Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Top 10 Reasons Why The Red Sox Are Their Own Evil Empire

The Yankees no longer corner the market on ill will

By Christopher Heun

Regardless of how he plays this year, newest Oriole Jay Payton won over our hearts on his first day in town. After signing his contract Monday, he drew a connection between the two perennial titans of the A.L. East that we’ve been thinking about ourselves this off-season.

"I love trying to battle ... the two Evil Empires, I call them, between Boston and New York, and knock those teams off," Payton said.

The Red Sox used to be everyone’s favorite underdog to the original Evil Empire, the Yankees. Then Boston won the 2004 World Series and their players, their management and -- most of all -- their fans became just as obnoxious as anyone rooting for that team in pinstripes from the Bronx.

So, while this might not be exactly what Payton had in mind, here are our Top 10 Reasons Why The Red Sox Are An Evil Empire In Their Own Right:

10. It Takes Evil to Know Evil.
"The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America." That's what Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino had to say in Dec. 2002 after losing out to the Yankees in the bidding for Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras, thus setting in motion countless Star Wars references by bored baseball fans everywhere. Boston general manager Theo Epstein added: "We went to the limit of fiscal sanity with our offer and would not go beyond." Fours years later, the Red Sox bid $51.1 million for exclusive negotiating rights to Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, surpassing all other competitors by roughly $20 million.

9. Manny Ramirez Might Be Traded, Take 5.
This has got to be tiresome for the reporters who have to cover it: every winter, the Sox say they're thinking of trading Manny Ramirez, but only if they can get fair value in return, by which they mean a package including at least a two-time All Star, three major-league ready prospects, and the ghost of Babe Ruth. Of course, Manny never leaves.

8. Does Curt Schilling Ever Shut Up?
Even George Steinbrenner, at the height of his manic obsession with dominating the back pages of the New York tabloids, never thought anybody cared to hear his opinions on anything other than baseball. Schilling, meanwhile, cannot resist the temptation of a reporter's microphone. They say the most dangerous place in Washington, D.C., is between Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a microphone. Seems the same applies in Boston with Curt Schilling.

7. If You Can't Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em.
Yes, the Yankees payroll routinely hovers around the $200 million mark, and for their extravagance the team must also pay a hefty tax. Only one other franchise in major league baseball is required to pay the luxury tax: the Red Sox.

6. Rules Are Made to Be Broken.
The Dodgers contemplated filing tampering charges against the Red Sox after Boston signed J.D. Drew to a five-year, $70 million contract earlier this month. On Nov. 10, Drew decided to forego the remaining three years and $33 million on his contract with the Dodgers. The possibility of tampering is bad enough, but what about the wisdom (or lack thereof) in giving $70 million to a 31-year-old outfielder who's never played more than 109 games in any two successive seasons?

5. Cheapest seat at Fenway Park not in the bleachers:

4. When In Doubt, Blame Divine Intervention.
Red Sox Nation’s rabid insistence that all those decades without a championship was the work of a higher power. Funny how the fans of a team like the Royals, who haven't won anything since the days of "The Cosby Show," don’t whine about a curse. It’s like the T-shirt for sale in a shop across from Yankee Stadium says: “Hey Boston, there was no curse. Your team just sucked.”

3. “Red Sox Nation” is really just another way of
saying, “I live in or around the Greater Massachusetts Metropolitan Area.”

2. I Hate Him, But I Love Him Too!
Theo Epstein, the boy genius general manager who built the Sox into World Series champs, failed to see eye-to-eye with his mentor and boss, Lucchino, after the 2005 season. Epstein walked away from the team (in a gorilla suit, to evade the encamped media), which immediately ignited nonstop speculation about when he would return, which turned out to be just 10 weeks later. The whole saga had the makings of a Greek tragedy performed by a fifth grade drama troupe. Epstein, by the way, got his start in baseball when Lucchino hired him as an intern with the Orioles.

1. It's Just A Game, People. Really.
When the Yankees lose, the players and their fans trash the team's best player. When the Sox lose, it's like a preternatural force has ripped out the hearts of every man, woman and child who has ever heard the name Jason Varitek. Get over yourselves! And cheer up: the Yankees always lose in the playoffs, anyway.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Our Destiny: Cliche-Addicted Broadcasters

At playoff time, remember to throw those records out the window

By Christopher Heun

When it comes to baseball in October, announcers and sportswriters are helpless in the face of destiny.

Now that the Cardinals have outlasted the Mets for a trip to Detroit to face the Tigers in the World Series, the people who get paid to tell us what happened are falling all over themselves to wax poetic and invoke the power of Providence, Fortune and Fate.

They’re so excited to credit a supernatural force – rather than something obvious, like superior pitching – that they can’t make up their minds about which team is actually destiny’s favorite.

“Destiny seemed to belong to the Mets,” Tom Timmermann wrote yesterday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the decisive Game Seven the previous night. “All season long they made comebacks to pull out wins, and Thursday night had all the trappings of another dramatic moment headed their way.”

Until, of course, Carlos Beltran didn’t pull it out in the bottom of the ninth. That meant fickle fate was really fingering St. Louis: “Destiny writes Cards' ninth-inning script” was the headline Friday on MLB.com just hours after the game was over.

Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press was so giddy about the Series matchup that he proclaimed, “Both teams in this World Series must feel like destiny's children. One of them is right.” Oh. So, presumably a team must only be blessed with the magical pixie dust of hack sportswriters when it wins. But why can’t it be a team’s destiny to lose? Like the Cubs, for instance. The Orioles, by contrast, seem destined only to finish in fourth place every year. They’re not even good at being bad.

Rosenberg speaks for most sportswriters and others in the media when he writes that “On paper, the Tigers are the much better team -- they won 95 games, compared to 83 for the Cardinals, and they did it in the American League, which is much tougher than the National League.”

To his credit, he points out: “If the Tigers have proven anything this season, it's that the heavy favorite doesn't always win.” That’s true, although it says more about the people picking the favorites, but that’s another topic altogether. To Rosenberg’s discredit, however, he also typed out this zinger: “But if they played games on paper, nobody would wear cleats.” Apparently, he forgot to remind his readers that during the postseason, you can throw the team records out the window.

Both of these Series teams slumped at the end of the season and then rebounded, surprisingly, in the playoffs. I don’t think the Tigers beating the Yankees ranks as much of an upset as the Cardinals deposing of the Mets, because of Detroit’s superior starting pitching. Destiny, her name is pitching.

St. Louis deserves more credit for its National League pennant than simply attributing the achievement to “destiny.” Jeff Suppan pitched brilliantly in his two starts and has won two NLCS Game Sevens in the past three years. Jeff Weaver in the playoffs is throwing like his younger brother Jered. As MSNBC, that trusted source of baseball analysis, put it: “If pitching keeps up, Cards have a chance.”

I happen to think the Tigers will chew up the Cards like red-feathered chum and win this World Series, but whether or not that’s the case, destiny will have nothing to do with it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Steroid Talk Just Empty Gossip

If so many O’s were juicing, then why all the losing?

By Christopher Heun

I’m sick of hearing about steroids.

