by John Domen
By: John Domen
The season is over (it’s been over, arguably since well before September 28th) and the Andy MacPhail era in Baltimore is over. It’s a tenure that’ll generally go down for its unremarkable and unsuccessful attempts at turning around a moribund franchise whose best days are long ago and largely irrelevant to anyone whose hair hasn’t turned gray, if they have any left to begin with. To MacPhail’s credit, he made some very good trades and, at worst, broke even on every single one. Never once can you say the Orioles got the bad end of a trade. That, though, is about the best you can say.
Otherwise, the Orioles have gotten only marginal better, and the biggest tasks that were in front of him remain no where near complete. It’s hard to say anyone will miss much about the MacPhail era because you can’t say anything was accomplished. The Orioles were a last place team when he arrived in Baltimore and he departs with the team in last place and no where near a contender for a playoff spot. Heck, the O’s are probably even farther from the post-season now than when he got here in 2007.
So with all that in mind I wanted to provide a little tutorial for whoever MacPhail’s successor will be. I can safely write this up now, with scant clue as to who it will be, because it really doesn’t matter. The Orioles are a disaster of an organization and there’s not really any hope that’s going to change as long as the Angelos family runs it. So, welcome, new guy, and good luck. Be sure to explore the local restaurants for the best crab cake and seek out the best chicken parm in Little Italy. Go fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. Make the most of your three-to-four year tenure before you make the same, unremarkable exit MacPhail made because you don’t have a prayer of making this organization a success again.
Now to make things complicated, take everything I said above, and keep in mind that the fans don’t’ care. They expect you to win right now. Do that, and you’ll become a deity. Lose, even in your first year, and people will stay home watching grass grow instead of celebrating 20-years of Camden Yards. Bear in mind, though, we don’t necessarily believe you’ll build a winner for 2012, or any other year, really. Most of us just don’t think it can be done here. Not with a certain trial lawyer at the top, and his rotisserie losing son trying to make this a real live fantasy team next to him, whispering into his ear. Consider your main task an unrealistic expectation, in our minds, but one we’ll demand you meet none the less. The reality is, as you are at least aware of, we’ve been watching losing baseball since the days when Y2K seemed like a legitimate concern. The fan base that’s left, the ones who still care, are sick and disgusted by it. Our patience has been stretched thin enough. This may sound crazy, especially with the way things are on Capitol Hill, but these days it’s easier to raise taxes than it is to give away free tickets to your ballpark. And if you build a team that doesn’t win more games than it loses in 2012, then good luck trying to convince most of us that we should care enough to invest ourselves emotionally, let alone financially, into it. Blame your bosses. Peter and John Angelos have killed this organization all the way through. Our hopes have been dashed too many times.
Oh, and please don’t be fooled by the Opening Day crowd. Most of those fans will never be back before the calendar turns to 2013. They certainly won’t care as much as you’ll think they do, even if deep down they’d really like to. You can be forgiven for thinking otherwise, though, since it is your first season here.
You’ll also be forgiven if you think you can change the culture here. After all, in the 29 other organizations around Major League Baseball, a man in your position would be free to make changes where changes need made. But just like pollution gathers in the waters of the Inner Harbor, dead weight gathers in this organization and never leaves. That’s not to say you won’t find any assets that, in a better place, would help you rebuild this organization. But the ones who hinder progress, or at least drag you down, will often be the ones the Angelos family will never allow you to get rid of, and it’ll impact the rest of the franchise.
The player development staff has long been the black hole where talented draft picks go to die. Sure, every once in a while a guy like Nick Markakis is able to shoot through the system and make the big leagues. But he’s the exception. The last position player drafted out of high school who went on to star for the Orioles was Cal Ripken. And now he’s got a son who is about to finish high school. That’s a long time ago. Now odds are your first reaction will be amazement, and then you’ll want to know why that’s the case. Don’t bother asking. Blame will get passed around but there will only be so much you can do about it. Maybe you’ll get rid of a minor league coach somewhere. This organization does have a fondness for scapegoating.
With your farm system enduring the latest drought of biblical proportions, you’ll probably think your best bet is to plug in the numerous holes on the big league roster with stop gaps. But I’d advise you to be wary of anyone recommended by your Major League scouts. The last few years, those recommendations have returned awful results. Free agent signings of guys like Garrett Atkins, Derrek Lee, and Vladimir Guerrero have been complete wastes of money – enough money to cover almost the entire cost of many stellar draft classes, no less. And the results have been negligible. More than 20 million dollars was wasted on those three players, though I suppose if it wasn’t going to be spent there it wasn’t going to be spent at all. Take a peek at your budget for Latin America programs. That’s not a typo.
What’s that? You want to know why you can’t transfer some of that wasted money to the Caribbean and points south? Heh heh heh, you really are new here, aren’t you? Besides, if you want to point out a guy like Jon Schoop, just know he’s another exception to the rule. The last Latin player developed by the Orioles who later went to an All-Star game was Armando Benitez, though he made those appearances with other teams. The last Latin position player? Well, Leo Gomez finished in eight place in the 1991 Rookie of the Year voting. That’s as close as it gets over the past few decades, unless you want to count Minor League All-Star games. But since your bosses seem just fine with that illustrious history, if you know what’s good for you, so will you, no matter how much money you may suspect (And we all do) they’re hording because of MASN.
Look, the God’s honest truth is that Baltimore was a great baseball town once upon a time. But the organization stinks from top to bottom and darn near everyone has given up hope. Don’t expect anyone to have too much optimism just because you’re here now. Your face is no where near the first new one we’ve seen, and odds are it won’t be the last new one either. And don’t worry, as long as you don’t say anything ludicrous or inflammatory, once your tenure is over almost no one will blame you for the continued streak of losing. You were doomed from the moment your flight arrived. Welcome to Baltimore. The American League’s Least.
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