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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.

September 9, 2004

Greatest O's—for real this time

If you've been following the Orioles at all this season, you've no doubt been bombarded by reminders that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the modern Orioles in Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun has run a year-long series of historical articles on the Orioles of the last 50 years; ad spots have run prominently featuring the Birds and the numbers 50 or 1954-2004; and during every O's broadcast we are exhorted to pick the 50 greatest Orioles by voting on the team's web site.

Considering that I am both a regular Internet user and a close follower of the Birds, it may seem surprising that I did not give much thought to submitting a ballot for the 50 greatest O's until recently, when I came across the voting page during my survey of MLB.com. I guess I don't care as much for "Top N" lists as other people do. So I procrastinated, figuring that I could always refer to the all-time Orioles lists in Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups (one is reproduced here at ESPN.com) to help me fill out my ballot if I ever got around to it.

But what I discovered upon examining the ballot immediately drew my indignation. I was almost scared away by the amount of personal information required to vote. But far more exasperating was the ballot's flawed design. No, it's not what you think: there isn't a confusing, butterfly-style presentation, nor is there potential for hanging chads, and as far as I know, Diebold did not write the code to run this vote. But the inequitable way that the ballot allocates votes for various positions makes it highly likely that many deserving players will be left off the team of the 50 greatest Orioles. I'm not saying that the vote was intentionally rigged to favor certain players or groups of players, but the effect will be essentially the same.

Continue reading "Greatest O's—for real this time" »

September 15, 2004

Greatest O's: Introduction

Selection criteria

I've settled on an informal system for selecting the top 50 Orioles of the last 50 years (i.e., 1954-2003). The primary criterion for judging players will be their total contributions to the Orioles during their playing careers. Those contributions will be measured by two rating systems, Bill James's Win Shares and Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP-3). I don't really want to get into the details of each system here; however, information on both is widely available—Win Shares in book form, and WARP-3 on BaseballProspectus.com, where it is included on the Davenport Translations (DT) player cards. Neither system is perfect, but both make a reasonable effort at mathematically approximating a player's total worth, combining his efforts on offense, defense, and the pitcher's mound. In truth, the two systems have a lot in common, but they differ enough in some implementation details that I decided to use both statistics to get a more complete picture.

The Oriole career Win Shares and WARP-3 will be weighted far and above all other factors, but in some cases peak performance—that is, the value of the player in his greatest seasons—will also be considered. Peak contributions will come into play for stars that had brief Oriole stints, but shone brightly enough in their years with Baltimore to overshadow the longer but less spectacular careers of others. However, to eliminate one-year wonders, a player must have spent a minimum of three seasons in an Oriole uniform to make it to the final cut.

Other factors that may be used to settle close calls are, in order of decreasing importance: the player's extra-Oriole playing career; the player's postseason performance with the O's; and the player's contributions to the organization after his playing career.

Positional distribution

As I wrote in my last article, the official ballot for selecting the Top 50 team is seriously flawed and is bound to result in some deserving players being left off the team and some less worthy ones making it. I will correct somewhat for these potential injustices. Ideally, one would attempt to determine the 50 greatest Orioles of the last 50 years, regardless of where they played on the field. However, to maintain balance I will begin with modest positional quotas, distributed as I suggested in my amended ballot. The first 40 players chosen for my Top 50 will contain the top three players at each fielding position, including nine outfielders; there will also be one designated hitter and fifteen pitchers, at least one of which will be a reliever. That makes 8 * 3 + 1 + 15 = 40. The last ten spots will be given to the most deserving players, regardless of position, who have not yet been named.

Another problem that I failed to mention earlier is the lack of spots devoted to managers, not to mention coaches, scouts, executives, and other non-players. But restricting the nominees to players is a fair compromise in that it reduces the complexity of the process for the voting public. For the most part, fans are familiar with the achievements of the players, whose contributions come on the field in the presence of many witnesses. Other team personnel may have a large influence on the team's success, but most of their work happens behind the scenes. Also, the lack of objective measuring tools makes it hard to gauge the contributions of non-playing personnel. So while it may be interesting to name the top bullpen catchers in Orioles history, I'll save that debate for another day.

I will reveal my top Oriole selections position by position, starting at catcher. I'll name the players at each position that cracked the top 40, along with honorable mentions that merit consideration for the top 50. After those are done, I'll choose the final ten players to round out the top 50, and finally I'll wrap up the discussion by attempting to rank the top ten players of the Orioles' last fifty years.

