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January 22, 2004

Any regrets?

Ivan Rodriguez is considering an offer to play for the Tigers next year. The Tigers are offering a four year, $40 million contract. In another forum, someone wondered if Rodriguez was reconsidering the Orioles' offer, reportedly 3 years at $24 million.

Hmm. If I were him, I'd be unhappy to be stuck in Detroit -- but I think I'd take Detroit's deal over that reported Oriole offer.

For one thing, it *is* a lot more money. $16 million. Now, if this were a short term contract, I'd take the less money/better situation. (That is, in fact, what he did _last_ year.) But he's 32; the Oriole offer would take him through age 34 and the Detroit offer through age 35. That's likely the end of his useful life as a star. I don't say it's the end of his career; he can probably hang around for another half-dozen years in a lesser role. (See Santiago, Benito.) My point here is that if he signed with the Orioles, in order for him to make up the difference moneywise between the two offers, he'd need a one-year $16M deal at age 35. That ain't in the right ballpark of what he'll be getting.

For another, it's not clear to me that it's that much better in Baltimore. On the one hand, Detroit's recent track record is awful. On the other, the Orioles' recent track record isn't good either. Yes, the Orioles look like they're making a move, but they've looked that way before. Moreover, to the extent that being in the playoffs is important to him, Detroit has an easier path to get there. (Namely: the AL Central.) They start from farther behind -- but it's a lot easier to improve from awful to mediocre than from mediocre to good.

For a third, Javy Lopez. Unless Rodriguez is eager to give up catching, why would he want to share time with Lopez? It would likely severely limit his value, both because he'd be playing less at the position where he's most valuable and because the Orioles have a big roster squeeze at his other possible position, DH, costing him even more playing time.


The counterargument, in favor of Baltimore, is:


  • Baltimore's likely a lot better. If neither team makes the playoffs, wouldn't you rather play on at least a mediocre team than a bad one?
  • Camden Yards vs. Comerica Park. 'Nuff said. In case it's not enough said, two additional points:
    • Camden Yards is perceived (though incorrectly so) as being much more hitter friendly. He's a hitter.
    • Camden Yards draws, even after this awful Thriftian run, 30K per night. Comerica draws half that. One would assume the former environment is more fun to play in.


Hmm. Is all of that worth $16M and the loss of playing time? I don't think so. But that's me, not him.

This is probably all academic; I didn't see anybody suggesting the Orioles' offer was still on the table.

January 25, 2004

Settle for less

Spring training is coming up soon, and the Orioles are beginning to put the finishing touches on the 2004 roster; they've started resolving the arbitration process:

The Orioles signed second baseman Jerry Hairston and center fielder Luis Matos to one-year contracts yesterday, avoiding arbitration with both players shortly before the deadline to submit salary figures to the commissioner's office.

Hairston received $1.65 million, and Matos got $975,000.

Gibbons, Mora, and Ryan still to go. Matos just snuck in for arbitration eligibility, so that's pretty good considering he has barely played in the majors.

The Hairston signing reduces uncertainty, hopefully clearing the way for the Orioles to resolve the Hairston/Roberts mess. Given the Orioles' extreme lack of young players in recent years, it seems a shame to talk about getting rid of one. But a team simply doesn't need two second basemen, and a second baseman does not a utility infielder make. Unless they decide one of them can play short -- and they don't appear willing to say so -- then one of them has to go. If it were up to me, I'd keep Roberts, who's two years younger and seems to have more upside. But if the Orioles can convert either one into usable talent, I'll be happy.


I've updated my historical Orioles arbitration chart.

March 21, 2004

Out at second

Sometimes you really have to wonder about curses. For years, the Orioles had absolutely no depth anywhere. Now they finally have depth at second base, are in a position to trade away talent to pick up other talent, and everything goes wrong. First Jerry Hairston gets hurt. Now backup Mark McLemore does, tearing his knee and requiring arthroscopic surgery, putting him out six to eight weeks. Now they're pretty much stuck with Brian Roberts playing second.

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with Roberts playing second; that could have been their plan all along, if they chose. But whichever of Hairston or Roberts was chosen, the other one should have been trade bait. Now it's likely neither one will be. After the season starts, it's going to be too late to trade them for anything of value -- and before someone comes back, they don't have the depth to make a trade.

Oh, well, we still have four or five DHs.

March 25, 2004

Cust on the cusp?

Jack Cust, the power-hitting prospect obtained in the Chris Richard trade last spring, has yet to break through in the major leagues, and he is out of minor-league options. An article by Joe Christensen in today's Baltimore Sun gives a positive assessment of Cust's chances of making the Orioles' roster:

Though Cust's numbers are down this spring and he is viewed as a one-dimensional player -- all bat, no glove, and ... please ... no base-running -- team officials privately say he's a lock to make the roster.

Continue reading "Cust on the cusp?" »

April 4, 2004

O-day roster

Opening Day roster update to follow up last week's entry:

The Orioles gave Erik Bedard the fifth spot in the rotation, although he will start the season in the minors and be called up April 10 to make his first start. At that point, Rick Bauer probably will be optioned to Ottawa if the Orioles continue to keep eleven pitchers.

The season-opening bench will consist of five players: Keith Osik, Luis López, José Bautista, Jack Cust, and B.J. Surhoff.

Mark McLemore was released because the Orioles could not guarantee he would be placed on the major-league roster when he recovered from his injury. Omar Daal was put on the 60-day DL, and Jerry Hairston joins Marty Cordova on the 15-day DL. To make room on the 40-man roster, John Stephens was designated for assignment; his future with the organization is uncertain as of this writing.

From MLB.com: "Roster finalized with surprises"

April 29, 2004

Maz an early hit in Baltimore

The Sun has a feature-length article today on Lee Mazzilli called "The Yankee in our midst." Written by Patricia Meisol, it takes a lighter, more human-interest slant than the typical sports story, making it refreshing in its own way.

As Meisol trailed Mazzilli during his first extended homestand as manager of the Orioles, she discovered that Maz has the theme to The Godfather as his cell phone ring tone, befitting the Italian-American from Brooklyn that he is. He also claims to have given the "godfather" nickname to Joe Torre, manager of the Yankees and his former mentor. I suppose all this stuff is tongue-in-cheek, yet it makes him a ripe target for comedy in the vein of the Godfather, the Sopranos, and every other Italian-American mob stereotype in the book.

