Well now, everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
— Bruce Springsteen, Atlantic City
BALTIMORE — There is a classic moment in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises when someone asks the protagonist, Mike Campbell, how he went bankrupt, and all he can say in response is, “Gradually and then suddenly.” That’s kind of the way it happened with the Orioles, too. One minute they are a couple of pitches away from going to the World Series during a 98-win season, the next they are fighting to climb over .500, and then…
The Orioles, once the Major League Baseball franchise that did everything right, has not had a winning season since going to the ALCS in 1997 when general manager Pat Gillick and manager Davey Johnson designed a two-year run that put the club one step shy of the World Series.
But then just like that… poof!... it ended. Only the Pirates have a greater streak of losing seasons than the Orioles, which for those of us who remember the epic 1979 World Series, is simply unfathomable. Moreover, aside from the Blue Jays and Royals in the American League and the Nationals/Expos and Reds in the National League, no team in baseball has had a longer absence from the playoffs than the Orioles.
And no, this simply isn’t a case of bad luck or outside forces conspiring against Baltimore. It’s not like in 1980 when the Orioles missed the playoffs even though they won 100 games. The Orioles seemingly have everything in place, too. Their ballpark is still the crown jewel and the standard of the retro stadium age, the facilities for the players and workers remain top-notch, and the strong history of winning and fan support is well documented.
More obvious was the fact that the “Oriole Way” worked. With Hank Peters calling the shots as the long-time general manager and Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr. schooling the players, Baltimore players came to the club young and stayed until they were old. Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Al Bumbry, Cal Ripken Jr. … the list goes on and on. Even players that came from other organizations like Frank Robinson, Ken Singleton, Lee May, Scott McGregor and Rick Dempsey, quickly caught on.
The results? Three straight trips to the World Series from 1969 to 1971, five 100-win seasons between 1969 and 1980, as well as trips back to the World Series in ’79 and ’83.
Then gradually and suddenly it all went away.
The easy answer is to blame the new ownership led by famed litigator, Peter Angelos. Certainly the charges against him as a poor owner have been written about ad nauseum and don’t need to be rehashed here. A quick Google search using the terms “Peter Angelos” and “worst owner” turn up a trove of stories for those so inclined.
It’s also easy to look at the list of bad moves and busted drafts and point a finger of blame. For every Markakis and Wieters there is an Adam Loewen or Chris Smith to throw back out there.
But from all reports, Angelos has allowed his new GM Andy MacPhail to run the team unimpeded since 2007 and he swiftly changed the direction of the club. Gone was malcontent staff ace Erik Bedard in a deal that landed the Orioles All-Star Adam Jones and pitching prospect Chris Tillman. The team also didn’t jerk around with top draft picks Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz. In fact, Wieters is finishing off his second season as the Orioles catcher, while Matusz has gone 8-12 with a 4.68 ERA in 29 big league starts this season.
Better yet, the Orioles also signed mainstays Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis to long-term extensions and tabbed big-name manager Buck Showalter to guide the club. Since taking over for Mike Trembley and Juan Samuel, Showalter’s O’s have gone 26-15 and the starting pitchers have remarkably turned in a 19-11 record with a 2.93 ERA in those 41 starts.
“If you sit around and think about what happened yesterday, you won’t think about what you have to do today,” Showalter said in preferring to leave the past behind.
So maybe things are looking up for the Orioles? Sure, they play in the toughest division in baseball where moving the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays out of the top spot will take a little more than finding young talent to develop, but it’s tough for things to get any worse in B’more.
Until then the attendance likely won’t get much better at ol’ Camden Yards. On Wednesday night they announced a crowd of a little more than 13,000, though Eutaw Street was hardly abuzz and there were barely lines at any of the concession stands. No, Wild Bill Hagy is long gone noting that the Orioles rank 10th out of 14 teams in attendance in the American League. Through the early part of Wednesday's game, one could hear the sound of the gloves popping and bat rattling against the ground when it was dropped.
Yes, things are still quiet at Camden Yards, but nothing lasts forever. Not even losing.