Father Time, Angelos Conspire Against Orioles
With the Orioles, it’s an old story. In their case, a very old story. The average Orioles player is about 33, which might explain why the team already looks like it’s running out of steam. When you go in their clubhouse, the only wonder is why left-hander Jesse Orosco isn’t there anymore. He fits the O’s profile: old and overpriced. Just like last year. And the year before.
The Orioles are old and slow, and they are an annual disappointment. One Orioles official said on the eve of the season, “We stink.” He said their only real strength was at DH. “We have four of those.”
Until very recently, there was hope of help on the way. But alas, the Orioles might continue their sorry streak of not producing big-time positional players. (The last one they developed for themselves was Cal Ripken.) The lack of talent is particularly troubling when, around the field, the players are over 35
Folks once raved about left-hander Matt Riley, but a disastrous past few months have left people wondering whether he’s the sure thing everyone figured he was. Riley was arrested for disorderly conduct after a run-in with a policeman during spring training. Later, he suffered shoulder soreness and now has a 33.00 ERA at Class AA Bowie. At Class AAA Rochester, first base prospect Calvin Pickering was batting .213 and third base prospect Ryan Minor, once viewed as the heir apparent to Ripken, was hitting .242. At the rate the Orioles are developing talent, old age might precede retirement for the miraculous Ripken.
No organization in sports has deteriorated as the Orioles have since Peter Angelos became owner, and it’s no wonder considering the litany of great baseball people he has fired, run off or scared off. The type of folks he’d need to rebuild his sorry franchise--Pat Gillick, Doug Melvin, Frank Robinson and Frank Wren--are no longer here. Angelos also has fired managers Davey Johnson and Johnny Oates, Johnson ostensibly because he didn’t enjoy schmoozing with Angelos. Angelos made a rare right-headed move when he replaced overmatched Ray Miller with proven winner Mike Hargrove, just upbeat enough to convince his players things aren’t as awful as they are.
Hargrove probably is relieved not to have to endure his previously rocky relationship with Indians G.M. John Hart, but Hargrove might soon wish he were back in Cleveland. Though Hart was no easy boss, at least he annually provided a well-stocked team. The Orioles’ baseball decisions are now made by G.M. Syd Thrift and Angelos’ two sons, John and Louis. Mockingly, they are referred to as “Syd and the kids.” Thrift was so ill-prepared at the winter meetings opposing general managers were shaking their heads. The kids are known better for their rotisserie playing, which might explain the real team.
Angelos had a chance to help himself. Before letting Thrift talk him into running the team, Angelos had three excellent G.M. candidates: Wren, Danny Evans and Dan O’Dowd. Before hiring the capable Wren, whom Angelos ran off, insulted and tried to cheat (an arbitrator didn’t let Angelos get away with not paying Wren.), Angelos conducted one of those all-time interviews with O’Dowd. O’Dowd boldly and honestly told him that his team was awful. The truth hurt Angelos, and the men got into a shouting match.
O’Dowd wound up remaking the Rockies with the abandonment Baltimore needed.
It’s a wonder Angelos, a self-made man, could make so many poor decisions. By now, you’d swear he’s due. A classic was when he refused to trade outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds for Shawn Green. His reason? Angelos didn’t want to miss the chance to develop homegrown talent. Well, they wound up trading Hammonds for Willie Greene, no relation to Shawn by blood or ability.
The Orioles have hit well enough to win more games -- they entered the week 25-34 -- but their bullpen has cost them. Right-hander Mike Timlin hasn’t proved to be a closer. Mike Trombley, signed for $7.75 million over three years, hasn’t been terrible, except for the nine homers in his 24 innings.
Some wonder if an in-house status system has hurt them -- there’s Cal, then there’s everyone else. Others say luck hasn’t been with them.
But their dire situation is dawning on them. “At one point or another, we’re going to have to put together an extremely long winning streak,” outfielder Brady Anderson says. “It’s been pretty amazing how we’ve lost some games, how teams have been coming up with game-winning home runs.”
The clubhouse isn’t exactly warm. How could it be with Albert Belle? Whether that contributes to the losing is anyone’s guess. Hargrove is typically upbeat: “It’s not nearly as bad as people say. They’re a good bunch of guys. They play the game hard. They know how to play the game. Like a lot of other teams, this team will go as far as the pitching will take it.”
Hargrove admits age is working against his team. “We’re not getting any younger, like a lot of teams aren’t getting any younger,’ he says. ‘We want at some point to start getting younger players. But the older players we have like Ripken and (Will) Clark and (Mike) Bordick and (B.J.) Surhoff and Anderson are still good players. They’re not done by any stretch of the imagination.” That might be wishful thinking; Clark didn’t hit his first homer until the team’s 60th game.
Even if the Orioles wanted to remake themselves now, it would be nearly impossible. Many of their players are so overpaid no one would take them. Their best players are flawed (Delino DeShields can hit but not field); free agents after the season (Bordick and catcher Charles Johnson); struggling (right-hander Scott Erickson, Clark); over 40 (DH Harold Baines, 41); have full no-trade clauses or 10-and-5 veto rights or both (Ripken, Belle, Anderson, righthander Mike Mussina); or limited no-trade clauses (Surhoff).
The odd thing is many Orioles don’t seem eager to leave. Surhoff protested trade talk this winter because he had agreed to sign for less to stay in Baltimore for family reasons. A son with special needs is being treated at Johns Hopkins. Mussina, another free-agent-to-be, hasn’t agreed to waive his no-trade clause despite the possibility of going to a contender. He could bring quite a haul if he’d agree to a trade. But knowing Angelos’ pattern of indecision around the trade deadline, it’s more likely they’ll do nothing and watch Mussina go to Atlanta or Cleveland next year. Erickson, still a favorite of scouts, becomes a 10-and-5 player July 7.
But the attraction for the others is hard to figure. Maybe it’s the area, maybe the lovely ballpark. Maybe they’re fascinated by the soap opera.
Camden Yards continues to sell out, but what the fans have seen three years running is a lot of bad baseball. There’s plenty more to come.
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