No, not because the latest revelation – or desperate accusation, depending on your point of view – forces Orioles fans to stomach Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons as juicers, along with oft-accused teammate Miguel Tejada. As sad as that is, and as much as we don’t want to believe it (and who really does, anyway?), that’s not the real problem.

I’m sick of hearing about steroids because everything we hear about performance-enhancing drugs and sports – not just in baseball but track and field and cycling, too – is nothing but conjecture, wild finger pointing and leaked testimony or test results, followed by fervent denials from the accused and an extra helping of conjecture by the rest of us. In the end, we don’t know whom to believe.

Rarely is there any proof. Despite all the suspicions about them, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa never failed a drug test. Remember, it was Bonds’s December 2003 testimony to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative grand jury, transcripts of which were later illegally leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, that ignited the media scrutiny of the indignant superstar.

The Chronicle reporters responsible for the BALCO story, who together wrote the book on Bonds and steroids, "Game of Shadows," now face 18 months in jail, pending an appeal, for refusing to disclose the source who leaked the grand jury testimony to them.

Meanwhile, Bonds passes Babe Ruth and edges closer to Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list, while Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, two more BALCO All-Stars, still swing their bats in what has become their annual run of October baseball. It's mind-boggling that an investigation of illegal drug use by professional athletes would lead to the imprisonment not of any of the athletes who actually used steroids but to the reporters who wrote about the BALCO trial.

The latest bombshell, delivered by Jason Grimsley in April and
reported last week by the Los Angeles Times, names the three Birds along with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte as players whose identities were redacted from a search warrant affidavit filed in Phoenix on May 31.

That search warrant was made public by federal investigators. Those investigators now say that the Times' sources, who told the paper some of what had been blacked out of the public copies, got their facts wrong. However, no one is volunteering to set the record straight.

There might be a grain of truth buried in Grimsley’s allegations, but how would anyone know? There certainly aren’t any test results to back up his claims. If it weren’t for rumors, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.

All five players named in the Times story deny using steroids, but that won’t erase the stain on their reputations. Outside of baseball, the story is much the same. Marion Jones found out last month that a second urine sample came back negative, thus exonerating her, after an initial test found the blood-boosting substance EPO. Floyd Landis failed a test during the Tour de France, but the results remain in dispute more than two months later.

People with access to test results, court testimony and search warrants are handing the information to reporters, sometimes in violation of the law.
Martin Dugard, author of Chasing Lance, a behind-the-scenes look at life at the Tour de France, has had enough of trying athletes in the court of public opinion:
Everyone from the Tour de France, to WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), to the federal prosecutors investigating Major League baseball has gotten in the habit of leaking privileged and confidential information long before any formal charges are filed. Those leaks (an unfortunate coincidence, but it's appropriate that testing involving urine samples is actually "leaked") make headlines. Those headlines are splashed around the world. And those headlines form opinions -- yours and mine.
There has to be a better way to sort through this mess. We have a fascination with knowing who cheated with steroids (and then, curiously, once we know and they "apologize" – witness Giambi – we forget it ever happened). But the truth is, we will never know for certain who was juicing before 2005 because there were no tests in place with publicized results.

So, the next time headlines scream about some guilty player naming his teammates from three years ago as fellow juicers, I don’t want to hear about it.

If Bonds manages to pass Aaron as the home run king next year -- a prospect that countless fans, along with Bud Selig, are rooting against -- I won't accept it. Bar-roid has already made a mockery of the record book.

The slow response by the commissioner or anyone else in baseball to crack down on steroids in the sport, coupled with the failure to this day to develop a test for human growth hormone, ensures that we’ll never know for certain who did what.

For all the press attention of the past few years and the cloud of suspicion over many of the game's best players, nothing's really changed. The best we can hope for is that the tests that are in place now discourage future drug use. And where's the comfort in that?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cabrera's like one of Dem Bums

Early numbers resemble those of a familiar voice for O's fans

By Matthew Taylor

The Orioles aren’t the first team to have a hard-throwing right-hander who alternately frustrates with his control problems and tantalizes with his promise. A guy who sets a record for walks early one season and throws a one-hitter as the schedule winds down on another. The type of hurler who has fans cursing one moment and saying “Thank Youuuuuuu” the next.

Daniel Cabrera, meet Rex Barney.

Nearly six decades separate the careers of Rex Barney and Daniel Cabrera, but both pitchers have suffered from similar cases of baseball bipolarity. And thanks to the now-deceased Barney’s long-time role as Baltimore’s beloved public address announcer, the players share fewer than six degrees of Orioles separation.

Bird loyalists might believe there’s never been a major league pitcher as maddeningly inconsistent as Daniel Cabrera, but baseball history, just like the real thing, has a way of repeating itself.

Sportswriter Bob Cooke famously said of Barney that he “would be the league’s best pitcher if the plate were high and outside.” Much like Cabrera, Barney – who played in 1943 and from 1946 to 1950 with the Brooklyn Dodgers – struggled to harness his enormous potential on the mound, ultimately ending his injury-shortened career with more walks than strikeouts.

Think things have been bad with Cabrera? Legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey once became so frustrated with Barney’s control problems that he hired a hypnotist to address the issue. Baltimore’s front office hasn’t taken to using pseudo-psychology on Cabrera, but many similarities still exist between the short career stories of Rex Barney and Daniel Cabrera.

On May 13, 1951, Barney walked a Texas League record-setting 16 batters in fewer than eight innings of work. The similarly erratic Cabrera issued six walks in the first inning of a game this season with the Red Sox. Barney, like Cabrera, had lights-out stuff when the switch was flipped on. He tossed a one-hitter on Aug. 18, 1948, only to do himself one better less than a month later with a no-hitter. Had the Orioles’ season ended just a few weeks later perhaps Cabrera would have likewise met with baseball providence.

No side-by-side comparison reveals the similarities between the mound work of Barney and Cabrera quite as effectively as does a look at Barney’s 1949 season up against Cabrera’s rookie campaign in 2004.

Rex Barney, then 24, finished the 1949 season with a 9-8 record and an ERA of 4.41. Cabrera, then 23, finished the 2004 season with a 12-8 record and an ERA of 5.00.

Barney (140.7) and Cabrera (147.7) pitched roughly the same amount of innings, had similar totals for home runs allowed (15 to 14), hit batters (3 to 2), and shutouts (2 to 1), and each saved a single game for their respective teams. Both players walked 89 batters, a number that eclipsed their strikeout totals (Barney – 80; Cabrera 76). There’s no precedent, however, for the dozen wild pitches Cabrera uncorked in 2004.

After 1949, Barney pitched just one additional major-league season. He got beaned by the baseball gods, retiring due to injury before the age of 30. Barney therefore never lived out the potential that left Dodger fans breathless with anticipation during his shortened career.

Cabrera, meanwhile, just finished his second full season since 2004 and has breathed new life into his own career after flirting with no-hit history at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 28. Writers like The Sun’s Rick Maese are now suggesting that Cabrera’s going to be worth the wait after all. Hopefully, Maese is correct and Cabrera’s destiny on the diamond will turn out more favorably than did Barney’s.