The initial read on Mazzilli is that he is a player-friendly manager who has succeeded in creating a positive vibe in the clubhouse. I cite the following from the article:

Larry Bigbie, who some say is the next great Oriole, or one of them, says Maz is "definitely a players' manager." He lets people do their thing until or unless he sees they can't do it. Every day he checks in with every player. They always know his mood, which except for yesterday, is always good. He connects with you in a way that makes you want to work harder.

Mazzilli is apparently big on talking with his players (unlike Baltimore's standard-bearer Earl Weaver, who often went weeks without talking to his stars), yet I wonder how he can check in with each player every day, as the article says, beyond the usual "hey" and "how are you." But even if that's all he does, it couldn't hurt to keep the lines of communication open.

This excerpt sums up his managing style pretty well:

Just know this: He runs the team like his family, setting out rules, values, expectations, trusting them, setting them free, pulling back the reins when things go wrong.

This winning attitude, a lot of things account for it: family, upbringing, community. When you have pride in yourself, he says, you don't settle for less. "You sacrifice a lot to win. Sometimes you ask yourself, is it worth it? Then when the moment comes, you say it is."

With the Orioles above .500 and in second place as April ends, it's so far, so good for Mazzilli. Despite a few hiccups along the way, most of his decisions have worked in his favor. Co-GM's Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie seem to have made a solid choice in picking the relatively untested Mazzilli as their manager last fall.

p.s. I'll have a harder analysis of Mazzilli's performance later. Right now, I'm preparing some articles on Miguel Tejada and the coverage of the Orioles in the media.

May 3, 2004

On the internationalization of baseball

Baseball is and always will be a quintessentially American sport, but there's no denying that other countries have increasingly contributed talent to the game at the major-league level. The Orioles typify this trend: by my count, eight players on their 25-man active roster (32%) were born outside of the United States. Here they are, listed next to their nation of origin:

Continue reading "On the internationalization of baseball" »

May 11, 2004

What's on second? (Or is that who?)

The story in town today is the return of Jerry Hairston to the Orioles' active roster, and the debate over how the Orioles should play him now that Brian Roberts has staked a claim for the second-base job.

From the Sun: “Emerging Roberts second to none with Orioles” (Joe Christensen)

From the Washington Post: “For O's, an Unusual Position” (Dave Sheinin)

The Hairston-Roberts dilemma has been hashed and rehashed and mashed to microscopic little fragments, including on this blog, but it looks like decision time is coming up for the O's. For the near term, Roberts will stay at second and Hairston will DH and bat ninth. Writes Sheinin:

"I don't know that the prototypical DH [has to be] a [number] 3, 4 or 5 hitter, that power-type guy," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "With our lineup and the way I like to run our guys, [Hairston at DH] fits in with our style of play."

That sounds all well and good, but it would be foolish for the Orioles to play Hairston at designated hitter every day unless he significantly outhits his .691 career OPS. Moreover, his slick defensive skills, which are the strongest part of his game, would be completely wasted at DH. On the surface, making Hairston the DH doesn't make sense in the long term.

Continue reading "What's on second? (Or is that who?)" »

June 3, 2004

Mora is better... no, make that the best

It's not often that an Oriole wins the American League Player of the Month award, as Melvin Mora has done for his scalding month of May at the plate.

MLB.com: “Mora named AL Player of the Month” (Gary Washburn)

Baltimore Sun: “Mora adds Player of Month to All-Star bid” (Joe Christensen)

Mora's .402 batting average, .480 on-base percentage, and .701 slugging percentage last month all led the league. For the season, he's at .377/.459/.598. He ranks first in the league in batting average and runs scored, and he's second in OBP, fourth in slugging, and ninth in RBI.

Needless to say, those numbers represent a phenomenal level of production, comparable to what he accomplished in the first half of last year. Yet Mora is still not making much of an impact on the national radar. In the first month of All-Star voting, for example, he did not get enough votes to be listed among the top five AL third basemen, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Associated Press. As the reigning MVP, Alex Rodríguez should get the benefit of the doubt in the early voting, but Mora has out-hit all of his peers at the hot corner this year. Even after taking his fielding struggles into account, he is one of the top two or three third basemen in baseball right now. But a lot of people still view him as a flash in the pan, a guy playing above his head who will come back down sooner or later.

Continue reading "Mora is better... no, make that the best" »

June 8, 2004

Draft day 1 recap

The Orioles made seventeen picks in the first eighteen rounds on the first day of the amateur draft. (Their second-round pick went to Oakland as compensation for Miguel Tejada.) Their first day's haul was a relatively even mix of eight pitchers and nine position players. There are no runts in this litter: every one of the picks is over six feet tall, and only one is listed at under 180 pounds.

For the third straight year, the Birds went with a heavy concentration of college players in the initial part of the draft. This year is their most college-loaded yet: so far they have selected fourteen university products and just three high-schoolers. All fourteen of their college draftees are from four-year institutions. The league has been trending towards college players in the last few drafts, but Baltimore has gone farther than most of their peers in that direction.

Baltimore's top pick, eighth overall, was right-hander Wade Townsend, one of the vaunted triumvirate who pitched Rice University to the NCAA championship last year. The other two, Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann, were selected third and fourth overall. Townsend is a stud both physically (6'4", 225 lbs.) and statistically (12-0, 1.80 ERA, 11.1 K/9 IP, 3.29 K/BB in 2004, his junior season). Because of his burdensome workload during the college season, which ended on Sunday, I would expect the Orioles to rest his arm for most of the remainder of this summer. But it's hard not to get excited about a talent like Townsend, and it will be interesting to see which pitcher of the Rice trio ends up with the best major-league career. This longitudinal study suggests that only one of every three first-round picks becomes a significant contributor in the majors, although the draft data used in the study are from fifteen years ago, so its conclusions may not be quite the same in today's draft.

A rundown of Oriole-related draft articles (in order of decreasing informativeness):

The Orioles' second pick, which came in the third round, was Jeff Fiorentino, a power-hitting outfielder from Florida Atlantic University. Baltimore selected him as a catcher, but he only recently started playing the position, so it may be a stretch to expect him to handle it at the professional level.