Greatest O's: Catchers

Top three catchers in modern Orioles history:

  1. Rick Dempsey (1976-1986, 1992)
  2. Chris Hoiles (1989-1998)
  3. Gus Triandos (1955-1962)
Catcher, Win Shares, WARP-3;Rick Dempsey, 113, 51;Chris Hoiles, 113, 48;Gus Triandos, 107, 37;Andy Etchebarren, 61, 23;Ellie Hendricks, 55, 18;Mickey Tettleton, 45, 16

The battle for the top Oriole catcher is between two players with contrasting skill sets: Rick Dempsey, a defensive wizard with a mediocre bat, and Chris Hoiles, an offensive force with a mediocre throwing arm. The two virtually tied for the most career Win Shares among Oriole catchers with 113. Dempsey finished with a small advantage in WARP-3, 51 to 48.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Catchers" »

September 19, 2004

Greatest O's: First Basemen

Top three first basemen in modern Orioles history:

  1. Eddie Murray (1977-1988, 1996)
  2. Boog Powell (1961-1974)
  3. Rafael Palmeiro (1994-1998)
Player, Win Shares, WARP-3;Eddie Murray, 307, 94;Boog Powell, 253, 57;Rafael Palmeiro, 110, 41;Jim Gentile, 93, 22;Randy Milligan, 62, 20;Jeff Conine, 67, 18

Can't find a better man than Eddie

The Orioles have had some fine first basemen in their history, but the greatest of them all was indisputably Eddie Murray. Murray's achievements were recapped extensively last year upon his induction into the Hall of Fame, but here's a numerical refresher.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: First Basemen" »

September 23, 2004

Greatest O's: Second Basemen

Top three second basemen in modern Orioles history:

  1. Bobby Grich (1970-1976)
  2. Davey Johnson (1965-1972)
  3. Roberto Alomar (1996-1998)
Player, Win Shares, WARP-3;Bobby Grich,147,48;Davey Johnson,124,40;Roberto Alomar,71,25;Rich Dauer,87,22;Jerry Adair,70,18;Bill Ripken,45,15

The competition for the top all-time Oriole second baseman was more heated than the battles at other positions. No second sacker in modern club history has combined performance and longevity the way that Brooks Robinson did at third base or Cal Ripken did at shortstop. Baltimore has had several noteworthy second basemen, including a couple whose overall careers are worthy of Cooperstown. But because none of them stayed in town longer than a decade, none was able to compile the kind of counting stats that would make him the indisputable king at the position.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Second Basemen" »

Greatest O's note

It has come to my attention that the fan voting has been completed and that the Orioles will introduce their 50th anniversary team this coming Sunday before the game. From MLB.com:

Many of the greatest players in franchise history will be on hand Sunday at Camden Yards when the Orioles culminate their 50th anniversary season celebration with the announcement of the 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles, as voted on by fans and presented by SunTrust Bank, in pre-game ceremonies beginning at 1 p.m.

The Orioles will present the fans' favorite 50 players, as voted upon throughout the season on the team's official website, www.orioles.com. Fans had the opportunity to vote for up to 50 of the 729 players who took the field for the Orioles from 1954 through 2003 to choose the All-Time team, and more than half of the players selected will be at Camden Yards on Sunday when the Orioles play the Detroit Tigers.

Hmm. Funny that now they are calling this team the "50 All-Time Favorite Orioles" instead of the "50 Greatest O's of All-Time" (sic) as stated on the online ballot. Perhaps most fans will dismiss this as an inconsequential change in nomenclature, but there is a substantive difference between a team of all-time greats, which was supposedly the aim of the voters, and a team of all-time favorites, which is what we now appear to have. It is true that popularity often follows greatness, but not all popular players are great, and not all great players are popular.

Although I admit that I am taking this matter way too seriously, I consider the All-Time Greatest/Favorites switcheroo a betrayal of the fans' trust. It's like informing the citizenry after an election that no, your ballots did not elect the president, vice president, and congresspersons like you thought they would, but instead we've decided to use your selections and call them the king, queen, and court for this year's homecoming.

The administrators of the voting appear to be backtracking from the "Greatest" label by instead calling them "Favorites...as voted on by fans." Unfortunately, this distances the team members from all associations with greatness and relegates them to winners of a popularity contest.