It must be noted that Barney did create a meaningful legacy for himself after his career ended. He worked as the Orioles’ public address announcer for 25 years, delighting fans with his comforting cadence and familiar catch phrases. Listen when a looping foul ball enters the stands at Camden Yards and a spectator makes a clean grab; chances are you’ll still hear fans over the age of 30 mimicking Barney’s trademark, “Give that fan a contract.”

The announcer also penned two books about his baseball experiences. Of his career, he wrote in his autobiography, “I should have been up there with the greats. I should have gone right up the ladder in 1949, but too many rungs were missing.”

The Orioles offered a touching tribute to Barney after his passing on Aug. 12, 1997, by foregoing a public address announcer for their game with the Oakland A’s. Having been there that evening, I can say that the gesture revealed just how integral Barney was to a night of baseball in Baltimore.

If you’ve ever heard Daniel Cabrera give a post-game interview, you can fairly predict that he won’t match Barney’s legend behind the mic. However, Cabrera might still create a legacy of his own in Baltimore. His statement game in Yankee Stadium suggests that his career arc could be ready to head in a new direction once he takes a few more of those lanky 6-foot-7-inch strides to the mound. And, he's willing to give back to the community, too: Cabrera volunteered to donate a game ball from his one-hitter to a Johns Hopkins charity auction.

But with the Orioles’ 2006 season in the books and Cabrera’s development on hold for another off-season, there’s room to establish one final link between the young hurler and his inconsistent predecessor while time, in a baseball sense, is frozen.

Fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers were known, among other things, for coining the phrase “Wait till next year.” O’s fans have adopted a similar line of thinking with Daniel Cabrera. Next year came in 1955 for the Dodger faithful. Could next year come in 2007 for Oriole fans?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Kids on the Mound Are All Right

At least Penn's arm wasn't injured; other rookie stars not so lucky

By Christopher Heun

Young pitchers can be fragile. Elbows may strain, ligaments can tear, rotator cuffs might fray. The phenom psyche is delicate, too.

For the Birds this year, the best example of great pitching promise wrapped in kid gloves is Hayden Penn, who must know that so many hopes rest on his 21-year-old shoulders. Penn has fallen victim this season to both a freaky injury and shaky confidence.

An appendectomy in late May postponed his 2006 major league debut for four months, and once he did make it back, his five September starts have been spoiled by poor command brought on, he concedes, by trying to be perfect. To top it off, a strained lower back sent him off the field in the bottom of the fourth Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, after he had allowed two runs in three innings. One more start on Sunday, the final game of the year, is in doubt.

The silver lining – if there is one to be found – is that his arm wasn’t injured. How good Penn will be next year – and if he is ready to crack the starting rotation – will go a long way toward determining the fortunes of the Birds.

If this has been the year that Erik Bedard, a 15-game winner, finally broke out of his shell, then 2007 will belong to Penn and Adam Loewen. That trio was a big reason why ESPN.com’s Keith Law, who spent four and half years with the Toronto Blue Jays as a special assistant to the general manager,
wrote earlier this month that “the Orioles have the best core of young pitching talent in the division. While some of those guys are still works in progress, the potential is there for one of the best pitching staffs in the American League.”

Unlike Penn, Loewen is ready to start every fifth day next year. Loewen, 22, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 of his last 14 starts. In perhaps the greatest test of all, facing the Yankees, he’s 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA. The closest he has come to a major arm injury was a slightly torn left labrum that was discovered at the Orioles’ Fall Instructional League camp two years ago but fortunately did not require surgery.

Throughout baseball, this year's class of rookie pitchers has emerged to play a major role in the pennant races in both leagues. But many of the youngsters are throwing in September for the first time, and their health has suffered.

Here’s some who’ve suffered serious setbacks recently:

Francisco Liriano
Perhaps the biggest story of the upcoming playoffs – the possibility that the Twins could start two of the best pitchers in all of baseball, Johan Santana and Liriano, back-to-back in October – will have to wait till next year. Liriano, 22, walked off the mound with elbow pain Sept. 13 ending his season after going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and striking out 144 in 121 innings. He was one of a plethora of young arms competing for the A.L. Rookie of the Year award (a mad second-half finish by Nick Markakis notwithstanding).

Jonathan Papelbon
Another A.L. Rookie of the Year favorite, Papelbon is a converted starter who took over as closer for the Red Sox in April, saving 35 games in 41 chances. His season ended prematurely, too, on Sept. 1. In 68 and 1/3 innings, he struck out 75, walked 13 and allowed 40 hits. His ERA was a measly 0.92. Boston has said that next year Papelbon, 25, will join the starting rotation.

Justin Verlander

The story with Verlander is not about an injury but preventing one. Only eight rookie pitchers since 1995 have thrown 200 innings in their first season. (And the results the following year for all but two weren't good.) Verlander, 23, has thrown 186 and won’t pitch again till the playoffs. The Tigers have been skipping some of his starts (he made just four in July) or giving him extra days off in between. In 10 starts since Aug. 1, he’s pitched past the fifth inning only four times. Still, he’s 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 30 starts.

Josh Johnson
A Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League, Johnson, 22, went 11-5 with a 3.03 ERA as a starter for the Marlins. His ERA would rank fourth in the N.L., but he has just less than the minimum number of innings pitched to qualify. His season ended Sept. 12 because of a right forearm strain.

Phil Hughes
Technically not a rookie, Hughes, 20, was ranked by Baseball America at the start of the season as the top Yankees prospect. He was 6-0 with a 1.06 ERA in his last 13 starts for AA Trenton while the Yankees limited him to five innings every start the last two months of the season. After shoulder inflammation in 2005, he was injury-free this year.

When to Deal Them?

There’s another precarious phenomenon with young pitching to consider: often, you never know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

That’s certainly the case for the Red Sox this year. First they traded away
Anibal Sanchez to the Marlins last November for Josh Beckett. Most known for his Sept. 6 no-hitter, Sanchez is 9-3 with a 2.80 ERA in just 16 starts. Beckett, meanwhile, is 16-10 with a 4.82 ERA.

Then the Sox sent Bronson Arroyo to Cincinnati for Wily Mo Pena. And after the season started, they dealt
Cla Meredith, 23, to the Padres for knuckleball vacuum backstop Doug Mirabelli. A reliever, Meredith, 23, has allowed just 34 baserunners in nearly 50 innings to go along with a 0.72 ERA.

Orioles fans with a good memory may remember that A’s general manager Billy Beane wanted both Bedard and Penn two years ago for Tim Hudson. That’s at least one case where failing to pull the trigger – a big criticism of Mike Flanagan as GM – was a wise decision. Two young pitchers can be more valuable than an older, proven one.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Day that Bumblebee Went for Three

On this date in Orioles history, courtesy of my handy desk calendar ...

