure (I shall not opine on Dylan Bundy just yet). The bullpen has looked really good, especially Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson basically making an Orioles game a 7 inning affair if the Birds have the lead. In the field Adam Jones looks like he has finally moved from "really good" to "MVP caliber" (BTW - I will be starting a "sign the man" campaign soon). Matt Wieters might not be able to hit a bases empty grand slam like was prophesied but is a top 3 catcher in the game both offensively and defensively. JJ Hardy is a calming influence (not to mention a plus defender with some bat skills). Nick Markakis is probably not worth the contract he signed but it is the kind of deal that a team has to make in order to convince other players (like Wieters and Jones) that the team is serious about winning. As far as I am concerned the jury is still out on Chris Davis at 1st base. Remember, this is the first time he has ever had regular playing time in the majors. He has been streaky with the bat and a wee bit south of average with the glove, but a .300 average w/6 HR and 16 RBI are not the worst stats in the world (we could have Garrett Atkins). His on base and slugging percentages are both higher than his career averages (as is his batting average), so let's see how the season plays out.

I don't think we can say enough about the work that Buck Showalter has done, but a LOT of the credit has to go to pitching coach Rick Adair. He has brought a professionalism and technical knowledge that was sorely lacking last year, and he has deftly handled the fragile egos and elbows of the pitching staff. The improvement we have seen this year in Matusz (last night's start reminded me of the way he closed out 2010 when he gave enough of a glimpse of what he could do that he was a consensus candidate for American League Rookie Of The Year before his season fell apart) and the emergence of Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen need to all be at least partly attributed to Adair's work. Jim Presley is also doing a nice job as hitting coach. And quick poll: how many of you know the name of the 3rd base coach without looking it up? Probably almost nobody. And that means that DeMarlo Hale is doing a good job there. The only time a fan base knows the 3rd base coach's name is if he screws up or if he is a popular former player (much the same lot in life as the long snapper in football).

The fans are starting to come back out. There is chatter between strangers about the team (and for once it isn't a montage reminiscent of the opening scenes of Major League). National pundits are starting to have nice things to say (some more begrudgingly than others). The refrain is often "sooner or later people are going to have to start taking the Baltimore Orioles seriously", but it beats being a punch line for the late night talk shows for a change. All we can do is hope that they can keep it up.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Week 6 Postmortem: Ravens 29 - Texans 14

Here are my observations from yesterday's game between Baltimore and Houston, in no particular order:

  • This is not last year's team
The 2011 Baltimore Ravens actually know how to finish out a game.  They didn't panic after the Texans took the lead in the 3rd quarter, and they didn't go into a scramble like they did against Houston last year when the Ravens blew a 15 point lead and had to win the game in OT.  All they did was take the ball back down the field and take control of the game back.  This might be the biggest positive that we can take from this week.  This is a team with a good mix of veterans and younger players.  The young guys keyed off of the older guys and there was no hesitation.  When the Ravens offense took the field after the Texans scored to take a 14-13 lead I saw a team that was confident that they would win.  Not that they COULD win, but that they WOULD win.  It wasn't arrogance, it was faith in their abilities and in each other.
  • Or Brian Billick's team
Houston started off the game trying to intimidate the Ravens offense.  They tried to goad them into making stupid mistakes because they knew they were outgunned (the best offensive and best defensive players for the Texans - Andre Johnson and Mario Williams - were both out/injured).  The Ravens did not take the bait.  The teams run by Brian Billick, the ones with Bart Scott and Derrick Mason and a younger (and football acumen dumber) Terrell Suggs would have probably taken the bait.  John Harbaugh has instilled a sense of discipline and purpose to this team, and it showed.  After a couple attempts to get Baltimore off of their game plan (extending that opening drive all the way to a TD) the Texans just got down to playing the game.
  • You have to be bold, but you don't have to be stupid
The overriding fundamental philosophy of the Coryell offensive game plan (of which Cam Cameron is a disciple) is that the quarterback's reads go from deepest route in.  It is predicated on the big play, or at least the threat of it in order to keep the middle of the field open for the mid and short range passing game and the running game.  And there is something to be said for the offense dictating the game plan to the defense.  But with all of that said, when a defense is giving you something you take it.  The Texans were bringing the heat (trying to compensate for 1/3 of their sack production in M. Williams being out).  The middle of the field was WIDE open.  The one time I can remember Flacco going to a hot read of Anquan Boldin running a slant it got something like 12 yards.  Why the Ravens were not flooding the middle of the field and letting Flacco throw to one guy while the other 2 or 3 guys became blockers is absolutely beyond me.  I cannot figure it out.  And it isn't like the Texans were working overtime to disguise their blitzes.  It was obvious and there is no way that Flacco didn't notice that.  So why didn't he audible out of the plays that were being called and into something that would bring about a bigger chance at success?  Because...
  • I don't care what anybody says, Joe Flacco is not in charge of that offense
Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh both came out this year and said that Joe was going to have the handcuffs taken off, that he was going to be given the keys and he was going to drive that offense.  After 5 games I say 

I could see that Joe Flacco could see what was coming.  You could see it in his eyes, in his actions, in his pocket presence.  He would take the snap and start almost running backwards.  At the first sign of pressure he was looking for an escape route from the pocket (except for that strip sack and that horrible choice to flick the ball in the direction of Dennis Pitta while he was being sacked).  He wound up missing a wide open Pitta in the end zone for a touchdown because he had to run for his life (but in reality him not seeing Pitta was probably for the best.  In order to make that play he would have been forced to throw across the field, across his body, AND against his momentum.  He would have had to put a LOT of air under that ball to have any hope of getting it to Pitta, and that is like a signed request to have a CB intercept the pass and have a whole lot of open field in between him and the end zone).  This game was proof positive to me that Flacco is still not allowed to audible whenever he wants.  Either that or Joe Flacco is the most clueless quarterback since a drunken Joe Namath tried to put the moves to Suzy Kolber.
  • Joe Flacco is not Brett Favre, but sometimes I think he is trying his best to be just like him
The aforementioned ball flick and the not yet mentioned until now completion to Ray Rice when Ray had to jump in the air while contorting to his right in order to catch the ball both scared the heck out of me.  Even though one resulted in an incomplete pass instead of a sack and the other netted positive yardage both were extremely bad decisions on Flacco's part (I think he is actually overcompensating a bit for the lack of control on scripted plays so when the play breaks down he tries too hard to show he can handle the job).  He is finally starting to learn when to throw the ball away instead of trying to force it and always make a play.  Now he needs to learn when to tuck the ball away and take the sack.  It wasn't a 4th down, 4 point deficit with 3 minutes on the clock play.  Eat the ball and come back on the next play, Joe.  We won't think any less of you for it, I promise.
  • The thing that scares me the most going forward
Billy Cundiff is a gift from the football gods.  I think if he was really trying he probably could have put half of those kickoffs through the uprights.  But the Ravens should not have a game where they only get 2 touchdowns out of 7 total scores.  Now more than ever the NFL is a league driven by offense, and offense is driven by touchdowns.  This isn't 2000 and tallying more 3s than 7s is going to come back to bite you in the end and probably when you can least afford it (like in the playoffs).  Whatever this team does it needs to figure out how to get the ball in the end zone.  The offense is better than it was but it is not where it needs to be, and this is something that needs to be fixed before Monday night in Jacksonville.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Michael Oher Puts His Foot In His Mouth But Keeps It Less Than 140 Characters

Oh Michael Oher...