An updated list of the Orioles' picks, with scouting reports on several of them, is on the 2004 Baltimore draft page on MLB.com.

On the second day of the draft in recent years, the Orioles have veered toward a mix of mature college seniors to fill out the farm system and high-school and junior-college "reach" picks with draft-and-follow potential. Given that the quality of talent decreases rapidly after the first ten rounds or so, it's as good a strategy as any, and I would expect the Orioles to continue that tactic today.

June 9, 2004

Draft day 2 recap

As expected, the O's used most of their second-day draft picks (rounds 19-50) on leftover college seniors, high schoolers, and junior-college prospects. In fact, after round 28 they exclusively took prep and juco players. Some quick, superficial numerical analysis:

  • The Orioles' draft class of 49 picks comprised 26 pitchers and 23 position players.
  • Twenty-one picks (43%) were from four-year colleges, eleven (22%) from junior colleges, and seventeen (35%) from high schools.
  • The Birds' picks in rounds 1-25 were dominated by college players. Nineteen of those picks (79%) were from four-year colleges and just five (21%) were from high school.
  • In the second half of the draft, though, the four-year college picks dwindled to just two (8%), while the juco tally soared to eleven (44%) and preps to sixteen (48%).
  • Eight catchers were picked, suggesting that the Orioles specifically sought more depth at backstop. Totals for other positions: one first baseman, two second basemen, one third baseman, three shortstops, and eight outfielders.
  • The pitchers were almost evenly split in handedness between twelve lefties and fourteen righties.
  • The states most heavily mined by the Orioles were California and Texas with six players each, followed by Florida with five and Illinois, Maryland, and South Carolina with four players apiece. One Puerto Rican high schooler was taken in the 44th round, but all the others came from U.S. institutions.

(Pitcher Derik Drewett, selected in the 36th round, is classified as a juco draftee in the totals above although his school, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, is a four-year college. Drewett apparently is on an associate's degree program at UAFS, making him draft-eligible after his freshman year.)

From MLB.com: “O's draft 49 in marathon” (Gary Washburn)

In addition to the MLB.com draft tracker, Baseball America has the entire 2004 Oriole draft class conveniently listed on a single page.

June 18, 2004

Newhan is O's new man

I caught this note in the Sun's Orioles notes this morning:

The Orioles signed Texas Rangers infield prospect David Newhan last night to give them another left-handed bat off the bench, and he'll be in uniform tonight when they begin a three-game series in Colorado.

Given the team's struggles against left-handed pitching, it hardly seems urgent to get another left-handed bat. Newhan is not a bad fellow to have on the bench, though. While not good enough of a hitter to be a regular, his minor-league record indicates that he has some on-base ability and enough power to occasionally turn on a pitch. And he can fill in at first, second, or third base. That makes him more attractive than current sub Luis López, who has never really hit well anywhere he's been.

Newhan, incidentally, is the son of esteemed L.A. Times baseball writer Ross Newhan. That family link should immediately put him in good stead with the local press.

June 22, 2004

D-Baut out, Grimsley in: a grisly trade?

Yesterday the Orioles traded Double-A pitcher Denny Bautista for reliever Jason Grimsley from the Kansas City Royals. Bautista, who flopped in a two-game stint with the major-league club last month, was one of two pitching prospects acquired from the Marlins in the Jeff Conine deal last August. (The other, Don Levinski, has been ineffective at Single-A Frederick due mostly to shoulder problems.) As part of the deal, Grimsley signed a one-year contract extension for 2005, apparently for $2 million.

Selected citations:

This swap looks like an attempt by the Orioles to save face and stabilize their pitching staff after last week's seven-game losing streak dropped Baltimore to last place in the division. The Birds need pitching help, having by far the worst ERA in the American League at 5.45 (KC is next at 4.96). The injuries of Rick Bauer, Eric DuBose, and Kurt Ainsworth have left the staff short on arms with no ready replacements at Triple-A Ottawa. (That is not entirely true. Bruce Chen and Aaron Rakers have put up respectable stats for the Lynx and merited a look-see. But neither is a great prospect, and since neither is on the 40-man roster, someone would have to be removed from the Orioles' roster for one of them to be called up.)

Continue reading "D-Baut out, Grimsley in: a grisly trade?" »

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 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.

Continue reading "O's skewered by the Post" »

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.

Continue reading "Orioles send message: Performance matters" »

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.

Continue reading "O's open the door to closer Julio" »

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.

August 18, 2004

Cust's last stand with the O's?

(Note: The media series will resume soon.)

Onetime hot prospect Jack Cust, a 25-year-old hitter for the Orioles' Triple-A Ottawa farm team, has had a hot and cold season at the plate: a huge and prolonged slump at the start, followed by a gradual recovery climaxing in a hot July, then lately another big falloff in production. As of Tuesday night's game his batting line was .240/.359/.449, not horrible but well below his career averages.

Now, a story in the Washington Post indicates that his stay with the Oriole organization will almost certainly end after this season, when he will become a free agent.

'It's Been the Worst Year for Me,' Says O's Farmhand Cust” (Washington Post)

Here are Cust's quotes from the story:

On the lack of attention being shown him this year by the organization:

“[The Orioles] have no type of concern for me.... I'm just playing for next year.”

“It's been the worst year ever for me.... It's the first year baseball hasn't been baseball for me. It's just coming to the field and getting a couple at-bats.”

On his decreased playing time in the field:

“I'm not getting any better. I'm getting worse. The whole rhythm of my game has been taken away just by not being able to do what I like to do. You can't always do what you want to do, but there can be a compromise.”

Referring to a visit to Ottawa by Oriole co-VP Jim Beattie in which Beattie never said a word to Cust:

“You [Beattie] could at least say, 'Hey, I know you've had a rough year.' Whatever. Say something. You're there for three days and you can't even show your face. . . . I don't care anymore.”

