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July 2004 Archives

July 7, 2004

When being right is oh, so wrong

The Orioles sent in their "White Flag" lineup last night to combat Tampa Bay's soft-tossing lefty Mark Hendrickson:

Orioles' starting lineup, July 6, 2004
Player Pos Bats 2004 OPS
v. LHP
Brian Roberts DH S .633
Jerry Hairston 2B R .975
Miguel Tejada SS R 1.084
Javy López C R .879
Rafael Palmeiro 1B L .508
Luis Matos CF R .485
Chad Mottola LF R 1.333
Luis López 3B S .774
Tim Raines Jr. RF S .750

(OPS figures were from before last night's game. By the end of the game, all of those numbers had dropped except the Lópezes'.)

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July 10, 2004

Birds' brains and Bauer: the bodies impolitic

Right-hander Rick Bauer fired several parting shots at Oriole management on his way back to the minors. His cross remarks came immediately after being informed of his demotion—and likely exclusion from the ballclub's future plans—by manager Lee Mazzilli, pitching coach Ray Miller, executive vice president Jim Beattie, and director of baseball administration Ed Kenney after Wednesday's game.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun (“Told he's unwanted, irked Bauer demoted, perhaps for last time”):

“I'm extremely surprised. The move probably shouldn't shock me with what's been going on this year. I probably shouldn't put it past them....

“They said I'm the 13th guy, I can't pitch for this team, they didn't think I could pitch here at all and they're trying to get rid of me—to be almost word for word. I like Baltimore, but I really don't have a choice. I don't get to make that decision.

“To flat-out hear I can't pitch here, that's kind of a joke because I've done it the past two or three years. Now all of a sudden, no? I had one horrible outing in Chicago. Minus that, and I'm probably one of the more effective guys on the team. But I guess that doesn't really count for anything.”

As transcribed by MLB.com's Gary Washburn (“Hot Bauer sent down”):

“Deep down, yeah, I'm hurt. Because I busted my (tail) for this organization. So to hear that, especially getting kicked to the curb. You are washed up and you're 27. I am going to go put up zeroes [in the minors] like I always do, every time. And maybe somebody will pick me up, who knows? They said they were pretty much going to get rid of me. I have a bad ERA, that's it. I have no idea how to take that. Do I take it as a guy who (stinks)? Or as a guy who's looking for an opportunity.”

“I had one horrible outing in Chicago, besides that I am one of the more effective guys on this team,” he said. “But I guess that doesn't really count for anything. I am going to go deal in Triple-A as I always do for the past four years. Maybe somebody will give me a shot, I don't care if it's in the bullpen, anywhere. I just want to go back to the majors.”

Bauer's comments were unusually candid and undiplomatic. The opportunistic media, always looking for a fresh quote, lapped up his frustrations right after he had received the bad news—and, presumably, before he had taken the time to calm down and internalize the information. So while his words at the time were emotionally honest, if asked again today Bauer would probably put things differently, having had the benefit of some reflection. But let's parse his initial reaction and see if his thoughts were valid. (Apologies in advance to Linda Ronstadt.)

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July 12, 2004

Miggy joins Raffy on AL's longballing squad

Miguel Tejada, the Orioles' lone All-Star this year, has been selected to replace Jason Giambi in tonight's Home Run Derby after Giambi pulled out due to lingering effects of his intestinal illness. Tejada will join the Birds' Rafael Palmeiro, the Rangers' Hank Blalock and the Red Sox's David Ortiz as the American League slugging representatives. They will join a formidable National League contingent of Barry Bonds, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Lance Berkman (Berkman was named as a late replacement for Ken Griffey Jr.).

Tejada is not a predictable choice to fill out a homer-hitting team—he has never finished among the top five in the league in round-trippers, and his fifteen taters this year are tied for 15th in the AL—so I guess that other All-Star mashers like Manny Ramírez, Alex Rodríguez, and Vladimir Guerrero turned down invitations to join the contest. Tejada should be able to hold his own because he has more than enough bat speed to hit the ball out of the park, but he has a natural line-drive swing that does not usually impart a lot of lift to the ball. I would give Palmeiro a decent chance in this exhibition because his swing naturally results in a lot of fly balls (0.80 G/F career), but Bonds has to be the favorite.

Stars that never faded

My favorite All-Star memory is Cal Ripken, in the midst of his 1991 MVP season, winning the Derby with a phenomenal 12 homers in 22 swings, then crushing a three-run tater in the All-Star Game to claim the event's MVP award.