Just in case you have been living under a rock that only has Windows 7 for an operating system, I will be the one to break the news to you that Steve Jobs has sadly passed away yesterday.  This was Mr. Oher's response to that...

My favorite part of this is that he posted that on an iPhone.  I was hoping that he was attempting to channel Steven Wright's essence in a tweet.  But he wasn't.  And I know this because this was his response...

Yes Michael, there are fake people on Twitter.  I am two of them.  But maybe, just maybe, you can do a quick Google search or maybe watch a little news before you go out there and go full Simple Jack

Monday, October 03, 2011

Week 4 Postmortem: Ravens 34 - Jets 17

I would never claim to be at the level of Keith Van Valkenberg, but I have no problem stealing his idea and running with it (and unlike Jamison Hensley, I won't take a post concept, change the name, and then not acknowledge what I am doing *cough* *cough* Wake Up Call is just Matt Vensel's Coffee Companion *cough*).  And so, without further ado...

  • Sometimes bad offense is a result of good defense
Neither offense looked like they could play their way out of a paper bag with a map and a sherpa for most of the game. 51 points were scored, and there was only one TD scored by both offenses.  Combined.  Everything I was seeing both during and after the game was attacking the offenses, especially the quarterbacks, for inept play.  But sometimes you have to tip your hat to the defenses.  Both teams came in with something to prove both professionally and personally.  The Ravens wanted to prove that they could play well after a big win after the stinkbomb they set off in Tennessee two weeks ago.  The players wanted to prove that they were more than Rex Ryan and his mad schemes.  Last year under Chuck Pagano the defense was embarrassed by their performance.  And don't think that Ray Lewis didn't have extra motivation, even if the two teams did play each other last year.  Lewis said all of the right things when he was asked about Ryan deciding to go hard after Bart Scott and not at all after him when both players became free agents the same year that Ryan left Baltimore to coach the Jets, but it hurt him that Ryan didn't want him to build around and teach.  Lewis looks at the defense over the last 12 years of dominance and he is the one constant.  Other players have come through, they have learned from him, and they have used the success he has made happen and they have been signed to big contracts and been the big splash.  And to a man they have all failed when they left (how'd that Ed Hartwell deal work out for you guys, Atlanta?).  This was Ray's chance to show that it HAD been all about him, through all the coaches, through all the turnover, through everything Ray Lewis was the reason.  But to do that he would have had to go somewhere else and then this defense would have had to fail.  It didn't happen, but he has never forgotten the snub.  The Jets had the opposite issue.  There are quite a few players on that team that have been either lost to free agency (Scott and Jim Leonhard from Baltimore) or have been discarded (Aaron Maybin and Antonio Cromartie to name a few) and picked up off of the scrap heap.  The Jets are dangerously close to being the Oakland Raiders of the new millennium, with Ryan playing the Al Davis role of the outspoken "Bring it!" mouthpiece grabbing the players nobody else wants and telling them "we're your last chance to show the league that they're wrong about you".  And Ryan wants to show Steve Bisciotti that he picked the wrong guy in 2008.  Don't think that year that he didn't get the Baltimore OR the Atlanta job aren't still stuck in his mind as revenge opportunities.  It is an angry motivation that can burn you if you let it get out of control.  I wonder if we saw a little bit of that last night.
  • That said, what the hell was Cam Cameron thinking?
Yes, we all saw the passing game look like The Greatest Show On Turf last week against the Rams.  But a smart coach knows to look at what his team is going up against, and while it was fun to watch, that St. Louis game could have easily cost the Ravens a "W" last night.

The Rams went into that game w/the worst run defense in the NFL and everyone and their Aunt Petunia expected a heavy dose of Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, so Cameron mixed it up and opened the floodgates against a banged up secondary.  The Jets gave up 200+ yards to the Raiders the week before, but unlike the Rams the Jets have an excellent secondary.  So while you have to pass the ball to keep the defense honest, if you have the best blocking fullback in the league and a running back that creates mismatches every time he touches the ball you don't need to get cute.  It didn't help that Joe Flacco also had stars in his eyes and decided that throwing to his checkdowns was an admission that he cried while watching Barbara Streisand movies and just went deep, but the fault has to rest on Cameron's shoulders for calling all of those passing plays.  When the team finally went run heavy in the 2nd half they started moving the ball, ending drives w/two lost fumbles (one by Flacco and one by Ricky Williams) and one incomplete pass.  So it looks like Cameron finally got the message during halftime (although I have to wonder if John Harbaugh didn't have a say in the matter after his well covered statement that he was going to be more involved with the offense this year) the question remains: "What took you so long, man?"
  • Paul Kruger is a glory hound
I have seen Kruger active in two nationally televised games.  In one he had an interception in overtime that led to the winning score, and in the other he recovers a fumbled snap that leads to a field goal.  The lesson is obvious, if it is a nationally televised game, play him and good things will happen.  Any other game, any production from him is an added bonus.
  • Don't look now, but there was a Sergio Kindle sighting
He didn't do much, but he got on the field and he played in the game.  Little steps, man.  Keep on grinding and hopefully it will come.
  • I wasn't a big fan of the early bye week, but upon further review
The Ravens are a team that could use some time to lick their wounds and get their heads clear.  They go into the bye on a high note, in sole possession of first place in their division, and with any luck they will come back with Ben Grubbs (possibly the most underrated offensive lineman in a league that gives anyone who isn't a left tackle almost no recognition at all), Lee Evans (as much as I like Torrey Smith's potential, he needs to let the game slow down and come to him more than he is doing now.  Smith is a little too Tasmanian Devil for my tastes right now), and Jimmy Smith (it is amazing how quickly cornerback has gone from a problem of too many players to not enough warm bodies).  The last time the Ravens had a bye this early was in 2008, when weather conspired to make them have Week 2 off followed by 15 straight games.  They made it to the AFC Championship Game that year (and they played the AFC South that year too if you are the kind that looks for omens).  Add in the Thanksgiving night game against the 49'ers (at home, thank you very much) and it is like they have 2 byes this year.  It really couldn't have lined up much better for them, at least as far as it looks from here.
  • Ray Rice is a Bill O'Reilly meme

Let's hope Cameron realizes this while he has the next week "off".

Friday, September 30, 2011

Requiem For a Lost Season

I needed to take a few moments to digest the last week of baseball before I switch my gears and get into football coverage.  The Orioles played the role of spoiler during September, finishing the season with series wins against playoff contenders like the Detroit Tigers, the LA Angels, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Boston Red Sox (you might have heard something about that last one recently).  The strong finish kept the team from finishing w/100 losses for the 3rd time in their history (after 1954 and 1988), but it did nothing to assuage the anger of fans who watched a season that started with the hope of a team moving forward to respectability instead decay into a 14th straight season with a losing record and once again a pick in the top 5 of next year's MLB draft (the Orioles have the 4th pick, after the Houston Astros, the Minnesota Twins, and the Seattle Mariners).  The result of all this is that there will once again be big changes (or at least the attempts of big changes) in both the front office and on the field.