Continue reading "Cust's last stand with the O's?" »

September 16, 2004

Townsend goes to class

Today's Baltimore Sun reported some rather startling news about the Orioles and their top 2004 draftee:

Three months after touting the selection of Rice pitcher Wade Townsend as their No. 1 pick in baseball's amateur draft, the Orioles are prepared to lose his rights. Townsend is attending classes for his senior year and has signed with agent Casey Close, a decision that eliminates his eligibility as a college player.

Major League Baseball is in the process of determining whether the Orioles still hold his rights, or if he'll re-enter the draft next June. It's believed that no player has retained an agent and also attended classes.

"As of this date it's our understanding that he's going back into next year's draft," said executive vice president Jim Beattie. "I understand they're trying to go down a new road. I talked to the commissioner's office recently and they said we can't negotiate with him. At this point, negotiations are dead. It's very disappointing, but you have to move forward."

This news, also reported in an article on MLB.com, is unexpected and unsettling for the Orioles and their fans. However, Will Kimmey of Baseball America, writing about the story on Tuesday, painted a more complete picture that left some hope that the Orioles might still be able to sign Townsend:

Townsend had yet to reach an agreement with the Orioles, who selected him eighth overall, but wanted to maintain his ability to negotiate with Baltimore while simultaneously working toward his degree....

Townsend's maneuver seems to fly in the face of draft rule 4-H, which states: "A player who is selected at the Summer Meeting and returns to school in the fall without signing a contract shall be subject to selection at the next Summer Meeting at which the player is eligible."

Rule 4-K allows for MLB to interpret the rule as it sees fit, which is what Townsend is relying on. Close said the key lies in the semantics of how "player"--or more specifically a "college player"-- is defined....

Townsend is prepared for the consequences if MLB rules his return to class terminated the Orioles' rights to negotiate with him, which would put him in the 2005 draft pool. Without college eligibility, Townsend would work out at IMG's Florida facility beginning in January and look into the possibility of pitching for an independent league club prior to the '05 draft in June.

"If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out," Close said. "Wade did this to keep his options open to sign with the Orioles, but also to complete his degree by December. If it doesn't work, he'll still have his degree and will only miss minor league competition from April until June, so that's two months."

Continue reading "Townsend goes to class" »

September 23, 2004

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 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" »

October 1, 2004

Late September surprises

This week has been packed with significant developments for the Orioles. To recap:

  • After being stuck in scoring position for what seemed like an eternity, the nation's capital is now "rounding third and...heading for home," according to D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (echoing John Fogerty, who in turn took a page from Chuck Berry) at Wednesday's press conference announcing MLB's intent to move the Montreal Expos to Washington for next season. (At the moment, the brown-eyed, handsome man of song appears to be the bow-tied Mr. Williams.)

    The Sun, Washington Post, and Washington Times have sent out a full-court press to cover the story. Here are links to Thursday's main news stories on the move:

    Obviously, the Expos' move will have a significant drain on the Orioles' revenues. Owner Peter Angelos is negotiating a compensation deal to offset possible losses in media reach and attendance.

  • The Orioles' front office is revamping its scouting and development systems. The contracts of scouting director Tony DeMacio and minor-league director Doc Rodgers will not be renewed after the season.

    From Baseball America: “Orioles Shake Up Scouting Department

  • The rule-interpreters at the MLB offices have determined that the Orioles no longer have rights to negotiate with pitcher Wade Townsend. The Birds' top draft pick in June, Townsend aborted his NCAA eligibility by signing with an agent, then returned to class at Rice in August to finish his bachelor's degree, putting himself in limbo with baseball's negotiating rules. For now, he is off-limits to the Orioles and will probably re-enter next year's draft, giving the Orioles a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. However, there is a slight possibility that MLB will grant Baltimore an opportunity to sign Townsend before the 2005 draft, in the manner of draft-and-follow signees.

    From Baseball America: “MLB Denies Townsend's Gamble

Analysis of these developments will be forthcoming.

October 5, 2004

DeMacio's time runs out

Since taking over in 2002, the Orioles' front office leadership of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan has been cleaning house. Last year the club said sayonara to manager Mike Hargrove, and this year it's arrivederci to scouting director Tony DeMacio and minor-league director Doc Rodgers, whose expiring contracts will not be renewed after the season. Today we'll look at DeMacio's termination and his legacy.

From the Sun: “Orioles fire their scouting director

DeMacio's canning comes as a mild surprise, but not a shock. He was the highest-ranking baseball executive in the organization remaining from the Frank Wren administration. DeMacio's reputation as a member of successful scouting regimes in Atlanta and Cleveland helped him outlast former bosses Wren and Syd Thrift, and Beattie and Flanagan thought enough of DeMacio to keep him on for two more seasons. But in the end, the results just were not there.

Continue reading "DeMacio's time runs out" »

November 10, 2004

Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill

The Orioles appointed Dave Stockstill to be their new minor-league director last week. Stockstill, who served the farm system mostly as a roving hitting or fielding instructor for eleven years prior to his promotion, is a relative unknown outside of the Oriole community but is well regarded within it. Exec VP for Baseball Ops Jim Beattie especially liked Stockstill's experience and intimate knowledge of the team's minor-league system.

"David Stockstill brings valuable experience in minor league instruction to our front office," said Beattie. "His hiring will continue the improvement in player development." (from the Orioles' Nov. 3 press release)

"He had some very good ideas. You never know what will happen when you get a guy in a new environment, but when you have people from outside, they don't give you info about your own organization. He knows all the guys in our system, so we can just get started with our feet running." (Beattie again, from Gary Washburn's Nov. 3 story on MLB.com)

"We thought about going outside the organization. Given Dave's experience within the organization -- he knows the players, he knows the things that have gone well in the organization and instead of trying to change it all around again -- we decided that he was ready." (ibid.)

Continue reading "Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill" »

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.

January 30, 2005

Sosa? So-so

According to the latest reports (Baltimore Sun, Washington Post), Slammin' Sammy Sosa is about to bring his bat—and his baggage—to Baltimore. The Orioles have reached a tentative agreement with the Cubs that would send second baseman Jerry Hairston and two minor-leaguers, second baseman Mike Fontenot and right-hander Dave Crouthers, to Chicago in return for Sosa and $12 million, which would help cover the slugger's $17 million salary in 2005 and the $4.5 million buyout of his 2006 option (which would have been worth $18 million if activated). Sosa's unusual contract also has a $3.5 million severance award that the Cubs have agreed to pay. Sosa would waive his no-trade privilege and void the part of his contract that was to trigger his 2006 option in the event of a trade. In turn, his 2007 club option for $19 million also would become void. (Some sources suggested earlier in the week that relievers Jorge Julio and Kyle Farnsworth were in the mix as possible trade material, but the most recent reports did not include them in the deal.)