Sept. 22, 1973

"American League Rookie of the Year Al Bumbry joins roughly three dozen major leaguers in the 20th century who have hit three triples in a game, leading the Orioles to a 7-1 win over Milwaukee as they clinch the AL East title. In a strange coincidence, Bumbry is the fourth player to accomplish the feat on this exact date, following Mike Donlin of the Reds in 1903, Les Bell of the Cardinals in 1926 and Earle Combs of the Yankees in 1927."

More on Al Bumbry

This from Baseball Reference, including one erroneous statistic about the O's club record for steals. George Sisler (St. Louis Browns) and Brady Anderson stole more bases than Bumbry during their respective careers:

"The speedy Bumbry stole 254 bases during his career and set the Orioles' record with 252 lifetime. With 1403 Oriole hits, he left among the Birds' top five all-time. In 1973, he was the AL Rookie of the Year as he batted .337, and in 1980 became the first Oriole to get 200 hits in a season. The good defensive outfielder won a Bronze Star in Vietnam."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Getting Streaky: Who Stole Mora’s Power?

Another reason why signing Carlos Lee isn’t the answer

By Christopher Heun

Three players who may or may not be with the O’s next year are in the midst of some hitting streaks that make you wonder about what the future may bring.

Carlos Lee 2006 season

MIL 388 AB, 18 2B, 28 HR, 81 RBI, .347/.549/.896 OBP/SLG/OPS
TEX 198 AB, 16 2B, 6 HR, 28 RBI, .379/.510/.889 OBP/SLG/OPS

Some people in Baltimore, including many at The Sun, seem to think Lee is the answer to the black hole of futility in left field at Camden Yards. (Through last week O’s left fielders were last in the major leagues with a .681 combined on base/slugging percentage.)
After hitting 28 home runs in little over half a season in Milwaukee, Lee has hit just six in 50 games since coming to Texas in a July 28 trade. His slugging percentage has dropped because many hits that were leaving the ballpark in the National League are now falling for doubles. Still, he’s getting on base at a much higher rate with the Rangers, so his overall OPS is nearly identical.

Is this the big bopper the Orioles want in the middle of their lineup? Suddenly, he’s a glorified doubles hitter.

Kevin Millar 2006 season

Aug. 18: .235/.343/.379/.722 AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS
Sept. 20: .263/.362/.427/.789 AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS

With both Javy Lopez and Jeff Conine gone, Millar has been playing every day, which he cites as the reason for his recent hot streak. He’s hit in 12 of his last 13 games, batting .373 (19-for-51) with four doubles and four homers. That helped raise his average nearly 30 points since August 18.

Millar’s skills are working the count and getting on base; he’s second on the team in walks and on-base percentage. The problem is, for a first baseman, he doesn’t have enough power (14 homers in nearly 400 at-bats). Only three other teams have gotten fewer home runs from their first basemen this year.

He says he wants to come back next year. Sure, but not as the starting first baseman. He’s a pinch-hitter and reserve player, but he might not be ready to accept that role.

Melvin Mora 2006 season, by month

April 104 AB, 7 2B, 5 HR, 12 RBI, .364/.490/.855 OBP/SLG/OPS
May 111 AB, 6 2B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, .380/.468/.849
June 109 AB, 3 2B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, .320/.303/.623
July 103 AB, 1 2B, 3 HR, 17 RBI, .368/.388/.756
Aug. 99 AB, 3 2B, 1 HR, 15 RBI, .295/.283/.577
Sept. 64 AB, 4 2B, 3 HR, 8 RBI, .299/.469/.767

Total 590 AB, 24 2B, 16 HR, 78 RBI, .341/.397/.738

We love Melvin, especially when he rips his teammates for their losing mentality. But we’re no different than anyone else: we love him a lot more when he’s hitting 27 HR (which he did in 2004 and 2005) and slugging over .500, (which he did in 2003 and 2004). We defended his right to a big-bucks contract this spring, and now that he’s gotten it from owner Peter Angelos, he needs to hit like his old self.

The knock on the contract was that his best years were behind him, but did anyone think his bat would quiet as quickly as this? For three consecutive months this summer, Melvin managed just four extra base hits. Though he’s turned it around somewhat in September, his impersonation of Leo Gomez has got to stop.

Unlike Lee and Millar, there's no doubt Melvin will be an everyday player next season for the Birds. The question is, what kind of player he will be.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Interesting O's Facts

I didn't qualify for the fantasy baseball playoffs, but I still get a ton of e-mails from CBS Sportsline about how my players are performing in real life. Perhaps they're just rubbing it in that I wasted so much time this summer, only to finish with an even record. And I paid 35 bucks to do so. So I guess I wasted money, too.

There was a little bit of payoff from CBS Sportsline this week, as they provided the following interesting facts about our beloved Birds:

  • "Brandon Inge's grand slam on Friday was the 12th allowed by Orioles pitching, a franchise record. The Orioles, who have allowed 11 of the 12 on the road, have only hit one grand slam this season. " (Editor's note: The previous team record for grand slams allowed belonged to the 2000 Orioles, who gave up nine.)

  • "Brian Roberts stole his 34th and 35th bases of the seasonin the first inning Friday. The steal gave Baltimore 110 steals for the season, but just three in their last 14 games. The Orioles have been successful on 81 of their last 100 steal attempts and lead the American League with a 81.4 (110-for-135) success rate this season."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Moose Was a Great Bird

Mussina belongs in the Orioles Hall of Fame ... and an O's uniform

By Matthew Taylor

At the end of August, The Sun's Roch Kubatko posed an interesting question on his "Roch Around the Clock" blog. Having seen, if not heard, this year's induction ceremony for the Orioles Hall of Fame, Kubatko wondered, "Which former Orioles are next in line?"

Kubatko started with some soft toss, throwing out the names of fan favorites like Mike Bordick and B.J. Surhoff. Then he brought the heat: What about Mike Mussina?

Mussina committed a sinful act prior to the 2001 season, leaving the Birds to play for the hated New York Yankees. At the time, my instincts said it was a mortal sin: "To choose deliberately – that is, both knowing it and willing it – something gravely contrary to the divine law."

"Mike Mussina," I said half-heartedly at the time, "Go to Hell."

Six seasons later, I'm ready to consider a different possibility. Yes, Mike Mussina committed a sin. But perhaps it was more of a venial sin, "A moral disorder that is reparable."

The truth is, I've never been able to hate Mike Mussina. I've wanted him back in an O's uniform ever since he traded Orange and Black for pinstripes in 2001. But even if Mussina doesn't return home this off-season – and chances are that he won't – he still belongs in the Orioles Hall of Fame.

For one thing, his departure from the O's was due to the team's failings, not his. Then there's the fact that he was a truly great pitcher during his time in Charm City. Consider also that he's a hard luck guy who deserves better than he's gotten on the diamond, and one who demonstrates class off of it, and you can understand why Mike Mussina is a Bird that I want to return the flock.

So I agree with Roch Kubatko when he writes, "I can't imagine an Orioles HOF without Moose."

The Case for Mike Mussina

Many explanations have been offered for why Mike Mussina left the Orioles following the 2000 season – the inability to get a deal done during spring training or the early part of the season; disagreement over a "no trade" clause; the erroneous belief that Mussina would offer the O's the "home town discount" – but all of the reasons given reflect the team's mismanagement of the situation.