The consensus is that Andy MacPhail will be leaving the team.  I have mixed feelings about this.  While I do think his ignoring the foreign market (in particular the Latin American talent pool) is a huge mistake, the fact of the matter is that his overall plan was and is a sound one.  Every O's fan has heard "Grow the arms, buy the bats".  And that is what MacPhail tried to do.  He inherited a team that suffered from a severe lack of direction and gave it one.  He took the Mariners and the Astros to the cleaners by trading them Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada, respectively.  He took a farm system that was as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboards and did whatever he could do to put some bodies that had a chance of success in a place to succeed.

The biggest mistake he made was the mistake that fans (and many of us talking about the team) made too.  We decided that this was the year that we were moving from "development" to "accountable".  MacPhail said that this year was about the wins and losses, not about getting this team to where it needs to get to in order to take the next step, which is contending for the postseason.  The reason this was a fatal mistake is that the job of development was (and still is) nowhere near being done.  Everyone looked at that strong finish under manager Buck Showalter last year and decided that it was time.  They saw the food on the plate but did not look in the cupboards to see that they had nothing left after the meal.  So they dug in, but when injuries ate away at the Orioles there was nothing in the cupboard to refill the plates.

The Orioles used 12 different starting pitchers in 2011, tied for second most in the majors.  The pitching staff that the fans had been counting on is still young.  They faltered.  Maybe they thought the end of the 2010 season allowed them to slack on training during the offseason (Brian Matusz), or maybe committing the unnatural act of throwing a baseball for all of those years led to the kind of maintenance issues that seem to require surgery for all young pitchers these days (Jake Arrieta).  Perhaps they just struggled and might not pan out as starters (while not certain, Brad Bergesen and to a lesser degree Chris Tillman fit right here).  The Orioles were forced to go to the scrap heap (no other way to explain the signing of JoJo Reyes from the waiver wire and his immediate and long term insertion into the starting rotation).  The loss of Brian Roberts hurt the team as much this year as it did in 2010.  Luke Scott trying to play through a torn labrum hurt the team, but the lack of results from his replacements in Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold show that he might have had the best interests of the team at the heart of the decision.  The other problem was in deciding to once again go not only with stopgap players in order to not impede development of the players in the minors (like Derrek Lee), but to go after players with no flexibility if something went wrong somewhere else (Vladimir Guerrero started a logjam chain reaction that wound up affecting Scott, Reimold, Pie, and to a lesser degree Lee, Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis).

This was a team that needed everything to go right, and when it didn't a lot of things fell like dominoes.  And one of those things will most likely be Andy MacPhail's job.

I am not a fan of the rumor that Buck Showalter will move from the dugout to the front office.  If this was an expansion team like he had when he went to the Diamondbacks and he could put his imprint on the minors before the major league team even started that would be good.  But as it stands, putting someone with no actual experience in that part of the game in that position will only move the team further away from where it is trying to go.  I am fine with him getting to express an opinion on who is hired because he is going to have to work with them and they need to be on the same page.  But Showalter should stay where he is best suited, which is in the dugout.  I have heard all kinds of names mentioned as possible replacements, from the possible (John Hart) to the highly improbable (Brian Cashman or Theo Epstein) and everything in between (Matt Klentak, a very intriguing idea that I would like to see pursued), but at this point any speculation is just that because MacPhail is still on the job.

The area that I feel needs the biggest overhaul is player development.  Fans question why we keep having such horrible drafts compared to other teams, and while it is true that in baseball more than in any other professional sport the draft is more of a crap shoot than a science, it is very hard for me to believe that this is all a result of picking the wrong players.  At some point and on some level, those in charge of teaching those young players how to be a major league player are failing.  Brian Matusz should have never had the season he had in 2011.  His admitting that he wasn't "mentally prepared" for the season is as big of a condemnation on this team as anything the team has done in the last decade), and it leads me to wonder how much of the blame for the other pitchers regressing so substantially can also be attributed to that problem.  While it is speculation, the fact that I can justify that speculation says that it is time for a change.

For now, all we can do is wait to see what will happen in the future while we mourn what we thought could have been, no matter how improbable those could have beens really were had we looked objectively.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why This Sunday Matters To Me

It's something that you can't avoid. The question. And right now it is coming up constantly.

"Where were you?"

I didn't want this. I never wanted a "JFK" moment. Ask anyone who was alive and old enough to be cognizant of who they were / are where they were when they heard about JFK's assassination and they can tell you. No hesitation. I could have lived a happy life without having my own JFK moment. But I was not given a choice.

I know where I was. I might not remember the exact address, but I know. I was working for the Children's Theater Association in Baltimore. The office at that time was on 22nd Street, about a block in from Howard Street. The cast was rehearsing and I was in my office. Jen poked her head in my office and told me about the first plane. I stopped working and turned on the radio. I heard about the second plane as it happened. And I knew. I walked out of the office, went downstairs and outside, sat on the curb, and lit a cigarette. When one of the methadone clinic patients walked past me to get his pop, he bummed a smoke off of me. When he looked up I was crying. He asked what was wrong. I told him we were at war. He didn't care.

I suppose my memories aren't all that different than most everyone else's. More than anything I was concerned for my father and my uncle, who were both TDY (on business trips) for the government when it all happened. I worked for Dollar Car Rental company part time at the time, and I remember BWI being shut down, so I didn't go in or call (I found out later that the computers were all down, but that the Powers That Be decided to rent cars to people who didn't want to wait in the airport by hand writing contracts. I also found out that all of the car rental companies were doing the same thing, and they were doing some serious price gouging too. It is safe to say that I did not mind losing that job for being no call / no show once they got back on their feet.

But what about sports? This is a sports blog, right? Well, I have some pretty vivid memories of that too.

The Ravens were Super Bowl Champions. I had been alive for the Colts' Super Bowl win, and I remember well the Stars and Stallions and their championship victories. But the Ravens win in SB XXXV was the legitimizer for a generation of fans who had been starving for NFL respect. The attacks happened the Tuesday after Week 1, and Paul Tagliabue wisely cancelled Week 2's games. So it wasn't until September 23rd that I was on my way to Greg Hall's house (as I did most every week that season) to watch the game. I was living in Pasadena at the time, Greg lived in Perry Hall. So it was a trek around the Beltway for me. What I didn't know was that a number of motorcycle riders had planned a ride around the Beltway for that Sunday morning (going the opposite direction from me, so I wasn't in their way. I spent almost the entire ride  around I-695 with my left fist out of my window, in the air, in a sign of solidarity with and a show of respect for the guys riding on the other loop. I think I remember seeing others doing what I was doing, but I'm not 100% sure. I don't remember talking about it when I got to Greg's house, but I might have. But really, that doesn't matter.

So, where does all of that leave us?

I am not going to get into the politics of the immediate and long range aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. This is not the forum for it. I do remember watching the country rally around the NFL and MLB, feeling a nation not knowing what they are supposed to do turn to the familiar, watching men trapped by archetype and societal roles allow themselves to finally respond to the emotions of the moment while listening to someone sing the National Anthem, or even during a moment of silence before a game. Fans used the rituals of fandom to find a way to at least start feeling normal again, like things could one day be normal again.