There are other hurdles to clear before the transaction becomes official, although none appears especially imposing. The cancellation of Sosa's 2006 and 2007 options would require the consent of the players association, and the commissioner's office would have to approve the deal because of the amount of money involved. And of course, all the traded players would have to pass physicals. So the deal cannot be finalized until sometime next week.

Continue reading "Sosa? So-so" »

February 19, 2005

Mind your P's and C's

Well, it's that time of year again. President's Day weekend has finally arrived, and there is no better way to remember two of our nation's noblest leaders, Abe and George, than to go out and shop 'til we drop (or our credit cards are maxed out)...

All right, enough of that. This isn't the web site for the Men's Wearhouse—this is the Orioles Warehouse. And as any serious Bird fan knows, this weekend's most important event is the annual ritual known as "pitchers and catchers report" day, when baseball players dust off their gloves, head to the tropics and begin to prepare in earnest for a new season. For the Orioles, that frabjous day was today, Saturday, February 19. (The date was moved up from Monday, February 21.)

But unless you're suffering from a life-threatening case of O's withdrawal, you may not want to race down to Fort Lauderdale just yet. The first week or so is designed to ease the players in slowly—there will be plenty of time later for the inevitable weeding out. Tomorrow (Sunday) the team doctor is to administer physicals to said pitchers and catchers, and the team's first official workouts will follow later in the day. Other position players will begin streaming in over the next few days, as their reporting deadline is Wednesday, February 23, and the first full team workout will take place on Friday, the 25th. Brief workouts and perhaps intrasquad games will ensue over the next week.

The first opportunity to see the 2005 Birds in competition with another team will be the following Thursday, March 3, when the Orioles open their spring training schedule at the Florida Marlins' Roger Dean Stadium in Palm Beach. The following day, Baltimore and the Marlins will do battle again at the Birds' spring home in Fort Lauderdale. Three much-awaited contests are the dates against the Washington Nationals scheduled for March 5 and 13 (at home) and March 25 (at the Nats' home in Melbourne). After 28 games in Florida (less if rain intervenes), the Birds will head to Oklahoma City for exhibitions against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 31 and April 1, then they will stop by Philadelphia for a Sunday warmup with the Phillies on April 3. And the real stuff starts Monday, April 4, when the Orioles will open the regular season at home against Oakland.

If you're planning on making the trip south with the Birds, a good general spring training resource is the site Spring Training Online. Tickets for March games can be purchased from the Orioles' official site.

March 3, 2005

A Palm Beach primavera premiere

Let the games begin.

To a baseball fan, those words might as well be “Let there be light.”

Today the Orioles begin their spring exhibition season against the Florida Marlins in Palm Beach, and the preparation for Opening Day revs into first gear. The game is not being televised, but like most preseason affairs it is being broadcast on WBAL radio (1090 AM) and over the Internet for MLB.com Gameday Audio subscribers.

From the Orioles' perspective, this March brings less uncertainty compared to last year, but there is still room for surprises. Baltimore's manager is not as green as he was a year ago, having gotten his feet wet—and at times, held to the flame—during his uneven debut season. Virtually all of the starting position players from last year's roster are returning; the only major lineup addition is the new right fielder (you may have heard about him). Several hungry hitters will try out for a handful of seats on the bench: there are two reserves virtually guaranteed to make the roster, and the primary backup infielder's identity is fairly secure, but the backup catcher's is not. If the club keeps eleven pitchers, there will probably be space for an additional hitter from among the nonroster invitees.

The pitching picture is a bit murkier. The final slot (or two?) in the rotation is up for grabs, and the order of the starters remains unsettled. The bullpen will have a few new faces, and a rearrangement of relief roles is expected.

Primavera primer

For those who have been hibernating all winter, here's a categorical summary of the goings and comings and stayings in Orioleland during the 2004-2005 offseason. Within each category, players are grouped according to their expected 2005 impact (highest impact at the top) in the estimation of this writer. Click on the players' names for statistics. And click on the subheads to link to some classic songs of the past.

Continue reading "A Palm Beach primavera premiere" »

March 7, 2005

Thompson passes on

A momentous death has hit the Baltimore sports community. Chuck Thompson, the longtime broadcast voice of the Orioles and Colts, passed away Sunday at the age of 83 after suffering a stroke on Saturday.

Thompson was the Orioles' primary radio (or, at times, television) announcer from 1955 to 1987, with the exception of a five-year hiatus from 1957 to 1961. That interruption was the result of a dispute between his primary employer, Gunther Brewing, and the main sponsor of the Orioles' broadcasts, National Brewing (of Natty Boh fame), and led to his covering the Washington Senators for a few of those years. Prior to that, he had begun his broadcasting career in Pennsylvania in 1939, and in the late '40s he moved south to call games for the International League Orioles and the football Colts. In 1993, Thompson became the seventeenth broadcaster honored with the Ford C. Frick award by the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He continued to call Oriole games on a part-time schedule from 1991 until 2000, when his eyesight was hampered by macular degeneration.

The Sun has gone the distance in its appreciation of Thompson and his career by constructing what amounts to an online shrine to Thompson on its web site. It includes a lengthy obituary by Ed Waldman; eulogistic columns by Michael Olesker, David Steele, John Eisenberg, and Peter Schmuck; a timeline of Thompson's career combined with explanations of two of his signature lines, “Ain't the beer cold!” and “Go to war, Miss Agnes!”; and links to the text of several Sun articles from the recent past about Thompson.

In other sources, the Washington Post has published an obit by Matt Schudel and a fond remembrance by William Gildea. The Washington Times has a short feature on Thompson by Dick Heller. Also, Gary Washburn of MLB.com has posted a brief account. For more on Thompson's life and work, read his autobiography, Ain't the Beer Cold!, which was published in 1996.