I suspect that the change from All-Time Greatest to All-Time Favorites was prompted by the results of the voting. Since the criteria for selecting players were never explicitly stated—the ballot said to “help us to pick the top players of the past 50 years”—fans were free to interpret "top" and "greatest" in different ways, quite possibly leading to the election of some O's who were not all that great or even good as players. And the poorly designed ballot didn't help matters either, as I've described in some detail. (The statement, "Fans had the opportunity to vote for up to 50 of the 729 players..." is inaccurate. On the online ballot there were spots for a maximum of 27 votes.)

Of course, I'm eager to see the All-Time Whatevers team, in particular to deduce whether the ballot design led to the underrepresentation of pitchers and outfielders and the overrepresentation of designated hitters as I predicted. But the news of Sunday's announcement of the team also means that I will have to adjust my schedule of articles about the top O's of the last half-century.

In short, I'm going to finalize my top 50 list before the fan-elected team is revealed on Sunday. This will require me to publish the finalists and honorable mentions at the rest of the positions without fleshed-out descriptions of their playing careers, which I will add next week. By Friday, I plan to have a complete listing of the overall top 40 (composed of just the finalists), and on Saturday I will attempt to sift through the honorable mentions and select ten candidates to fill out the top 50.

September 24, 2004

Greatest O's: Third Basemen

Top three third basemen in modern Orioles history:

  1. Brooks Robinson (1955-1977)
  2. Doug DeCinces (1973-1981)
  3. Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001)
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Brooks Robinson,356,122;Doug DeCinces,76,33;Cal Ripken,69,24;Leo Gomez,42,18;Tony Batista,35,14

Honorable mentions

Leo Gomez (1990-1995) and Tony Batista (2001-2003).

The contest for the top Oriole third baseman was no contest at all. Brooks Robinson finished so far ahead of the field in both Win Shares and WARP-3 that the only suspense was in the order of the runners-up.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Third Basemen" »

Greatest O's: Shortstops

Top three shortstops in modern Orioles history:

  1. Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001)
  2. Mark Belanger (1965-1981)
  3. Mike Bordick (1997-2000, 2001-2002)
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Cal Ripken,358,138;Mark Belanger,161,52;Mike Bordick,68,29;Luis Aparicio,78,24;Ron Hansen,42,12

Honorable mentions

Luis Aparicio (1963-1967) and Ron Hansen (1958-1962).

Write-up to follow.

Greatest O's: Outfielders

Top nine outfielders in modern Orioles history:

  1. Ken Singleton (1975-1984)
  2. Brady Anderson (1988-2001)
  3. Frank Robinson (1966-1971)
  4. Paul Blair (1964-1976)
  5. Al Bumbry (1972-1984)
  6. Don Buford (1968-1972)
  7. B.J. Surhoff (1996-2000, 2003)
  8. Merv Rettenmund (1968-1973)
  9. Gary Roenicke (1978-1985)
Player, Win Shares, WARP-3;Ken Singleton,224,67;Frank Robinson,176,50;Brady Anderson,212,76;Paul Blair,178,61;Al Bumbry,169,53;Don Buford,110,30;B.J. Surhoff,86,34;Merv Rettenmund,80,25;Gary Roenicke,85,30

Honorable mentions

Write-up to follow.

Greatest O's: Designated Hitters

Top designated hitter in modern Orioles history:

Harold Baines (1993-1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000)

Honorable mentions

Ken Singleton, Tommy Davis, and Lee May.

Write-up to follow.

September 25, 2004

Greatest O's: Pitchers

Top fifteen pitchers in modern Orioles history:

  1. Jim Palmer (1965-1984)
  2. Mike Mussina (1991-2000)
  3. Dave McNally (1962-1974)
  4. Mike Flanagan (1975-1987, 1991-1992)
  5. Scott McGregor (1976-1988)
  6. Mike Cuéllar (1969-1976)
  7. Milt Pappas (1957-1965)
  8. Mike Boddicker (1980-1988)
  9. Steve Barber (1960-1967)
  10. Tippy Martínez (1976-1986)
  11. Stu Miller (1963-1967)
  12. Dennis Martínez (1976-1986)
  13. Dick Hall (1961-1966, 1969-1971)
  14. Gregg Olson (1988-1993)
  15. Scott Erickson (1994-2002)
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Jim Palmer,312,94.6;Mike Mussina,161,76.9;Dave McNally,167,47.2;Mike Flanagan,136,43.9;Scott McGregor,121,40.9;Mike Cuellar,123,33.0;Milt Pappas,109,31.6
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Mike Boddicker,81,35.2;Steve Barber,91,29.9;Tippy Mart´┐Żnez,78,32.6;Dennis Mart´┐Żnez,86,27.5;Dick Hall,66,33.8;Stu Miller,71,31.3;Gregg Olson,66,31.5;Scott Erickson,64,29.8

Honorable mentions

Write-up to follow.