I have not heard much from the masses about this, but I have heard a few rumblings that there should be no football or baseball games this Sunday. I disagree. And it has nothing to do with not "letting the terrorists win" or any kind of jingoistic claptrap. Because it isn't about letting the terrorists win any more than it is about letting the Rams win. It is about being who we are. And to be honest, Sunday afternoon is one of the few times that you will really see people looking more at the color of their jersey than the color of their skin.

One of my all time favorite memories is of what happened AFTER the Ravens beat the Giants in Tampa Bay. I had stayed home to watch the game instead of going to any number of friends' houses or to my favorite bar (a long story for another blog). But pretty much as soon as the game was over I headed out and started walking down to Fells Point. I don't remember having any reason to do it, other than wanting to be around people who were celebrating. As soon as I walked out of my house in Patterson Park, I heard cheering and laughter and car horns was a city wide party. There was no rioting, just elation. People were high fiving and hugging each other. Random strangers were handing you cold beers and inviting you to come join them for a celebratory shot, right there on the sidewalk in front of their house. The police were making sure that no one was going to hurt themselves or each other, but the open container rule was rescinded for one evening. I finally got down to Fells and started seeing friends in the street. I really don't know if I ever made it into the bar, but I know plenty of cold beverages made their way into my hands. I am pretty sure I was on at least one local news broadcast. But through it all, there was no black and white, no Jew and Muslim, no Catholic and Protestant. Everyone was a Ravens fan, and that is all that mattered to anyone out there. For one glorious moment we had achieved The Dream. And the really amazing thing is, I do not think I am being hyperbolic when I say that. I don't think that Dr. King had the Super Bowl in mind, but I do think that if he could have seen what was happening that night he would have approved. And he may have bought us all a round. And THAT is why they play the game, and THAT  is why we watch.

And that is what tomorrow means to me. A chance to get back to the one thing that terrorists and bigots and  closed minded idiots cannot stand: joy and togetherness in our shared experience.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A 12 Year Old Remembers

It was a different time.

It's funny how much things can change in 25 years (yes, I know I am 38, but bear with me). The Orioles were the only pro game in town. And while they were going through a rough patch they were only a few years removed from winning the World Series, so it isn't like there was some hugely disaffected fan base (like there is now). They didn't have to show up in orange shorts (and I mean shorts. This is pre-Fab 5 Michigan length) and tank tops to my middle school and play a game against some of the students and faculty. But they did.

I know now that they probably did this all over the state, but to my 7th and 8th grade brain these were the guys I watched in awe on the baseball field walking into my crappy gymnasium to take us on. They had just finished the regular season and I just knew that the calendar in the locker room had "Sept. 14,15,16 @NYY. Sept. 18,19,20 TEX. Jan. 17 @CBMS (that January date was circled in red ink, because THAT one was personal). And it wasn't just a bunch of end-of-the-bench and mop up reliever guys playing. It was Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray and Scott McGregor and Storm Davis.

And Mike Flanagan.

I don't remember much about the game (other than that we lost and that there was a picture of Mr. McMurray - one of our gym teachers - executing a perfect bounce pass past the outstretched arms of Cal in the yearbook. His face was the picture of concentration. HE was not in awe of these baseball players, that is for sure), and I don't recall any specific interactions with any of the players (I do recall a lot of the girls in my class swarming Cal after the game to get his autograph because they had crushes on him and his ice / steel blue eyes). I wish I could tell you that Flanagan said something to me, that he flashed his trademark sardonic wit and gave a kid a thrill. But I can't. He (like all of the Orioles) was polite, he was friendly, but he wasn't out there to find a 12 year old kid to make his new best friend. So my only real personal memory of Mike Flanagan, besides watching him pitch or listening to him during a game, is watching him run past me on the way to an easy layup. To tell you the truth, I don't remember being bothered all that much by being scored on by Flanagan (which is probably one of the reasons the Orioles won rather easily every time they played our school. That and because they were playing a mix of Social Studies teachers and gangly 13 year olds who were trying to figure out why their voice was cracking and why they were suddenly growing hair or boobs - or in the case of the hair growers how they could get to see those boobs - and why they had become REALLY uncoordinated).

By now you have heard that Mike Flanagan is dead. There are all sorts of rumors flying around right now about how (and possibly why) he died, but to be honest I don't care about that. The how and the why are secondary to the who, and the who is a man that cared as much about this ballclub as any one person has ever cared about anything. Whatever he was asked to do, he did it. He started games, he pitched in relief, he was traded for prospects and then came back as a Spring Training tryout (he was not even offered a minor league deal, which could easily be taken as a sign of disrespect) and made the team again, he worked in the broadcast booth, in the dugout as the pitching coach (on two separate occasions), and in the front office. I'm pretty sure that if someone had asked him to walk the aisles hawking beer or hot dogs he would have done it.

In an era where the vast majority of athletes are little more than high priced rentals, Mike Flanagan's dedication to the team that drafted him stands out. But our loss as fans who remember him for all he did for our team pales to the loss his family and friends are feeling right now. And while I know that the 24 hour news cycle demands fodder to be fed to it constantly, I hope that everyone takes a step back and thinks about what they would want if this was their teammate, their friend, their father, or their spouse, and gives those who are grieving that same respect.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Our Problem As Fans

I have been marinating on how to bring this up for a couple of weeks now. I have written and deleted so many paragraphs that I'm surprised that my "backspace" button hasn't gotten up and left my computer. So in the spirit of ripping the band-aid off rather than pulling it off slowly, let me say this:

Baltimore sports fans are paranoid.

I have been a fan of Baltimore sports for as long as I can remember anything. The hardest thing I do is to not be a homer when I am writing on here (and I know I often fail at that). But I have always been amused by the myopic viewpoint of Baltimore sports fans, until it got really out of hand over the last dozen or so years. But first, a little history...

Baltimore is a city that has never had a home. The North considers it a southern city, the South considers it a northern city. At one point it was a major player in the nascent country's development, but it was passed by New York and New Jersey in the north and South Carolina and Georgia in the south. Before long, Baltimore was looked at by people outside the city as a whistle-stop in between Washington DC and Philadelphia and the people in Baltimore were growing a very large chip on their shoulders. I am pretty sure it didn't help that the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York City and then became the juggernaut of professional sports while Baltimore couldn't keep a minor league baseball stadium standing.

Then it all started to come together. After a couple of stops and starts, Baltimore got an NFL team (they thought, at the time, for good) in 1953 and a MLB team in 1954. Within 5 years the city had a major championship (beating a team from high and mighty New York for added satisfaction) and a team that quickly became the class of the NFL right as the league's popularity exploded. And right as that was happening the baseball team began a run as arguably the best team in baseball. Another league that had not been able to get a foothold in the city looked like it finally had it going as the Baltimore Bullets got better and better and started fighting for an NBA title, making it to the Finals in 1971. Add in an indoor soccer championship and everything was coming up Milhouse for Baltimore.

And then it all fell apart.