Mussina is one of the Orioles' all-time great pitchers (third in wins, second in strikeouts, fifth in starts). On two occasions he tied the team record for strikeouts in a game, setting down 15 batters on May 16, 1993, and July 5, 1997. Mussina also holds the team record for strikeouts in a season, 218 in 1997.

For the O's, Mussina was a clutch starter who nearly willed the Birds to the '97 American League pennant with 41 strikeouts in 29 postseason innings. He gave up just four runs in four playoff games, twice beating a considerably more dominant Randy Johnson (who went 20-4 and the AL with 12.3 strikeouts per 9 innings). Mussina pitched with such crisp efficiency in the playoffs that he earned the nickname "Mike Machine-a."

Even in his Game 6 defeat that year, he gave O's fans an "I Was There" moment – and I was in fact there – when he pitched eight innings of one-hit ball at Camden Yards with 10 K's and only two walks. This after he established a League Championship Series record with 15 strikeouts in Game 3. Baseball Library describes the dual performances as "two of the most valiant no-decisions in playoff pitching history."

The Wire-to-Wire '97 season and Mussina's postseason heroics are among the best of this 31-year-old's Orioles memories. However, Mussina's greatness extends well beyond that one dominant season. A cynic might point out that Mussina has never won 20 games and has never tossed a no-hitter, two mystical measures of baseball greatness. These facts are true. However, if Mussina were pitching horseshoes or grenades instead of a baseball, he would rank as one of the game's all-time aces.

This season, Mussina tied the American League record for most seasons with 10 wins by the All-Star break. He also became the first pitcher in AL history to win 10 or more games in each of 15 consecutive seasons. However, he has never won 20 games in a single season. He won 17 games three times ('97, '01, and '03) and 18 games three times ('92, '99, '02). Twice, he won 19 ('95, '96).

Consider this from Baseball Library:

"His failure to reach the 20-win benchmark had more to do with bad luck than bad pitches. The player's strike likely cost him a 20-win season both in 1994, when he had racked up 16 wins before the season abruptly ended in mid-August, and in 1995, when he won 19 games but was deprived at least three starts by the truncated 144-game schedule. In 1996 he couldn't nail down a final victory after hitting 19 wins with four starts left. In the penultimate game of the season he staked the Orioles to a 2-1 lead only to watch closer Randy Myers let in the tying run in the ninth inning. In 1999 he won 18 games but missed four starts in August and September after he was struck in the right deltoid by a liner off the bat of Brook Fordyce."

Then there's the issue of the no-hitters. Again, from Baseball Library:

"Equally frustrating were Mussina’s string of near no-hitters. On May 30, 1997 he retired the first 25 Cleveland Indians before catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. lined a single to left field with one out in the ninth, denying him what would have been the first perfect game in franchise history. (The following May, Alomar would drill a single that hit just below Mussina’s right eye, bloodying his face, fracturing his nose and sending him to the DL for three weeks.) After fanning the last two hitters, Mussina settled for a one-hit, 10-strikeout shutout. Less than a month later he tossed seven no-hit innings at Milwaukee before Jose Valentin opened the eighth inning with a single. He flirted with perfection again the next season, setting down the first 23 Detroit Tigers on August 4, 1998 before giving up a two-out eighth-inning double to Frank Catalanotto.

His no-hit karma also followed him north. In a nationally televised Sunday night game on September 2, 2001, he tossed another near-masterpiece at Boston’s Fenway Park. When the Yankees finally broke a scoreless tie with an unearned run off veteran David Cone in the top of the ninth, Mussina needed only three outs to complete a perfect game. After retiring the first two batters of the inning, he got ahead of pinch-hitter Carl Everett 1-2 before the BoSox outfielder punched a high fastball into left-center field to ruin his bid at pitching immortality."

Beyond all of the on-field greatness, Mussina is a class act off of the field. I tried to cast the man to eternal damnation after he sold his soul to the pinstriped devil, but the truths are these:

  • Mussina is no Derek Jeter – an endlessly hyped cover boy who has no flaws, but only because sports announcers have airbrushed them from the picture.
  • He’s no Gary Sheffield – a surly talent who you’d allow to be your kid’s hero but not his baby sitter.
  • And he’s certainly no Jason Giambi – a rule breaker whom Bronx fans chastised then cheered based on performance rather than principle.

Mike Mussina is a likeable guy any way you cut it.

Mussina coaches his local Pennsylvania high school football team after the baseball season ends. He's an old school guy who, despite working in the big city, loves his home town (population: 5,000) and wants to return there when he retires. He even served as a board member for Little League Baseball.

Mussina fell decimal points short of being his high school's valedictorian and went on to graduate with an economics degree from Stanford in just three years.

Finally, Mussina's a guy who knows tragedy all too well after 21 of his Montoursville neighbors perished in 1996 on TWA Flight 800. Mussina returned home that year for as many of the funerals as he could attend.

To hate Mike Mussina is to truly be blinded by hate. (And, yes, I have seen the pseudo-sordid photos of him – 1, 2, 3, 4 – from On the DL.)

Here's hoping that the O's brass has enough vision to strongly pursue Mussina this off-season and to place him in the team's Hall of Fame after his esteemed career ends.

Should the Moose get into the Orioles Hall of Fame after he retires? Vote in our latest poll on the sidebar.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

R. Lopez Doesn't Know What's Good for Him

“I hope I can make another start so I can win 10 games,” he says

By Christopher Heun

In a move that should have been made months ago, struggling starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez was removed from the rotation last week and sent to the bullpen. His response? To whine that he now might not record 10 victories this season.

Perhaps someone should inform him that he’s lucky to even have a major league job.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the obvious facts that his
personal statistics mean very little on a fourth-place club, or that he could have earned his 10th win weeks ago if only he hadn’t been among the worst starters in the American League this year.

We can pile on the bad news in a minute. (There’s plenty of it, and his petulance means he deserves to get buried in it.) But first, let’s put on the rose-colored glasses. This move could be good for Lopez because the bullpen has been kind to him in the past.

He started the 2004 season as the odd man out of the Orioles rotation and was nearly unhittable, at one point holding batters to a .138 average, allowing just 17 baserunners in 23 2/3 innings and recording a 0.38 ERA. The Sun described him as “the most effective long reliever in the majors the first six weeks of the season.”

He was promoted to the rotation in May, went 2-1 with a 6.41 ERA in five starts, and was sent back to the bullpen. He wound up making 32 starts that year along with 14 relief appearances, and his 3.59 ERA was sixth best in the AL. His 1.277 walks and hits per innings pitched was 10th best in the league.

He put up similar numbers in 2002, his first year with the Orioles, when he also made five relief appearances. They are without question his best seasons. (For a more in-depth look at Lopez’s career, check out this
story on “The Orioles Warehouse.”)

Last year, he managed to win 15 games with an ERA of 4.90. This season, he’s been awful: 9-15 with a 5.95 ERA. His 15 losses and 115 earned runs allowed were tops in baseball as of Friday.