Greatest O's: Top 50

So far I've named my top 40 Orioles of all time by taking the top three players at each infield position and catcher, nine outfielders, one designated hitter, and fifteen pitchers. Perspicacious readers will have noticed, though, that Cal Ripken was selected to the top three at both shortstop and third base, so the resultant list of finalists actually had 39 unique members. No matter; this just means that I will have to select eleven more players, not ten, to fill out the top 50. So without further ado (without any ado at all, really), here are those top 39 hits as well as my eleven at-large selections (noted with asterisks) to round out the top 50:

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Top 50" »

September 28, 2004

Greatest O's: 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles

The 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles were revealed on Sunday before the game. Here's the roster, sorted first by position, then alphabetically by last name:

PITCHERS (15): Jeff Ballard, Steve Barber, Mike Boddicker, Mike Cuéllar, Scott Erickson, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martínez, Tippy Martínez, Scott McGregor, Dave McNally, Mike Mussina, Gregg Olson, Jesse Orosco, Jim Palmer, Hoyt Wilhelm.

CATCHERS (6): Rick Dempsey, Andy Etchebarren, Elrod Hendricks, Chris Hoiles, Mickey Tettleton, Gus Triandos.

FIRST BASEMEN (5): Jeff Conine, Jim Gentile, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Boog Powell.

SECOND BASEMEN (6): Jerry Adair, Roberto Alomar, Rich Dauer, Bobby Grich, Davey Johnson, Billy Ripken.

SHORTSTOPS (4): Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Mike Bordick, Cal Ripken.

THIRD BASEMEN (2): Doug DeCinces, Brooks Robinson.

OUTFIELDERS (10): Brady Anderson, Don Baylor, Paul Blair, Don Buford, Al Bumbry, Mike Devereaux, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, Ken Singleton, B.J. Surhoff.

DESIGNATED HITTERS (2): Harold Baines, Tommy Davis.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles" »

December 25, 2004

Goodbye, Johnny

Well, it's a bit of a blue Christmas in Birdland this year. For one thing, there are no glittering acquisitions to be found under the Orioles' tree, waiting to be unwrapped and used in 2005; all the big free-agent signings and trades so far have been made by other teams while the O's have stayed on the sidelines.

Johnny was good

But the really sad news is the death of Johnny Oates yesterday at age 58 from brain cancer. Oates, who played for the Orioles at the beginning of his itinerant career as a catcher and returned to manage the team some twenty years later, was one of baseball's good guys. His down-home demeanor and diligence to detail made him liked and respected by nearly everyone in the game, from fans and players to fellow managers. Everything he did was rooted in his strong Christian faith; although he had a workaholic streak, he acknowledged that God and family came before baseball in his life. This was never more evident than when he took time off in 1995 to be with his wife when she was suffering from depression. In a competitive sport such as baseball, decent men like Oates are a rare quantity. His passing is deeply felt in Baltimore and especially in Texas, where he had his greatest success.

It should not go unmentioned that in addition to those admirable personal qualities, Oates was a first-rate manager, one of the best of the '90s. He won Manager of the Year awards from the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 1996 and from The Sporting News in '93 and '96. After replacing Frank Robinson at the helm of the Orioles in May 1991, Oates proceeded to post winning records with the inaugural Camden Yards teams of 1992-1994. He compiled an overall record of 291-270 for the O's.