Personal thoughts

I started following the Orioles as Thompson was passing the microphone to Jon Miller in the mid-1980s, so my personal memories of Thompson are limited to the part-time work he did over the last two decades as well as excerpts of classic games that the Orioles have broadcast during rain delays. After hearing other announcers over the years, I began to appreciate how masterful Thompson was at calling a baseball game. He had a collection of talents that no play-by-play man can rightly claim to surpass: a deep, smooth baritone voice that never grew tiring; near-perfect diction and pacing that ensured none of his utterances went misheard; the ability to paint a concise verbal picture of the action as it unfolded; and a mix of stateliness and informality in his tone that made him sound like both an authority and a friend.

Thompson remains the gold standard for Baltimore sports broadcasters, and his passing will be mourned by the millions who heard him over the years. He was a beloved local figure who called the greatest moments in Orioles and Colts history.

Addendum (Mar. 10): The tributes keep coming, illustrating just how wide and deep was Thompson's reach. Notably, the Washington Times has published a reflection by Thom Loverro, who takes a Washington-centric view of Thompson's legacy. Also, Joe Gross, sports editor of the Annapolis Capital, has written a few kind words about the announcer. Over at the York Daily Record, Al Gregson, a golf reporter in York, wrote about a personal encounter he had with Thompson on the golf course. Steve Thompson, baseball editor of USA Today (and apparently no relation to Chuck), recorded some of his own indelible Thompson memories. One of the most humorous recollections of Thompson I came across was in an SI.com article from July 2004 by sportswriter and Baltimore native Frank Deford. Also on that site, baseball writer John Donovan wrote a fond farewell to Thompson at the end of his Tuesday baseball notes. The Orioles issued a statement announcing Thompson's death on Sunday, but the text appears to have been truncated in the online version.

The response from fans on the Internet has been no less expansive. Wednesday on MLB.com, the Orioles published warm notes from fans honoring Thompson and his work. The denizens of the Baseball Primer exchanged their own Thompson memories.

This could go on forever, but I'll draw the line here. WBAL TV will broadcast Thompson's memorial service live on Thursday at 11 a.m. Thanks for the memories you helped create for us, Chuck.

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.

April 4, 2005

For openers

Ah, yes. Baltimore's favorite day of the year to play hooky has arrived. And what a splendiferous day it is. Nearly a century ago in his treacly timeless poem “Casey at the Bat” Ernest Thayer wrote, “Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,” and certainly there are no clouds to be found at Camden Yards this afternoon, where the Birds are opening their 2005 regular season against the Oakland Athletics. But a gusty wind is swirling, and Miguel Tejada had to dive to snare what should have been a routine popup by Nick Swisher. As I write this, Luis Matos has just put the O's up 2-0 with a home run off left-hander Barry Zito. Rodrigo López is making the start for the Orioles.

Update: The Orioles were victorious, 4-0, behind the splendid pitching of López and three relievers. Troublingly, Javy López left the game early with a sore back.

Continue reading "For openers" »

April 13, 2005

Burning bridges before you cross them

How to win friends and influence people.
By Steve Kline

Step 1: Give up a couple of crucial three-run homers in your first week with your new team.
Step 2: Whine about how much you dislike your new team in your first week with your new team.

To be specific, first you should start with general grievances:

"I'm miserable," Steve Kline said. [...] "It's not what I thought it would be," Kline said, declining to address the negative specifics emanating from his brief time in Baltimore.
Then move on to pointing out how much better it was before:
But he said that among other things, he missed the "leadership" involved in playing for Tony La Russa and the Cardinals - "the way guys went about their business. I miss a lot about the guys in St. Louis. ... St. Louis always got me geared up to play there."
Don't forget to criticize your new teammates:
But both home runs came after defensive plays that could have been made. "Really stupid plays," Kline said, taking care not to assign blame.
(Editor's note: what exactly would assigning blame sound like?)
"I'm so used to (Edgar) Renteria and Jimmy (Edmonds) running down my mistakes and picking me up," he said, recalling his Gold Glove teammates with the Cardinals.
Oh, yes, last but not least: bash the fans.
"There's nothing worse than getting booed at home," Kline said. "St. Louis fans are too good for that. They understand the game more than most people."

What exactly does that leave out? Spitting on an American flag during the anthem before the game? Punching Cal Ripken in the nose?


Kline's a good pitcher who had a bad week, his first week with a new team, and he's frustrated. (Although the column implies that his unhappiness isn't just because of his performance.) But doesn't he have a wife, an agent, a former teammate... somebody to whom he could vent -- anybody other than a reporter? Because somehow I don't think this is quite the right way for a player to convince fans to stop booing him. Or to get one's manager or teammates on one's side.

Sheesh. You'd think a 32-year old, 9-year major league veteran, would have a little more common sense.

May 5, 2005

O's on "The Move"

With the Orioles off to their best start since 1997, there have been plenty of wins to celebrate in this young season—eighteen, to be exact, against just nine losses. And the Birds' on-field leader, Miguel Tejada, has introduced a unique, intricate mode of celebrating those wins with his teammates. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about: immediately after each Oriole win, Tejada greets infield-mates Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora with a dizzying routine of hand- and back-slapping that ends in an embrace or a macho pose.

Gettin' Miggy wit it

Columnist Kevin Cowherd of the Baltimore Sun examines this phenomenon in a story today entitled "The Move." The headline comes from the name of the ritual employed by Tejada and Cowherd in the story. Actually, Cowherd takes Tejada's unimaginatively generic description and elevates it to quasi-official status:

That hand-slap, hug, gangsta-pose routine - you have a name for that? we asked.

"No, we don't have a name," says Tejada. "We just call it a move. The move. Sometimes maybe somebody hits a home run, and we say: 'Let's do the move.'"

OK, well that's a name, isn't it?

The Move?

Tejada nods and smiles. Sure, why not?

So now we have a name for it: the Move.

To me, "the Move" is not descriptive enough a name for such an elaborate practice. I have decided to call it "the Miggy," after Tejada, who authored the ritual. Again from Cowherd's article:

As for the back story, here it is: The Move is the artistic creation of Tejada, a native of the Dominican Republic, who first saw a version of it while playing winter ball in the Caribbean.