The Bullets move to Washington DC and 4 years later win that NBA crown. The Colts move out of Baltimore a year after the Orioles win the World Series. The Orioles fall apart and go from that World Series to 107 losses in 5 years. The city eagerly accepts a cast off, secondhand team in an upstart football league that plays in the spring (the Philadelphia nee Baltimore Stars of the USFL) and watches that team win a championship only to see the league fold the next year in the dust of an ill-advised legal challenge to the NFL. The baseball team treads water, but even when it is doing well the fates seem to be against it so the season (and the post-season) was cancelled. The suffering football fans are basically told that they are never getting an NFL team (you may have heard something about building a museum) after watching NFL franchise after NFL franchise use Baltimore as a bargaining chip to get a better deal from their chosen city (see: Cardinals, St. Louis / Phoenix; Bengals, Cincinnati; Raiders, Oakland/Los Angeles; Buccaneers, Tampa Bay; et al). The fans in Baltimore sold out a preseason game in 93 minutes to watch two teams that they did not care one bit about just to show that the passion for NFL football was still there only to watch the league give expansion franchises to Charlotte NC and Jacksonville FL. The CFL decided that Baltimore deserved what they considered a professional franchise, only the NFL wouldn't let the city name the team after the old NFL team because it would confuse licensing rights with a team that had been wiped from existence and a city that had been told it would never be a member of the NFL again, even after the team offered to add "CFL" to that name.

Eventually the Orioles got good again (at least for a little while) and Baltimore got an NFL team (even though as a rule they were not at all fans of how they got it). But by then the damage had been done. The people of Baltimore have always had a chip on their shoulder because they feel slighted by the national consciousness, and the damage to their sports psyche was too much to bear.

Why am I bringing this up? Because all of this has led to Baltimore sports fans turning into that paranoid conspiracy theory guy that is convinced everyone is out to get them. I have never seen another fan base so completely out of their minds about making sure that the next hire is someone with local ties. Managers, front office personnel, even reporters. When the Orioles hired Lee Mazzilli in 2004 fans screamed in protest because he was most recently with the New York Yankees. Mazzilli led the Orioles to 78 wins in his first season and had them in 1st place in 2005 until the team fell apart in the middle of the Rafael Palmeiro steroid suspension / scandal / finger pointing at Miguel Tejada. But he was a Yankee, dammit. And my point then was "So what?" He is coming from a franchise that is winning. Maybe he can bring some of that dynamic and that success here. There is a reason that successful teams lose their coaches, be it in baseball or football or any other sport, and that is because the other teams recognize that success and want to emulate it. It makes sense. But around here making sense takes a back seat to making sure the hired help has a local commute just to get to the job interview. But that pales to the stink about reporters.

I am not going to opine on the merits and demerits of Jen Royle or Matt Vensel, because that is not the point of all of this. But the fact that Vensel is from Pittsburgh and Royle is from Boston (and for a double shot of local disgust she covered the Yankees for years before moving here to cover the Ravens and Orioles) apparently means that they are incapable of covering the local teams. Why? Because they are inherently biased against the Ravens and Orioles and their hometown allegiances will require, nay FORCE them to give disinformation; be overly critical of the local teams while giving too much praise to the opponents / rivals; and in any other way possible undermine the fan base here in order to facilitate the ascension of their home town teams.

As absolutely ludicrous as that sounds, it is what people (including certain locally owned AM sports talk station heads) actually believe. I have reached such a point of incredulity about the whole thing that I no longer know how to respond when someone I know says something like that (and I have heard friends actually say that the Orioles should have hired Rick Dempsey over Buck Showalter because Dempsey used to play here so he is obviously the right choice. Just an FYI - Dempsey played for the Yankees. That's who the Orioles got him from in a trade in 1976. But that seems to be forgotten by most people).

I am all for promoting from within. I love seeing someone I watched play and succeed come and work with players now and try to impart some wisdom upon them, but the simple fact is that other teams and other players have had success too and if they want to help the local teams improve than I am all for that as well. And while I love to see someone who grew up in the area find a home in the local media, I care more about their ability to analyze and report on what is happening with the teams that I watch (and cover). I do not care where they went to high school as long as they can give me information that I didn't already have or insight that I didn't think of or spark conversation that I am intrigued by and want to participate in, but more and more I seem to be in the minority about this.

What do YOU think?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Can't The Orioles Stop Sucking?

I have been trying to write this for a couple of weeks now. Every time I have started it, I have gotten bogged down in trying to make more intrigue than there is. So I'm going to put it right out there for everyone.

Everyone calling for change needs to stop.

Andy MacPhail needs to stay. The scouting department needs to be retained. The major league staff needs to be left alone.

More than anything else, teams that are successful have stability at the top. Since the last winning season, the Orioles have had 5 General Managers (Frank Wren, Syd Thrift, Jim Beattie / Mike Flanagan, and now Andy MacPhail). They have had 7 managers (Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo, Dave Trembley, Juan Samuel, and now Buck Showalter). There has been no continuity, and that has been a major contributor in their lack of success.

Andy MacPhail was hired in June of 2007. In the grand scheme of things he has had 3 seasons to change this club (I don't count the 2007 season since the major personnel decisions were made before he came in. MacPhail came in with a whole different philosophy than any of his predecessors. You may have heard the phrase "Grow the arms, buy the bats". It is a sound philosophy for building a team.

Sidebar for a moment of hard truth for Orioles' fans:

Anyone who expected all of the "Young Guns" (Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, and until his shoulder surgery Troy Patton) to pay off was fooling themselves. Teams are lucky if 1 out of every 3 "can't miss" arms actually doesn't miss. The hope is that one of the other two will become a quality bullpen arm, and that often is not the case. Britton is still very young, so his growing pains are not a surprise. Tillman is more of a head scratcher but he is only 23, so it is not like he is all but destined for the scrap heap. Matusz's disappearing velocity is a much larger concern, but he was injured to start the season and he is only 24 so there is time to let him get back to what he was doing during the last half of 2010. The Orioles brought in all of these guys right around the same time, so them struggling at the same time is not unprecedented or completely unexpected. What it is is bad timing for a team trying to make the turn back to respectability.

We as fans need to give this plan time to really grow and see if it can flourish. It makes sense. I don't know if it will work, but I know that it can work.

The other thing I am hearing is a call for the heads of the scouting department. Fans want Joe Jordan gone. Well I don't. And here's why...

Jordan was hired in November of 2004. So he has been running the scouting department since then. In that time he has helped the Orioles draft Matusz, Tillman, Britton, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, David Hernandez, and hopefully Dylan Bundy. And do not forget that it was the scouting department that told MacPhail who to ask for in the Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada trades, so he gets credit for Arrieta, Adam Jones, Luke Scott and George Sherrill being a part of the team as well. All in all, it looks to me like he has done a good job.

For those calling for his head, here are two other things to consider:
  1. He does not have final say on who the team drafts
  2. He has no say in how they are developed
I said in a previous post that I think the team needs to commit a LOT more money to scouting, especially overseas. Until this team commits real resources to scouting Joe Jordan is going into a gunfight with half as much ammunition. So add that to the fact that his staff makes the recommendations, but the front office pulls the trigger. A front office that has had 3 different cooks stirring the soup since his hire (starting off w/2 at the same time in Beattie and Flanagan), which means 3 different philosophies on what the team is looking for in the draft and what players give the team the best chances of getting that. Did Jordan push MacPhail to draft Matt Hobgood? We will never know because both Jordan and MacPhail are "company men", they don't talk out of turn and they NEVER reveal what happens behind the scenes. And looking back, take a good look at the 2009 draft's first round. How many players after Hobgood REALLY jump out at you? Right now I count maybe three that if offered up an even swap for Hobgood that I would take the deal. This is only his second full professional season, and he was injured for part of last year. Let the kid develop.