Lopez has not been giving up more walks than in previous seasons, and he's back to striking out 6.31 batters per nine innings after falling to about five per nine innings a year ago. His problem has been the long ball.

Michael Hollman of “
Inside the Warehouse” pointed out recently that “Lopez has seen a dramatic rise in his home runs allowed rate to 1.56 per nine innings. He's certainly seen his fair share of bad luck, but it's hard to excuse that many home runs.” Which is why it’s galling for Lopez to say this when informed of his demotion to the ‘pen:

“I am not happy and I don't think it's right. But I am trying [not] to be upset. I am just trying to pitch anywhere and I hope I can make another start so I can win 10 games.”
Don’t ask him to pitch in relief next year, either, he said. The Orioles have the rights to the pitcher for 2007.

"No, that's definitely not something that I want to do," he said. "If they are going to give a chance to new starters, that's OK for the team but not for me. I don't know what's going to happen. It's not something that I want to think about, but right now, it's not a good situation for me."

But it is a good situation for him – for him and his stats. Sadly, he’s ignorant of that fact.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Angelos House Needs a Makeover

And while he's at it, pay the help (no, not the players) better, too.

By Christopher Heun

Twice this summer I have made the trip from New York back to the house in the Baltimore suburbs where I grew up to help my parents prepare to sell it. There are 30 years worth of memories packed into that house, and they all have to go, along with an attic full of clutter.

The house was a fixer-upper when my parents bought it, and they spent nearly three decades in a state of perpetual rehab. Just when they managed to finish remodeling the upstairs bedrooms, the dining room needed more work. They’re still wrapping up a few final projects – a little painting in the basement, some fresh plaster on a couple of ceilings – before they hang the "For Sale" sign in the front yard.

At some point during all the moving of boxes out of the attic - possibly while I was rediscovering my baseball card collection - it struck me that the house is a lot like the Orioles, a project "with plenty of potential" as the realtors like to say but nevertheless demanding considerable attention and care.

If owner Peter Angelos ever decided to remodel his own home, he would take so long to replace the plumbing that all of the rooms would fall into disrepair. That scenario is playing out on the field, too. By the time the team’s young pitching matures, players like Tejada, Mora and Roberts will be past their primes.

Imagine if Angelos and the O’s were ever a guest on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The verdict would be to dismantle the roster and rebuild it from scratch. Instead, the obstinate owner has made his bed and forced O’s fans to sleep in it. Snuggling at night with Angelos’ Gollum-like puss would give even the bravest soul nightmares.

Many fans have had enough. They’re not coming out to the ballpark any more. “Through 70 home games, attendance is down nearly 6,000 a game,” Rick Maese reported in The Sun last month. “The Orioles are almost assured of finishing the year with the biggest attendance drop-off in franchise history. About 450,000 fewer fans will have bought tickets to games this season.”

Tune in Sept. 21 to see how many people are so disgusted by Angelos that they’re willing to join a formal “Take Back the Birds” protest during a home game against the Tigers, asking him to sell the team. It seems this crowd is changing the "Extreme Makeover" catchphrase from "Move that bus" to "Move that owner."

The idea sounds like a winner until you realize it’s just a publicity stunt for a local radio station. And, it asks participants to buy a ticket to that day’s game, which makes you wonder if the Orioles promotional department didn’t have a say in organizing the event.

A different sort of Angelos protest, more worthy of support and media attention, has already been taking place at Orioles games. The United Workers Association, which organized a co-op of low-wage workers at Camden Yards, has been demanding a living wage for day laborers for three years.

The group protested outside Angelos's downtown Baltimore headquarters in June. The previous month, more than 40 cleaners and supporters gathered outside of Camden Yards to demand that Angelos approve a worker-owned cleaning company that UWA says “will pay workers a living wage without costing the stadium or Orioles a penny more.”

Last year, the United Workers Association convinced Knight Facilities Management, the company paid to perform janitorial work at Camden Yards, to sign an agreement adopting a code of conduct.

The Baltimore Independent Media Center reported:
“For the past eight years workers who clean Camden Yards after baseball games have endured working without pay, sexual harassment, no breaks, blacklisting, and gone without any mechanism to voice these grievances. The Code of Conduct signed by Knight Facilities Management recognizes their commitment to putting an end to these abuses.”

The organizer of the “Take Back the Birds” protest (who shall not be named here) acknowledges: “The Angelos group purchased the team. It is a business. They bought it fair and square and, sadly, it’s theirs to tear down, destroy or sell – fans and customers be damned.”

He's exactly right. And, for the time being at least, Peter Angelos isn't following my parents' lead by putting a "For Sale" sign out on Eutaw Street. So, rather than waste their time on Sept. 21, O’s fans with a mind for protesting would be better off joining the fight for a living wage. A janitor making $7 an hour just might thank them.

Further reading:

An interview with a former worker at Camden Yards who powerwashed the seats after O’s games.

The Saginaw News reported that Knight Facilities Management agreed give pay raises to UWA workers.

More details about Angelos blocking workers from forming their own cleaning subcontractor at Camden Yards.

And speaking of Rick Maese, he continues building The Sun's case for Cal to replace Peter at the top.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sensing a Theme?

Is it sheer coincidence, or is The Sun subtly building a case for new ownership at the Warehouse? Perhaps Peter Angelos should talk to Governor Ehrlich about local newspaper relations.

First, an Op-Ed from Tuesday's paper:

Exasperated O's fans deserve better, on and off field (link to full article)
If you grew up loving baseball and cherishing the way it was played by the Baltimore Orioles, these dog days of summer are filled with sheer anguish and frustration. The "Oriole Way" that once produced 24 winning seasons out of 26, and a palpable spiritual bond between a city and its worthy team, has dissolved into history amid a disheartening run of ineptitude that, without a remarkable September turnaround, is about to produce a ninth consecutive losing year.

This accumulating record of failure, and the manner in which it has been achieved, has so ruptured fan relations that the only late-season rally being contemplated this year is a protest rally being promoted by a sports talk-radio station. That exercise is conceived not only as a show of passion for Orioles baseball but also as a communal denunciation of team management. Indeed, the stated goal is nothing less than to encourage the sale of the team to new ownership. Such is the state of exasperation of Orioles fans.

This sentiment is representative of the thousands of passionate Baltimoreans who grew up in the embrace of a baseball team that was shared across generations, neighborhoods, social classes and educational backgrounds.

Then, the paper ran this short piece on Wednesday about every O's fan's dream scenario:

If Orioles go on market, Ripken has an interest (link to full article)
Cal Ripken Jr. says he would consider purchasing the Orioles if owner Peter G. Angelos put the club up for sale.

"I think I could have value to a group, an ownership group," the former Orioles star said in an interview. "I like Mr. Angelos, and I don't know what's going to happen to his club, but if it were for sale, it would be interesting to explore."

Perhaps Thursday's Sun will document in excruciating detail Peter Angelos' tenure as Orioles owner.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More on Markakis

Apparently, the Birds players agree with the majority of fans who have voted in our online poll: Nick Markakis does have a realistic shot at Rookie of the Year.