Cal's last All-Star appearance, in the 2001 game, was also heart-warming. A-Rod graciously allowed Cal to take his old spot at shortstop for an inning, then Cal earned another All-Star MVP by smacking a four-bagger off Chan Ho Park.

I also recall the 1993 classic at Camden Yards, when Griffey reached the B&O Warehouse on the fly during the Derby. Late in that year's game, partisan Baltimore fans heckled AL manager Cito Gaston for not inserting Mike Mussina, and Mussina fueled their anger by conspicuously getting up in the bullpen to purportedly do some between-starts throwing. Gaston was persona non grata in Baltimore for several years after that incident.

Update (July 13): Against all expectations, Tejada claimed the Derby title with a standard-setting performance. He notched the most homers ever in a single round, with 15, and ended with the record for the most homers overall, with 27, and he could have added to that total had he been allowed to continue after outdistancing the Astros' Lance Berkman with five outs remaining in the last round. Tejada even finished with the longest homer of this year's competition, a 497-foot torpedo that cleared the left-field stands and landed on Crawford Street beyond. Not bad for a 5' 10", 210-lb. shortstop who was contending with some of the giants of our time.

July 14, 2004

Midseason analysis: a Birds-eye view

With the Orioles carrying a record of 37–48 at the All-Star break, discontent reigns in Birdland. Owner Peter Angelos has publicly expressed his disappointment with his team, and rumors have circulated that manager Lee Mazzilli's job status for next year is up in the air. It's true that the Birds have underachieved in their first half-season under Mazzilli. But their problems go far beyond the purview of a manager's influence. The main culprits so far have been wildly ineffective pitching and leaky defense. The offense, as expected, has been better than last year, but has also been impaired by lousy situational hitting, a suddenly punchless outfield, and weak production from the DH spot.

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July 15, 2004

O's skewered by the Post

The Washington Post's Orioles beat writer, Dave Sheinin, has penned a scathing report on the Orioles' underwhelming first half of the season. In the lengthy article, Sheinin shines a harsh spotlight on rookie manager Lee Mazzilli, turns the lens to Peter Angelos's renewed meddlesome ways, and recaps the many things that have gone wrong on the field for the Birds this year. The most disturbing revelations:

  • Mazzilli has “lost the clubhouse,” according to two anonymous veteran players.
  • Angelos used his veto powers in last month's draft to dictate that the Orioles' first-round pick be a college pitcher.
  • Angelos became so infuriated with Sidney Ponson's woes that he checked into the possibility of voiding the pitcher's contract because Ponson had failed to keep himself in first-class physical condition.
  • Mazzilli has not blended in with the returning contingent of Oriole coaches as seamlessly as hoped: “According to clubhouse sources, Mazzilli's relationship with his coaches is distant at best, cool at worst.”
  • In the season opener, Maz actually wanted to bring in left-hander Buddy Groom, not right-hander Rodrigo López, to face the left-handed hitter Johnny Damon, but a mix-up led to López entering the game. Mazzilli, as we know, was subsequently praised for going against convention while giving the demoted López an immediate chance to make an impact.
  • Maz made another blunder on June 17 when he went on the field to make a switch before López was ready to enter the game.

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July 16, 2004

The Corked Bat Caper, ten years later

This is only peripherally related to the Orioles, but I thought some of you might find it interesting. Recently I ran across an article by Paul Sullivan on the Chicago Tribune site (subscription required) titled “Mystery over Belle's lumber still a corker.” It so happens that yesterday, July 15, 2004, was the ten-year anniversary of the corked-bat incident involving Albert Belle, who at the time was starring for the Cleveland Indians (some four years later he would join the Orioles as a free agent). For those who don't have or want a subscription to the Trib's site (I believe if you have an account on the Baltimore Sun's site, your username and password will work on the Tribune site because they are owned by the same media conglomerate), here's my summary of the story.

That day the Indians were playing in Chicago's Comiskey Park. The race between the two teams was tight that year. Early in the game, White Sox manager Gene Lamont, acting on a tip, asked the home-plate umpire to check for evidence of tampering in Belle's bat. The umpires saw nothing unusual with the bat on initial examination, but they exercised their right to confiscate it and locked it in the umpires' office/dressing room at Comiskey, from which it was to be sent to the league office in New York for X-ray inspection.