But most importantly to me (and the only thing I would be willing to listen to as far as needing immediate change) is the minor leagues. The real question is "Is the team picking bad players or are they not developing good players to their full potential?". And that is the question that I cannot answer right now (but if I had to guess, I would go more with the latter than the former). But until we give Andy MacPhail's people time to develop the players they are drafting that fit the mold they see for the future of this ballclub we cannot really know if he will be a success or not. And to blow it all up and start ALL over again would be a much bigger step backwards than the team has taken this year.

Let them be.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Unwritten Rules Of Baseball

Tonight the Boston Red Sox come to town in what will be the first meeting of the teams since what was a very ugly series to end the first half. On the off chance you have blocked the memories (and with the Orioles' performance over the last month no one would blame you), Baltimore went into Boston and lost 4 straight games by a total of 32-13. But it wasn't the scores as much as it was the drama that unfurled during the games.

Instead of rehashing all of the high (and low) lights of the game, let's take a look at what caused it to get so ugly so quickly (these charges are from the Baltimore Orioles point of view. Others may disagree):

  • David Ortiz stands at home plate for an extended period after hitting a home run off of Zach Britton, showing the rookie up
  • Former Oriole Matt Albers goes almost into histrionics after striking out some former teammates
  • Ortiz overreacts to pitches Kevin Gregg throws inside (while they were inside and called balls, Ortiz is known for crowding the plate in order to cover for his diminished bat speed on outside pitches) and yells at him from home plate
  • Ortiz swings at a 3-0 pitch in the 8th inning of a 10-3 game
All of this led to the brawl and the 4 ejections. Tempers flared, something sparked the tinderbox, and it was on. The next day John Lackey hit Nick Markakis in the 6th inning. Intentional or not, that should have ended it. But it didn't because

  • Lackey hit Derrek Lee in the 7th inning in what was unquestionably an intentional pitch, which led to home plate umpire Jeff Nelson warning both benches (meaning if a pitcher hit another batter in that game no matter the possible intent it would be an automatic ejection of both that pitcher and his manager)
  • And in Sunday's finale Red Sox rookie Kyle Weiland hit Mark Reynolds and Vladimir Guerrero, knocking both out of the game and putting Guerrero on the disabled list.
While both pitches were fairly obviously not intentional (just as Jeremy Guthrie's plunking of Kevin Youklis was clearly not a purpose pitch), the fact that Orioles' players were getting beat up led to Michael Gonzalez throwing behind Ortiz (clearly a purpose pitch) and getting himself and manager Buck Showalter ejected.

Now on to "The Rules", or "The Code"...whatever you want to call it, it must be capitalized and in quotations (or at the very least in italics). To the best of my knowledge there is no other sport in the world with a set of unwritten rules quite like baseball. Even long tenured veterans aren't always sure what the rules are, but there are some that are pretty much obvious and agreed upon, and the man who wrote the book on baseball's "Code" (literally) talked about what happened in the Friday game HERE. My contention is that John Lackey hitting Nick Markakis was okay after all that had happened, even though Kevin Gregg has a right to pitch to both sides of the plate and David Ortiz overreacted to the situation Lackey needs to show that he will protect his teammates, and once the Red Sox had taken a 3-0 lead it was a safe place to do it. Now from the looks of it his hitting Markakis was unintentional, but as my grandfather would say "them's the breaks". No matter the intent, the deed was done. Once Lackey hit Derrek Lee in the next inning it was starting all over again. And this is where the biggest mistake was made, something that Jeremy Guthrie alluded to after Sunday's game. Jeff Nelson warned both benches after Lackey hit Derrek Lee with a purpose pitch, leaving 2 straight Orioles' players being hit without giving the Orioles' pitchers a chance to deal with it in the way it has been dealt with for over 100 years. So now anger is festering again, which is only exacerbated when Kyle Weiland hits Mark Reynolds (no matter his intent or lack thereof) and knocks him out of the game. After Guthrie hit Kevin Youklis (another incident that is in no way affected by any possible intent), things should be settled. But Weiland hits ANOTHER Oriole, knocking HIM out of the game. So even though Weiland was ejected because of the warning issued on Sunday after Guthrie's incident, the issue still has to be dealt with and that is exactly what Gonzalez did.

Now after all of that came the pundits and local talking heads. Some backing the Orioles' actions, some bemoaning and railing against "The Code". So what is my take on it?

First and foremost, I think Kevin Gregg should have shut the hell up after the game. "The Code" is a lot like Fight Club, and I think we all know what the First Rule of Fight Club is. But other than that I don't see how things could have played out much differently. I put a lot of this on the umpires, especially Nelson because his actions caused bad blood to fester longer than needed and all but required retaliation from the Orioles even if Sunday's affronts weren't intentional. And also I DO think that there is a need for "The Code". There is a reason that it has existed this long, and while baseball might have the most famous set of unwritten rules they are far from the only ones to have them. If you don't believe me, think about what happens when you use the public bathroom at the stadium. No one told you where you are supposed to look or how you're supposed to wait. You just did it. And if you did something against the accepted protocols someone probably let you know it. Without these unwritten rules things would be a lot more difficult, and the same scenario applies to baseball.

Now let's see if the players have decided that it is done with, or if there is going to be more drama tonight.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Moment Of Levity

I have an article I want to post, hopefully later today but possibly not until Friday or Saturday due to scheduling conflicts. But until then I figured all Orioles fans could use a little laugh right about now, so I present to you:

Thursday, July 07, 2011

A Legend Passes

I wasn't lucky enough to see John Mackey play on the field with my own eyes. He retired the year before I was born. But even though I have only seen him on film, interspersed on highlight reels and "Best Of" clips, I can close my eyes and see him breaking tackles and outrunning linebackers and safeties like it is happening right in front of me because he is the reason that the tight end is more than a glorified offensive lineman that is occasionally allowed to catch a pass.

It is a rare feat to be considered someone who "changed the game", and John Mackey is one of the few men who can have that said about them without anyone really being able to argue the point. And the amazing thing about Mackey is that he did it twice.

Tight ends were an afterthought in NFL offensive game plans in 1963. The position was defined by players like Mike Ditka, hard nosed, hard hitting players who made some catches but were mainly there to block and to hit. John Mackey was different. He was fast. He could run as well as hit (during his rookie season, the Baltimore Colts used him as a kick returner), but when he hit you it was like being hit by a Mack truck. Former teammate Bob Vogel said it best when he said "Sometimes you had a sense that, given the option, John would rather run over you than outrun you". There was a play against the Detroit Lions in 1966 that is, even after 45 years, still awe inspiring (this is a nice little mini retrospective of Mackey's career including multiple clips showing his ability to break tackles, but the play in question starts at about 2:50 into the video). If you look, you'll see that he even ran over Lenny Moore (his teammate). Nothing was going to get in the way of John Mackey scoring a touchdown.