-O's want honor for Markakis (The Sun)
"He definitely [is getting overlooked], probably because he had such a slow start," Orioles closer Chris Ray said. "You look at this numbers, he definitely has to be the top rookie position player. His numbers are outstanding. The only person I canthink of that could beat him is [Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander]. With the Tigers being in the position where they are, that helps his case. But I think if Markakis keeps doing what he is doing, he has as good of a shot as anybody."

-Meanwhile, from CBS Sportsline:
OF Nick Markakis hit 10 home runs in August, the most by an Orioles rookie in a month. He's hitting .405 (30-for-74) his last 19 games.

"He deserves consideration for (rookie of the year) especially if he has another month like August," Manager Sam Perlozzo said. "He was sort of off everybody's radar until August."

-Baseballistic puts both Nick Markakis and Chris Ray in the running for Rookie of the Year.

-The Baseball Page ranks Markakis and MLB’s “Rookie Phenoms” No. 4 among its nine biggest surprises of the 2005 season.

-No surprise here, but the Most Valuable Network is casting its ballot for Markakis:

“And finally let me get my daily Nick Markakis love in. He slugged another pair of hits on Sunday. That’s a 5 game hit streak for the rookie, with 4 of those games have 2 hits each. All of this hitting has his average up to .301

He’s a rookie in the AL East and he’s hitting .301.

That’s disgusting. This kid is as real as they get. Look for him in rookie of the year voting. He’s got a real shot if they ignore all the pitchers.”

-Finally, here's a chance to see how much the perception of Markakis - as well as his stats - has changed since June. In evaluating the Rookie of the Year candidates, Baseball Notebook wrote of Markakis: “Clearly, this 22-year-old is more of a long-term project.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"O"dds and Ends; Little League World Series Theme

The Little League World Series version of the "O"dds and Ends Roundup teaches us a few things about Orioles past and present:

(1) In a rare form of sports irony, LaTroy Hawkins' off-field performance is something to boast about, even when his on-the-field performance isn't.

(2) Mike Flanagan was a Little League star before moving on to bigger and better things like the 1979 Cy Young Award.

(3) They were pining away this week in Pennsylvania for Rick Dempsey and his famous rain delay routines. As Baseball Library notes, the 1983 World Series MVP who caught more games than anyone else in franchise history had a father who was a Vaudeville actor and a mother who was a Broadway star.

On to the Roundup:

He's Better Than Advertised (Washington Post)
In Hawkins, 33, the Orioles have one of the most socially conscious and charitable players in the game, and yet under a blanket of blunt backtalk he has gained a mostly unsavory reputation.

"I think he's misunderstood and people go about what they read," said Hawkins's best friend, Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter. "One guy might write something bad, and then 'Bam!' it's over with. The pen is mightier than anything. Once somebody writes something about you, it sticks with people's view of you no matter what. When people think of LaTroy Hawkins, they think he doesn't like the media, and that the fans hate him."

Wilkinsburg Little Leaguers fall short in their first game at the World Series (Post-Gazette)

Most U.S. teams at the Little League World Series hail from white suburbs, but all the players in the Wilkinsburg-New Haven game were black. Torii Hunter, center fielder of the Minnesota Twins, brought them to the series as part of Little League's Urban Initiative, which is designed to get more city kids playing ball each summer.

Mr. Hunter and nine other major leaguers also paid the way for two other teams, from the Bronx, N.Y., and North Richmond, Va., to play exhibitions at the series.

"We need to do this," Mr. Hunter, 31, said after greeting the boys from Wilkinsburg. "I played youth baseball in Pine Bluff, Ark., but it's not around anymore and I see kids getting in trouble."

Joining him at the series was LaTroy Hawkins of the Baltimore Orioles, another pro who helped fund Little League's Urban Initiative.

The two players share the same agent. They were talking one day during the off-season about what could be done to reverse the trend of fewer kids in U.S. cities playing baseball.

"Torii had the idea to support the Urban Initiative by bringing them here," Mr. Hawkins said. "I thought it was a good one."

Little League a major hit (Spokesman Review)
Hunter and Orioles reliever LaTroy Hawkins took a short flight from Baltimore, where the Twins and Orioles were playing a midweek series, to promote "The Torii Hunter Project" and the Little League Urban Initiative, programs designed to encourage more children in urban areas to play baseball.

For at least a couple of hours, they felt like kids again.

Hall of Famer Brock has "fireside chat" with Missouri Team (Sports Illustrated)
Baltimore Orioles executive Mike Flanagan will also be honored with the William A. Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award on Aug. 27, the final day of the tournament. Flanagan played Little League in Manchester, N.H.

Rainout muddies LL waters (Pennsylvania Live)
Little League officials told Mike Flanagan, scheduled to receive this year's distinguished graduate award, to stay home in Baltimore because bad weather figured to wash out his ceremony.

Upon reflection, they probably should have told him to come anyway and bring Baltimore Orioles coach Rick Dempsey to drenched Lamade Stadium.

We needed Dempsey, baseball's most renowned rain delay entertainer, during yesterday's soggy and ultimately futile Little League World Series championship game vigil.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Fast Fact

In case you missed it, Corey Patterson and Brian Roberts are the first pair of Orioles teammates to have 30 steals in the same season.

Chances are that Patterson won't set the team's single season steals record, a possibility that was discussed in a previous Roar posting. Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio stole 57 bases for the Birds in 1964, leading the major leagues and his next closest competitor - Al Weis - by 35 bases.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Cal

The Iron Man turns 46 today.

I'm guessing we don't need to write about the things Cal did as an Oriole. We don't keep statistics on the demographics of our readers, but something tells me that no one takes up residence under a rock.

If you found "Roar from 34" on the web, you probably know the trivia items like who Cal replaced to start the Streak (hint: Sugarbear) and who replaced him to end the streak (hint: his name starts with Ryan and ends with Minor).

The rest is sweet Orioles history.

Hi Hoey, It's Off to Baltimore We Go

It's that time of year when we start to see the guys from down on the farm in major league uniforms and become overly optimistic for the future. Loving O's legends the way we do on this blog, can we go ahead and credit Bowie pitching coach Scott McGregor with James Hoey's rise to the parent club?

Get to know Hoey with the following stories:

Single-A has diamonds in the rough (The Sun)

As the club's full-season minor league teams wind down their schedules, the Orioles have unearthed a few gems and seen a few top prospects lose their luster.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to come from Single-A is reliever James Hoey. The 6-foot-6 right-hander started his season as Delmarva's closer and dominated with his 97-mph fastball and slider, accumulating 18 saves.

Hoey Takes a Winding Road Up (The Post)

Hoey's rise through the Baltimore minor league system has been peculiar. A 13th-round pick in the 2003 draft, Hoey began the season in Class A Delmarva and then was moved to Class A Frederick before settling in at Bowie.

"The only thing I was shooting for was perhaps Double-A," Hoey said. "That was my main concern -- trying to get on the 40-man [roster] to go to big league spring training. That's the only thing I was worried about."