But his run in Baltimore was undone by a new, demanding owner, Peter Angelos, who thought Oates's modesty—which masked a chronic insecurity that both tore away at him and drove him to work harder—was a detrimental trait in a team leader. After Baltimore's second-place, 63-49 finish in the strike-interrupted 1994 season, Angelos decided that the Orioles needed to upgrade and threw his skipper overboard with one year remaining on his contract. Oates resurfaced in Texas, where he won three division titles in the next five years. He ended up 506-476 in a little over six seasons there, and 797-746 overall, before resigning in the midst of a disappointing start in 2001. His immediate replacement in Baltimore, Phil Regan, stayed for just one season and led a team that badly underachieved in 1995, going 71-73. Angelos's decision to fire Oates foreshadowed a decade of tinkering and turnover that has exasperated Orioles fans to no end.

A hard worker with a light touch

Oates was a smart manager who was always well prepared. He seemed to get more out of his talent than most managers. Perhaps this was because he understood the worth of underrated, blue-collar players like Randy Milligan, Mark McLemore, and Rusty Greer, giving them ample playing time when not all managers would have. But he also managed MVP winners Cal Ripken Jr. (1991), Juan González (1996 and 1998), and Iván Rodríguez (1999), so he could maximize the return from his superstars as well. Groomed in the Oriole school headed by Cal Ripken Sr. and Earl Weaver and seasoned by ten years as a minor-league manager and first-base coach, he was rarely guilty of overmanaging. He knew that the most important thing a manager does is pick the right players to put in the lineup for each game. Consequently, he did not overuse one-run strategies such as the sacrifice bunt and the hit-and-run.

If Oates's managing record has a blemish, it is the lack of a world-beater team that went all the way to a league championship; his three division winners in Texas were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Yankees. Assigning blame is a tricky undertaking, but Oates's Ranger clubs were always short of pitching, and his Oriole squads usually lacked in the attack. Had he stayed in charge of the talent-rich Orioles from 1995 onward, he definitely would have known how to deploy that talent successfully, although just how successfully can never be known. The main question is how much he would have been bothered by the constant pressure from the owner and the weight of increased expectations.

Other takes on Oates

I did not know Oates personally or cover him regularly, but here's a sampling of the remembrances of his life from those who did. Unsurprisingly, the most extensive coverage comes from the Texas papers:

So long, Johnny. You will be missed.

March 10, 2005

Two ex-Birds run afoul of the law

While Sidney Ponson's legal troubles stemming from his Christmas fight in Aruba have grabbed headlines lately, this winter has also been unkind to two Orioles who left the nest some time ago.

Jail Bird?

On Monday, February 28, Danny Clyburn was arrested in his hometown of Lancaster, South Carolina, and was given a litany of charges that included cocaine possession and resisting arrest. Clyburn, 30, had cups of coffee (actually more like sips) with the Birds in 1997 and '98 before being traded to Tampa Bay in '99 for pitcher Jason Johnson.

According to a March 4 report in the Lancaster News, on the night of his arrest Clyburn picked up a theft suspect in a Lincoln Town Car, failed to stop when signalled to do so by a trailing police car, then stopped suddenly and attempted to flee on foot but was eventually caught and handcuffed. The police found cocaine on the ground that he allegedly threw while being pursued, and they also charged him with driving under the influence, having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle, and driving without a license. His passenger (who was unidentified) escaped apprehension.

This was not Clyburn's first criminal act; two years ago he was arrested on a harassment warrant. He tried to evade the police that time as well, and when they nabbed him he had in his possession another person's driver's license, apparently intending to pass it off as his own because his own license had been suspended after a drug violation.

The latest incident disrupts Clyburn's nomadic baseball career. A second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1994 and came to the O's (accompanied by Tony Nieto) in a 1995 swap with the Reds for fireballing reliever Brad Pennington. (Nationals GM Jim Bowden was Cincinnati's GM at the time.)

A middling outfield prospect for the Birds in the late '90s, Clyburn never got an extended opportunity in the majors because of the Orioles' veteran-filled roster. His minor-league numbers indicated consistently good power but poor strikeout-to-walk ratios, and his defense was nothing special. After failing to catch on in the majors with the Devil Rays in 1999 and being released in March of 2000, he quit organized baseball for two years. A phone call in 2002 brought him out of retirement and into the independent Atlantic League. There he spent the past three seasons playing for the Newark (NJ) Bears, for whom he became a two-time All-Star and a teammate of Rickey Henderson. He hit well enough last year (.334/.379/.559) that he probably would have been welcomed back if not for his most recent arrest. (Who knows? Maybe he'll avoid a long prison term and get an invitation to return anyway.) An interview with Clyburn from last August is available on the Atlantic League web site.