All of that, the respect that he earned on the field (like being named the best tight end to ever play the game on the NFL's 50th Anniversary Team in 1969) would have been enough to call him one of the game's all time greats. Not only was he a star in the NFL, he was a star in college, to the point that the best tight end in college is given the John Mackey Award every year. But he was more than a star on the field. He was arguably the first leader of the players.

It might be a little harder now, while NFL fans are stuck in the crosshairs of a stand off between the NFL players and owners over billions of our dollars, for people to understand how different it was for players in the late 60s and early 70s and how much John Mackey meant to the game and what it has become. But without Mackey, things would be VERY different.

John Mackey was not the first head of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), but it is hard to argue that he wasn't the most influential. He became the president of the union after the NFL / AFL merger in 1970, and almost immediately he engineered a strike (that lasted 3 days) in order secure pension and other benefits for the players. Two years later he filed an antitrust suit against the league and won free agency for the players, a right that the players bargained away in 1977, then had to fight for all over again 1987 before finally getting it again in 1993. One has to wonder just how different the NFL would be today if the players had not given up the golden goose before the NFL owners understood the ramifications of it. Professional football in America could look a lot more like professional baseball, both for good and for ill. But we will never know what could have been.

It has been argued by many that Mackey was held out of the Hall of Fame because of the acrimony he caused between the players and ownership. While no one will ever know for sure if that is true (when I asked my Magic 8 Ball the question the reply was "All Signs Point To Yes", however I do not believe that is admissible in court), in 1992 - his 15th and final year of eligibility - he was finally granted membership in that very exclusive club. And in a move that warmed the hearts of most all NFL fans in Baltimore (who were still four years away from the league returning to the city when he was finally inducted), he refused to receive his ring in Indianapolis (after the Colts had moved there in 1984) and instead waited to get his ring during halftime of an exhibition game being played in Memorial Stadium between the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins. That game was being held as a test from the NFL as Baltimore was a finalist for one of two expansion teams that were going to be awarded (the teams went to Carolina and Jacksonville). I had the privilege of attending that game and watching Mackey get his ring in front of many of the fans that had watched him on that very same field. I can remember getting chills as the crowd kept cheering and cheering for John Mackey. The only thing I can equate it to is when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak and the game had to be halted for over 20 minutes because the fans refused to let the moment go. The only difference is that I was in attendance for the Mackey moment, and I still have the ticket stub to prove it.

Even in tragedy, John Mackey continued to affect the game. In retirement he suffered from dementia (an unfortunately more and more common ailment among retired NFL players) and his treatment cost a lot more than the pension that he had fought so hard for all those years ago. It was because of his plight that the NFL and the NFLPA joined forces to arrange to provide for nursing home and adult day care for retired players suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease. This plan is still out there and still helping the players. The name of this agreement?

The 88 Plan.

John Mackey (September 24, 1941 - July 6, 2011)
Selected by the Baltimore Colts, 2nd Round, 19th overall, 1963 from Syracuse University
Career: 1963-1971 Baltimore Colts; 1972 San Diego Chargers
5 Time Pro Bowl Selection (1963, 1965-1968)
3 Time All Pro Selection (1966-1968)
Selected NFL's 50th Anniversary All-Time Greatest Tight End 1969
NFL Hall of Fame 1992

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Orioles Make A Long Overdue Move

The Baltimore Orioles need a pitcher for their game tonight. There was a chance that they could have used Alfredo Simon, but he was forced into the game last night against the Texas Rangers and is unavailable. The other solution was / is to bring a pitcher up from the minor leagues (and since Mitch Atkins has been with the team for a few days it was pretty obvious that he was going to be the choice), and that is what they did.

There is an open spot on the 40 man roster, so that is not going to be a problem. However, the Orioles need to make room on their 25 man roster in order to have him pitch tonight. There was talk about sending Pedro Viola back to the minor leagues or designating Chris Jakubauskas for assignment, but instead Andy MacPhail has done something that should have been done a while ago (allowing me to get into a topic that people have been mentioning to me for quite a while now). They put Luke Scott on the DL.

Scott revealed that he had a torn labrum in his right shoulder in early May (he said he injured it in spring training). According to him it affected his throwing but not his hitting, but even for a hitter as notoriously streaky as Luke Scott (who has had cold stretches that rivaled a Yukon Territory winter) it has been a dismal showing.

Buck Showalter is not perfect (a cursory glance at his MASN commercials will show that), but he is very good. His biggest flaw might just be an over-commitment to his veteran players. He does have a track record of protecting his veterans, and to be honest I cannot think of any alternative as to why he kept choosing to put Luke Scott's name in the lineup every game.

This leaves the team with Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold as the 2011 version of Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein (the roles most assumed they were going to fill until the Orioles signed Vladimir Guerrero to be the team's Designated Hitter). It is going to be interesting to see what Reimold does over the next two weeks (the Orioles can back date Scott's DL sting to July 4th, so with the All-Star break in the mix he could be back by the time the Boston Red Sox come to town July 18-20). In 2009 Nolan Reimold was a very pleasant surprise. He was only called up after Lou Montanez was injured, and he responded by winning Rookie Of The Month for June and ended up hitting .279 with 15 home runs in 104 games. Unfortunately he had to be shut down early due to a fraying left Achilles tendon, and he never seemed to find himself in 2010 due to not being able to train in the off-season and his not being fully recovered from the injury. Reimold was almost traded in the off-season this past year, but he had been training with Brady Anderson and Anderson told the Orioles' F.O. that it would be a good idea to keep him around.

To be honest, that was one of the things that made the Guerrero signing such a head scratcher. The only way it can be justified is if the Orioles knew about Luke Scott's shoulder, since he was slated to be the primary DH. But if they knew that why wouldn't they have put Scott on the DL from the beginning instead of letting him play for 3 plus months? If it was an injury that rest and rehab could have solved than sit him. If it is going to require surgery get him under the knife now so that he is ready to train in the off-season and can be 100% when spring training starts NEXT year.

But it seems obvious (at least to me) that the Guerrero signing was a panic move. The Orioles have a fan base that is dying for a winner, and it was pretty obvious that this year was not going to be the call from the Warden that the fans need. Signing Vladimir Guerrero was not going to change that, but he was sitting out there as a free agent and the fans were talking about him and what his bat would mean for the rest of the team. what they didn't take into account was that Guerrero is now at a point in his career where he needs protection in the lineup as much as he provides protection in the lineup. A big reason why he was so good last year is that he was hitting next to Josh Hamilton. The two of them fed off of each other and helped lead the Texas Rangers to the World Series. Derrick Lee, Luke Scott, and Mark Reynolds have not offered the same kind of protection as Josh Hamilton and Michael Young did last year. Add to that the ongoing injury issues with Brian Roberts tossing the daily lineup into upheaval from the top down (and taking away the table setter that makes all of the hitters behind him that much more dangerous) and you have a guy playing Designated Hitter and hitting cleanup that is hitting singles.

Now Vlad is still going to be the DH for a while, but at least the fans (and the management) will get to see what a Reimold / Pie platoon can do. And as much as I like what he can do when he is healthy, I harbor some hope that Luke Scott will not be back in the lineup in 15 days. It is time to really see what these two guys can do.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Baltimore Orioles Fans Are Mad As Hell And They're Not Going To Take It Anymore: 2011 Not Quite All-Star Break Edition

I started out preparing a list of fan reactions from articles and blog posts in the area after the Orioles were swept by the St. Louis Cardinals while on their way to a season worst 8 games under .500 record. I figured with the last 10 games of the season until the All-Star break on the road and against the Atlanta Braves, the Texas Rangers, and the Boston Red Sox, this might just be the beginning of the Big Boil Over (hell, my post yesterday wasn't exactly all beer and Skittles).