During the game, someone stealthily squirmed through the overhead crawl space connecting the visitors' locker room and the umpires' room, lowered himself into the umpires' room through a displaced ceiling tile, and switched the confiscated bat with a "clean" bat from the cache of Cleveland first baseman Paul Sorrento. The umpires noticed the switch after the game (not to mention pieces of broken ceiling tiles), demanded Belle's bat back, received it and sent it to New York. League officials found cork in the bat and suspended Belle for ten games (later reduced to seven on appeal).

The story doesn't end there. Five years later, the mysterious bat switcher finally revealed himself to the New York Times's Buster Olney. Who was it? Current Oriole reliever Jason Grimsley. Grimsley was a 26-year-old spot starter on the Indians in 1994, but had become a Yankee reliever in 1999 and felt that enough water had passed under the bridge to put the truth on America's so-called paper of record.

Tribe shortstop Omar Vizquel corroborated Grimsley's story in his 2002 memoir. He added that Grimsley had to replace the corked bat with a Sorrento model because “all of Albert's bats were corked.” Belle promptly denied this allegation, but Vizquel's version seems at least partially credible. If Belle had possessed just one or two corked bats, it would have been much simpler to use one of Belle's undoctored bats as a replacement. But if most or all of Belle's bats were corked, then the substitute bat would have to come from another player. Of course, Grimsley could not fix the difficult matter of Sorrento's name being on the replacement bat, so his risky work went for naught.

Other ex-Orioles litter the storyline, although their participation is more incidental. Mike Hargrove was the Indians' manager in 1994, five years before he took the same job in Baltimore. Although he apparently did not approve of the bat swap, his visiting manager's office at Comiskey was the starting point for Grimsley's overhead passage. John Hart was Cleveland's general manager, less than six years removed from an apprenticeship in the Oriole organization as a minor-league manager and major-league coach. He, too, did not condone the bat switch, calling it “more of a misguided sense of loyalty with a teammate than anything else.” And Grimsley's confessor, Olney, covered the Orioles for the Sun in the mid-1990s before moving to the Times and ESPN the Magazine.

What we learn from this story is that Grimsley is an exceedingly loyal teammate who will go to great lengths—and sometimes illegal ones—to help his team. But at 205 pounds, he is a good amount bigger than his 180-pound self of ten years ago, so crawling through cramped passages may not be a part of his skill set anymore.

July 21, 2004

Orioles send message: Performance matters

Two developments of note from Monday:

DeJean gone, García is here-ah

Our long regional nightmare is over. The Birds traded pitcher Mike "I Give No Relief" DeJean to the New York Mets for journeyman outfielder Karim García. The Baltimore Sun speculates that other trades may be forthcoming.

The two teams essentially swapped one problem child for another. Opposing hitters blasted DeJean's ERA to the outer reaches of the solar system at the beginning of this season, and although he had been pitching better over the last month or so, he was not really an asset to the bullpen. Moreover, last month's acquisition of Jason Grimsley made DeJean redundant.

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July 23, 2004

O's open the door to closer Julio

According to today's Baltimore Sun, “the Orioles are giving serious thought to trading closer Jorge Julio before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, with multiple teams showing interest in acquiring him as a primary setup man.” Potential trading partners mentioned are the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

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July 30, 2004

This week in Orioles baseball

Miguel Tejada was named the American League's co-player of the week for the seven days ending July 25. He batted .424 (14-for-33) with an AL-leading 14 RBIs and 11 runs last week and has been simply sizzling since the All-Star break, making him a top candidate for Player of the Month as well. I'll publish another article or two about him soon.

Sidney Ponson, looking less round these days, is on the rebound, having posted three wins since the All-Star break to improve his record to 6-12 with an ERA of 5.60. His latest win was a tidy 103-pitch, four-hit, complete-game disposal of the Yankees last night. After getting shelled in the first half of the season with ERA's of 6.29, 5.88, and 6.46 in April, May, and June, he has posted a 2.05 ERA since the break. Aside from the diminished poundage, Ponson's renaissance has coincided with (1) two weeks' rest between his July 5 start and his next start, which led off his recent streak; (2) the return of former pitching coach Ray Miller, who oversaw Ponson's acclimation to the majors in the late nineties; and (3) more frequent use of his off-speed pitches per the advice of Miller. If the Orioles improve on their first-half record in the second half of the season—and chances are good that they will—Ponson will probably play a large part in that performance.

According to all published reports, the Orioles are finding the trade market slow, and in particular are finding little demand for either of their second basemen. All that could change in an instant, of course, but as of today nothing appears imminent.

About July 2004

This page contains all entries posted to The Orioles Warehouse in July 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2004 is the previous archive.

August 2004 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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