He started orchestrating it after O's wins last season, his first in Baltimore after arriving as a free agent and signing a zillion-dollar contract.

I'm not sure whether, in that last sentence, Cowherd is trying to make a causal link between Tejada's contract and the development of the ritual. Did Tejada want to give fans a little something extra for their money, as if his fine hitting and glovework weren't entertaining enough? Well, more likely Miguel's effervescent personality felt stifled by the muted way that baseball players usually celebrate wins: a handshake or a fist-bump here, a back-pat or a butt-slap there. And so he invented his own victory dance, giving us the Miggy.

Continue reading "O's on "The Move"" »

June 5, 2005

Checking back in

Warehouse readers, I apologize for my lack of output on this site in recent months. For a host of reasons, I haven't contributed much time and effort to writing about the Orioles since last season ended, although I haven't stopped following the team. I had hoped to ramp up my writing once the season began, but it just hasn't happened. But all that will soon change.

I won't go into all the reasons for my lack of production, but it certainly wasn't for a lack of topics to write about. The Birds' front-runner status in the first two months of the season has been a welcome surprise to all those who stuck by the O's during the last seven woeful losing years. Two major contributors to the team's surge out of the gates have been Brian Roberts, whose extraordinary start has thrust him into the national spotlight, and Erik Bedard, who has markedly improved his command to become one of baseball's top starting pitchers in the season's first two months. A rash of injuries has slowed the O's in recent weeks, however—after going 20-10 (.667) in their first thirty games, they've gone 14-12 (.538) since—and it appears that the AL East will be a dogfight from now until October as Baltimore tries to fend off Boston, New York, and Toronto.

Meanwhile, the MASN-Comcast tussle has been running in and out of the headlines all year. Because of its direct repercussions on the Orioles and Nationals and their fans, that legal battle is providing plenty of fuel for the burgeoning Baltimore-D.C. baseball rivalry despite the absence of head-to-head competition (the teams won't face each other in the regular season until next year).

That's just an overview of the obvious stories. There is plenty going on with the Birds these days, and plenty more angles from which to peer into that orange and black prism. I'm going to do my best to get myself out of offseason mode (i.e., infrequent writing) and return my pontification analysis to the increasing cacophony of Orioles talk on the Internet. That means long-form articles approximately once a week, and miscellaneous entries and comments on a continual basis.

Soon, expect a few of my thoughts on the upcoming amateur draft and the Orioles' psycho-athletic methods of player evaluation.

June 30, 2005

A-A-Allentown

And it's getting very hard to stay
And we're moving on to Allentown

(Apologies to Mr. Joel.)

The Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx, could move to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2008, according to an article in today's Morning Call (Allentown's local newspaper):

Allentown's minor league baseball stadium — all but certain to be approved today by the state Senate — would be home to a Class AAA team, one step below the major leagues.

Legislative sources have identified the team as the Ottawa Lynx, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. If all goes as planned, the team will start playing in an east Allentown stadium in 2008.

Continue reading "A-A-Allentown" »

July 16, 2005

Palmeiro hits 3,000

Congratulations to the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro for reaching the 3,000-hit mark. He did it with a double off of Seattle's Joel Pi´┐Żeiro in the fifth inning of Friday night's game at Safeco Field. It was a solidly struck liner to the opposite field that landed inside the foul line on the warning track in the left-field corner.

The placement of the hit was odd because Palmeiro has been an incorrigible pull hitter for most of his career, leading teams to load their defenders toward the right side of the diamond. However, this particular hit would have landed safely even if the defense had been conventionally aligned. Later in the game, he singled to clear one of those pesky zeroes from his career hit total.

From what I gather, the low-key Palmeiro hasn't exactly cherished the intense attention that followed him as he approached this milestone, so he must be relieved that it's over. Cheers, Raffy.

Continue reading "Palmeiro hits 3,000" »

July 27, 2005

Judge to Comcast: Yer out!

Finally, some action! But not the kind of action most Orioles fans were hoping for:

This morning, the Comcast-MASN feud went to a courtroom to be heard by a judge for the first time. (For more of the backstory, read Eric Fisher's report in today's Washington Times.) The result? Montgomery County Circuit Judge Durke G. Thompson dismissed Comcast's lawsuit, ruling that the Orioles did not violate the matching-offer condition in their contract with Comcast by planning to move their telecasts to the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which is jointly owned by the Orioles and Major League Baseball (the split is 90/10). The contract requires the Orioles to allow Comcast to match any third-party offer to broadcast the Orioles' games when the current agreement concludes after next season. According to the judge, MASN does not fit the definition of a third party.

The judge gave Comcast 30 days to respond, so the standoff is not over. But the end may be in sight. If today's ruling holds up, a resolution of the suit could occur before the end of the season, allowing Washington Nationals games to be shown on an MASN channel via Comcast.

This development brightens the outlook for Nationals fans who subscribe to Comcast cable. Those fans have been unable to view many of their team's games in this inaugural year because Comcast has refused to carry MASN on its network during the dispute. Meanwhile, Orioles games have continued to be shown on Comcast Sportsnet per their existing broadcast agreement with the network. But the ruling is certainly welcome news for all those in the Orioles' camp, as a healthy MASN would mean a more stable financial future for the team.

August 1, 2005

Viagra wasn't working well enough?

Ouch. Double ouch. Triple ouch.

The Orioles have been in a free fall the last few weeks. They have no offense whatsoever. They have had about three bright spots all season:

  1. Miguel Tejada continuing his MVP-caliber play.
  2. Brian Roberts blossoming into an MVP-caliber player.
  3. Rafael Palmeiro getting his 3,000th hit and moving up other leaderboards.
Well, as Meat Loaf said, Two out of Three Ain't Bad.

The first two of those continue, although Roberts has (not surprisingly) fallen off some after his magnificent start.

But the third? You can forget about all the goodwill that Palmeiro built up for the team, because Palmeiro was just suspended for steroids. He claims it was all a misunderstanding:

But in a conference call with reporters, Palmeiro said he never intentionally took steroids and could not explain how the drugs got into his body. He also apologized and accepted his punishment.

"I am here to make it very clear that I have never intentionally used steroids," Palmeiro said in a prepared statement. "Never. Ever. Period."