But about 10 or 12 copy / pastes into the article, I realized that it is futile. It is tough to see it through all of the doom and gloom of the last 13 years, but this is a team that has made progress and still can. The thing about all of that losing is, as soon as things go a little south it is too easy for fans to go "there they go again" and start beating down on the team and not look at the fact that there HAVE been strides taken.

This is not to say that the team, the front office, and the ownership are not deserving of some browbeating. But to focus solely on that while ignoring all of the steps forward is doing a disservice to the team AND to the fans.

Two things that I read jumped out at me to the point that I had to change my entire post on here. The first was seeing that someone was calling for Buck Showalter to be fired. I cannot even begin to understand the reasoning behind anyone calling for this. The facts of the matter are this, as of July 1st, the Orioles are 69-66. That is a total of 135 games, or 27 short of a full season. The Baltimore Orioles need an influx of talent in a number of positions, including (but not limited to) first and third base, starting and relief pitching, and if the mounting injuries are any indication, second base (and that is just for the big league team). Buck Showalter has done more with less than can reasonably be expected. He is not the problem.

The second thing that made me shake my head was someone who posted an angry diatribe about how the Orioles had no picks in the 2011 Draft in between their 1st pick (when they drafted Dylan Bundy, RHP, 4th overall) and their 2nd pick (Jason Esposito, 3B, 64th pick), while the Boston Red Sox had 4 picks (19, 25, 36, 40) and the Tampa Bay Rays had 8 (24, 31, 32, 38, 41, 42, 56, 59). The poster went so far as to blame Andy MacPhail for this. For all of MacPhail's faults and mistakes during his tenure as the President of Baseball Operations for the Orioles, deciding which teams get to draft when is not one of them. The reason those teams had all of those draft picks is because they had free agents that they lost that netted them compensatory picks. The Orioles have not had that luxury, mainly because MacPhail has traded away players before they became free agents if they had any value (free agent compensatory picks are decided by how they are ranked by the Elias Sports Bureau over the previous two years of playing, and those stats are weighted against others playing the same positions as them in the field). This is done to reward teams that do a good job of scouting and developing players in order to give them a better chance to compete against the teams that are signing these developed and now free to sign anywhere players.

The Orioles have been hit hard by injuries but they are not using that as an excuse, and they should not try to do so. All teams are hit by injuries, it is the nature of the game. The problem is that the Baltimore Orioles do not have the replacement players in the minors ready to step in for injured players, and they cannot get those players overnight, and most of the players they received in the Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada trades are either in the majors or have been dealt for other players. The Orioles ARE trying to build through the draft, but more so than any other sport the draft for baseball is a complete crap shoot. There is a reason that the MLB draft is 50 rounds and no other league's draft is more than 7 rounds long.

As far as signing a free agent (and yes, people are STILL bringing up Mark Teixeira as well as Victor Martinez and a dozen other players that the Orioles have not signed), it is a simple concept that too many people are not wrapping their heads around, namely that a marquee free agent is not going to choose to sign in Baltimore if other teams that have a better chance of at least making the playoffs if not winning the World Series outright are also in the picture. We can't even offer the no state income tax that Texas and Florida can offer the players. I actually applaud Andy MacPhail for not letting agents use the Orioles to raise the bids for their star players from other teams (which is what really happened in the Teixeira negotiations).

So what can we blame them for? First and foremost, for not being a lot more aggressive in the Latin American and Far East regions. Teams like the Orioles (namely teams that don't have the unlimited cash or cache that the megawatt teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, or Los Angeles Angels have) need to be bigger in places like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and they need to be the ones wining and dining and schmoozing the teams and players and agents in Japan and Korea. They need to be bold like the Tampa Bay Rays and look for places that could be the next hotbed of talent like Brazil (this article is over 2 years old, but it gives you an idea of what the Rays are doing. There was an article in ESPN Magazine recently that expanded on this and gave some new information). This is a huge failing on the part of MacPhail, Angelos, and the entire organization.

The only other thing that they could do that they have not done enough of is to take more of their later round draft picks and go after some of those really high ceiling kids that probably won't sign, and then offer them big bucks to sign anyway. If you can get one or two of those players to sign every couple of years, in a few years time you might have a top flight minor league system, and then you have the ammunition needed to trade for that big bat corner infielder and that starting pitcher that will fill in when one of the young stud arms is injured in the middle of the season.

If you look at it critically, but without the emotion that comes from not having a winning season since 1997, you can see that there are positive steps being taken. But if you need to vent, go ahead. I can't blame you for being frustrated.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Possibly Apocryphal

A long time friend of mine is a Denver Broncos fan. Before they finally won it all, he used to lament about how the team just couldn't take that next step in the big game. One of his favorite things to say whenever anything was going wrong (no matter the situation) was a quote he attributed to a David Letterman Top Ten List of things Dan Reeves said to the Broncos at halftime during one of their Super Bowl collapses:

Okay boys, start sucking!

As I have watched the Orioles over the last few weeks, part of me keeps wondering if Buck said something along those lines to the team. How else do you explain bases loaded, no outs, your 2-3-4 hitters coming up, and NO runs scored?

Not scoring any runs after loading the bases w/no outs is no way to go through life, son

It has been INCREDIBLY frustrating. Peter Schmuck is calling for Vladimir Guerrero to be removed from the cleanup spot. The starting pitchers' inability to give a quality start cost the team a highly effective matchup reliever in Clay Rapada. And many people (including myself) have been calling for the team to bench / DL Luke Scott and his bum shoulder and get Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie more playing time. This is a team that is now looking like they are going to be sellers at the trade deadline, and no matter how much money Peter Angelos is pocketing in the Exxon gas leak settlement, it probably won't be enough to lure Prince Fielder here if they can't even promise to be within sniffing distance of .500 without him.

The problem is that there is really nothing left in the minors. The Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada trades were great, and they gave the team a lot of good players (possibly a couple great ones). But the position players closest to the majors are not looking like the kinds of players that will make a difference (which is especially disheartening in regards to Brandon Snyder, because he is one of those kids who you can't help but root for), and even then there isn't a whole lot after Manny Machado (and it is way too early to make any kind of prediction on how he will end up). The kid they drafted this year w/the #4 pick, Dylan Bundy out of Oklahoma, looks like he is going to be the real deal, but he is a high school pitcher, and there is nothing more dangerous in the MLB draft than a high school pitcher. Add to that there isn't a whole lot on the big league team that will net anything really special in the trade market unless some bubble team is REALLY close to the playoffs for the first time in a long time and they overspend in order to get "the missing piece" and you have a recipe for what is quickly turning into a long season without even the glimmer of hope in the future that has been there the last few years.

Screw it. It's time to drown my sorrows in $6 Natty Boh drafts at the Yard. This might just be the last non-oppressive heat game until September, so if you can make it out tonight, look for me leaning against the scoreboard wall, weeping quietly.