Swaggerty walks—soberly

In other ex-Oriole legal infractions, Bill Swaggerty, a former pitcher who appeared in 32 games for the Orioles in the mid-1980s, was convicted Tuesday of driving under the influence and received probation before judgment in Carroll County Circuit Court. The DUI incident in question occurred last July. This was actually his second such conviction in Maryland; on the first occasion, in 1989, he also received probation before judgment (legalese for an arrangement whereby a violator accepts a guilty verdict in return for probation, which if successfully completed results in an opportunity to expunge the infraction from the defendant's permanent criminal record). According to the Baltimore Sun, Swaggerty “was ordered to remain alcohol-free, to submit to random testing, to pay a $400 fine, to participate in the Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim-impact panel and to complete an outpatient alcohol program.” (Whew! If that's probation, then prison doesn't seem like such a bad option.)

Swaggerty, 49, spent more time in Triple-A than he did in the majors in the 1980s. He contributed to the Orioles' '83 championship team as an emergency starter and mop-up reliever, and in '84 he served in the same capacity but to a greater extent, appearing in a career-high 23 games. Yet in '85 and '86 he played in just one game each year for the O's, despite the acute pitching struggles of those teams. When Swaggerty wasn't pitching in the majors in '83-'86, he was a leading starter for the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. But he lacked the stuff to be considered by the organization as a top prospect. The Birds released him in the fall of 1986, and the Kansas City Royals quickly picked him up, but he never made it back to the majors. Swaggerty was an overachiever, a 26th-round pick in the 1979 draft who turned himself into a decent pitcher despite lacking first-rate talent. I'm not certain what he's been up to since he retired as a player, but he has appeared at several Orioles-related events, including this year's FanFest and Fantasy Camp.

Ordinarily I'm not terribly interested in the happenings of former Birds, but Clyburn's episode was unusual and went mostly unnoticed in Baltimore, and I happen to have a beat-up 1985 Topps card of Swaggerty, so I noticed when his name was in the news.

October 24, 2005

A few words on Harry Dalton

One of the brightest lights from Orioles yesteryear has gone out. Harry Dalton, general manager of the Orioles from 1965 to 1971, died Sunday at age 77 of complications from Parkinson's disease. The Sun's Mike Klingaman has written a review of Dalton's career in baseball. MLB.com has the Associated Press story. Dalton served in the Oriole organization for 18 years and also directed the California Angels from 1972 to 1977 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1978 to 1991.

Continue reading "A few words on Harry Dalton" »

June 3, 2006

Revisiting Jeffrey Maier: Forgive that swine?

I remember Jeffrey Maier. Not fondly, I'm afraid.

On October 9, 1996, I was watching Game 1 of the ALCS on TV with a bunch of Yankee-rooting friends (don't ask) and was struck with disbelief, then rage, when the long arm of Maier reached over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium, turning a deep fly ball by Derek Jeter from a possible out into a home run. When the replays showed Maier's glove extending over the wall into the field of play and pulling the ball into the stands — clearly a case of fan interference — none of the Yankee fans in the room denied that the umpire, Rich García, had made the wrong call in crediting Jeter with a game-tying homer. One of them said, "Well, too bad. That's the way the ball bounces." And then Bernie Williams hit a home run in the 11th to give the Yankees the win, making for a lot of smug faces in the room — and one glum one.

Yesterday, Washington Post baseball writer Dave Sheinin served up an underhanded story about Maier, the kid who helped steal a World Series appearance from the Orioles ten years back. In the article, Sheinin catches up with Maier, now 22 and a recent graduate of Wesleyan University with a degree in government and economics, and gets reflections on the incident from Maier and members of both teams who were at the scene of the crime ten years ago.

Ordinarily that's where the story would end. But it turns out that Maier had a standout career as an outfielder and third baseman on Wesleyan's Division III baseball team. So Sheinin can't help but suggest the outrageously ironic possibility that Maier could be drafted by the Orioles in the upcoming amateur draft and wind up playing for the very team he once robbed of a crucial playoff win. Or, he could be selected by the Yankees, his hometown team (he's from north Jersey), and continue to torment the O's with his glove and his bat. Never mind that few Division III players get drafted, and almost none advance to the majors. Talk about journalistic license — the lengths to which writers will go for a good story! Maybe Sheinin should write sports-themed novels instead.

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