"When I found out that I failed a test under the new drug policy, I filed a grievance and challenged the suspension on the basis that I have never intentionally taken a banned substance. Ultimately, although I never intentionally put a banned substance into my body - the independent arbitrator ruled that I had to be suspended under the terms of the program."

But (a) not many people are going to believe that, and (b) even if they do, the fact that he used unintentionally will still be seen as tainting his play.

Leaving aside everything else, taking Palmeiro's bat out of the lineup for the next ten games is just about the last thing this team needs. But the ramifications go far beyond that. People are already challenging his HOF case on this basis. And the steroid scandal, which had receded into the background as only a handful of obscure players were caught, is now going to leap back into the spotlight and overshadow the pennant races.

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

At first, a stunner

As David has recounted, the big news of the day is that first baseman Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended ten days by Major League Baseball for violating the league's drug policy. The league's press release announcing the suspension did not identify the banned substance turned up by Palmeiro's drug test, but early reports from other news sources indicate that it was a steroid.

Continue reading "At first, a stunner" »

October 11, 2005

Off with O's head (or half of it, anyway)

Before I get to the day's big news, the bumping of executive vice president Jim Beattie, indulge me for a few paragraphs as I ruminate on the Orioles' ruinous state.

Continue reading "Off with O's head (or half of it, anyway)" »

October 12, 2005

Sammy to return in '06

No, not that Sammy.

After resolving their front-office situation yesterday by making Mike Flanagan their top baseball administrator, today the Orioles went in-house again by bringing back Sam Perlozzo to manage the team next year. The club showed enough confidence in Perlozzo's ability to sign him to a three-year contract through the 2008 season.

Perlozzo, 54, began the season as Baltimore's bench coach and was promoted to field manager the last two months of this season after Mazzilli was sent packing. The managerial change slowed the team's ghastly mid-season slide, but failed to resurrect the startling success of the season's first two months, as Perlozzo guided the O's to an underwhelming 23–32 (.418 winning percentage) record in the season's final 55 games.

However, several unfavorable circumstances undercut Perlozzo's trial run as a big-league manager. One was the turmoil that surrounded the team because of controversies such as Rafael Palmeiro's positive steroid test and Sidney Ponson's legal issues that led to both being booted from the club in September. An injury to Sammy Sosa's right big toe dampened his production in August and sent him to the disabled list after August 25. Brian Roberts and Daniel Cabrera missed significant time due to injury as well. And the Orioles' lack of depth certainly didn't make Perlozzo's job any easier, as the fill-ins provided mostly inferior performance to the players they replaced. Because Perlozzo inherited the job under such adverse conditions—a depleted roster, a boatload of distractions—and had just two months to demonstrate his wares, it's too early to make definitive statements about his managerial ability or strategic tendencies.

Continue reading "Sammy to return in '06" »

October 13, 2005

A minor move in the works?

On Tuesday, another obstacle was cleared from the path of the possible move of the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx, to Allentown, Pennsylvania. Craig Stein and Joseph Finley, the two businessmen rumored to be interested in buying the Lynx, signed a lease with Lehigh County for the property on which a new minor-league stadium is to be built.

Continue reading "A minor move in the works?" »

October 23, 2005

Orioles go "ZZ" tops by hiring Mazzone

Maybe we should call it "The Return of the Killer Z's." Barely one week after locking up manager (and Marylander) Sam Perlozzo for the next three seasons, yesterday the Orioles announced the signing of Perlozzo's longtime friend, Leo Mazzone, to a three-year contract to be their pitching coach.

Coming off a remarkably successful 27 years in the Atlanta Braves' organization, the last 15½ overseeing the Braves' pitchers, Mazzone returns to the state in which he grew up and where his parents and children still live. The New York Yankees also had been courting Mazzone, but the ties of friendship and kinship proved a stronger lure than Yankee money and pinstripes. (Apparently, the Orioles' "Confederate money" wasn't a deal-breaker in this case.)

Early coverage from the media:

Continue reading "Orioles go "ZZ" tops by hiring Mazzone" »

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" »

September 14, 2006

Play it again, Sam

So, aside from Erik Bedard pitching yet another stellar game on Wednesday, the big news for the Orioles is that manager Sam Perlozzo is officially coming back in 2007, according to assistant general manager Jim Duquette. (Well, it's relatively big news. How much can you expect to get out of a team that's 20 games under .500 and 25 games out of first?)

I guess it's hard to blame Perlozzo too much for the team's poor performance this year; it's not as if this roster was projected (at least not by me) to be any better than this. And I guess there's something to be said for stability and continuity; shuffling managers every year is just a recipe for chaos and confusion, and without fixing the roster, what's the point? Still, a day after the Orioles clinched their ninth straight losing season, extending the worst streak since the St. Louis Browns moved east, it's not exactly a decision designed to fire up the fan base, now is it? And no matter what his excuses are, so far Perlozzo is hardly distinguishing himself in the annals of Orioles managerdom:

Continue reading "Play it again, Sam" »

January 10, 2007

Mr. Ripken goes to Cooperstown

He's in.

The announcement was so long expected that it came as no surprise, but yesterday, the word came that Cal Ripken Jr. was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. The kudos are coming in from all over, so why not from here, too? Congratulations, Cal. You deserve it.

In the headlines

Close to home, the Baltimore Sun has given its local boy made good the special-edition treatment in its newspaper and on its web site. The Washington Post has a story by Dave Sheinin, who covered the late years of Ripken's career. And of course, with the annual Hall election results being a major national event, there are articles all over the Internet on the topic, but I'll leave you (and your search engine of choice) to find the ones that suit you.

According to the voting results posted on the Hall's official site, Ripken was named on 537 of the 545 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). His total was five more than the 532 earned by the other enshrinee in this year's class, Tony Gwynn, and Ripken's vote percentage of 98.53% was the third highest in the history of the voting, narrowly trailing Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan's near-unanimous totals in 1992 and 1999, respectively. Ripken put up lots of impressive numbers in his playing career, and the Orioles' #8 is still putting them up even in retirement.

Continue reading "Mr. Ripken goes to Cooperstown" »

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The Orioles Warehouse in the News category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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