Baltimore's Diamond Mine (Press Box)

The most recent graduate of Youse's Orioles to reach the major leagues, although not yet for good, is Gavin Floyd, the Mount St. Joseph grad and a No. 1 pick of the Phillies four years ago. Albany believes that three more of his former right-handed pitchers are high on the Orioles' radar screen. "Brandon Erbe and Chorye Spoone are doing a great job at Delmarva," he said. "James Hoey has moved up to Frederick and already has 29 saves (18 at Delmarva, 11 at Frederick). All three of those guys were picked for the South Atlantic League All-Star game and I think we'll be hearing a lot about them."

Bowie's Hoey has the closing power (Examiner.com)

James Hoey has a major league-caliber fastball. Just ask the guys who face him.

Hoey’s fastball is so difficult for his peers to hit, he has been throwing it exclusively in recent weeks.

“I’ve gotten away with a lot of fastballs,” he said. “I haven’t even thrown sliders the past couple of games.”

Hoey an Oriole (Rider University)

Hoey was selected in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 2003 following his junior season at Rider, when he was a first-team All-New Jersey selection. Hoey won his final five decisions at Rider and finished 6-4 with a 2.24 earned run average as a junior.

Rider Edges Jaspers 2-1 in 14 Inning Thriller (Manhattan College)

The starters for each team, Manhattan's Ryan Darcy (Levittown, NY) and Rider's James Hoey, each pitched and incredible 11 innings and allowed just one run apiece. Darcy, who worked 11 innings without a decision, struck out a season-high 11 batters and walked one while allowing one unearned run. Hoey struck out nine Jaspers and walked four while scattering six hits.

Final random fact, just because:

Hooey is apparently a graduate of both the Dave Gallagher Baseball Academy and the Baseball Factory.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

No Such Thing as Home Field Advantage in Baltimore

We wouldn't be treading any new ground if we wrote about the declining attendance numbers at the Yard or how Yankees and Red Sox fans treat Baltimore as a home away from home. But a recent "Sports Illustrated" players poll (Aug. 21, p. 36) adds a new dubious distinction for one of baseball's greatest ballparks, or at least the fans who inhabit it.

When asked, "Which ballpark is the most difficult to play in as a visiting player?," 21 percent of players said Yankee Stadium. Fenway Park was a close second at 20 percent, followed by Wrigley Field (10 percent), and Citizens Bank Park (10 percent).

Wondering about Camden? Look among the "Fast Facts" following the poll results, and you'll find this statement: "Every stadium except for Oriole Park at Camden Yards received at least one vote."

An optimist would say that no one voted for Camden because we O's fans help our city live up to its Charm City nickname. Opposing players love to visit St. Louis because the fans are knowledgable and respectful; they'll applaud a good play by either team. However, a realist would note that Camden has been losing some of its charm since the team went into its extended slide.

Hopefully, things will change in the near future. Looks like we're a fan base that can adopt the familiar refrain, "Wait 'till next year."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Timing Could be Everything for Markakis

If a hit falls in the gap, and no one sees it, are you still a good batter?

By Matthew Taylor

[Vote in our online poll about Nick Markakis.]

Earlier this month, O’s rookie right fielder Nick Markakis joined the likes of Albert Pujols, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Justin Morneau, and teammate Brian Roberts in some elite company: He became a member of my fantasy baseball team.

Granted, it’s no Rookie of the Year announcement for Markakis. But unlike most scenarios involving males and fantasies, this one actually has some relationship with reality. Whether it's at the major league level or the fantasy level, Nick Markakis' solid performance this season hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

Luckily for Markakis, things are changing. He's now getting some love on a blog with a lifetime readership roughly equivalent to the attendance at a "Nails on the Chalkboard" promotion night at the local minor league park. Congratulations, Nick. You can pick up your Tripper Johnson bobblehead on the way out of the stadium.

After Thursday's performance at Yankee Stadium, Nick Markakis is batting .299 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage. Forget Rookie of the Year, this guy deserves Comeback Player of the Year.

Markakis batted .182 in April. By June, he had raised his average to .228. Take that, Mario Mendoza. Or was it Minnie? Whatever the case, that mythical Mendoza guy isn’t even a speck in the rearview mirror after Markakis batted a Williams-esque .403 for the month of July. (Thinking Bernie rather than Ted? I’ve got a heaping plate of history with a side of common sense for you to sample.)

Now, every time we Birds fans pick up the newspaper we're treated to the latest updated statistic about our sizzling rookie right fielder: "Since (month), (day), Nick Markakis leads the major leagues with a (.xxx) average." With his recent power surge, perhaps the storyline can change: "Nick Markakis has batted (.xxx) with (xx) home runs since moving to the No. 2 spot in the Orioles lineup."

I'm no sportswriter, so I'll leave the extended feting to the guys who do it best, or at least most often. (Check out these articles about Markakis from The Sun and The Post. Don't worry, neither one uses the word "fete.")

I’m more concerned with what it's going to take for Nick Markakis to truly get the credit he deserves. The stats tell an impressive story about his mid-season resurgence, but chances are that fans outside of Charm City still answer "It's all Greek to me" when asked about baseball's hottest hitter. So it's not just about what Nick Markakis does for the rest of the season. It's also about when he does it.

Fans will know Nick Markakis if he comes up big in the 13 remaining games that the Birds have with the division's overexposed Northeast rivals. Hit a walk off homer in the Bronx. Snare a game-tying hit before it drops on the Fenway grass. Be an equal opportunity antagonist, a "Yankee Killer" and "Sawks Killer" wrapped into one. If Reggie Jackson showed us anything it's that baseball fans have selective memories when your timing is good.

Let's face it, the story of the AL East is once again the Yankees and Red Sox. Try an experiment this afternoon: Crawl under a rock. Stay there until Monday. Chances are you'll still get sick of hearing about a certain five-game set in Boston. You can't pay for the type of media exposure that the Sawks and Yanks receive. Okay, you can. And both teams essentially have. But that just means opportunity is knocking down the stretch for Markakis.

Brian Roberts dismisses the notion of the O's as a spoiler: "The spoiler role doesn't matter," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "It just feels good to play well, to win. It's not like we have a preference of who wins the East. I think it's more about us, trying to play better, trying to finish well. I think that's the most important thing."

Teams are spoilers. Markakis has the chance to be an assassin. The "not him again" guy who tortures spoiled fan bases.

The opportunities have been there. Markakis came to the plate in Fenway on Aug. 13 with the bases loaded and one out. The O’s trailed 11-9. Markakis struck out. Baseball, though, is like that ex-girlfriend whose moods would swing and who you surely don’t miss. It’s a fickle game. So consider yesterday’s match-up in the Bronx a rebound for Markakis.

Provided that Nick Markakis is "money, baby" over the next several weeks, it’ll be more Cheers than jeers when it's all said and done. Everyone will know his name.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Boog

Orioles legend and the namesake for "Boog's BBQ" at Camden Yards, Boog Powell turns 65 today. Happy birthday, Boog.

A four-time All-Star from 1968 to 1971, Boog was the American League MVP in 1970 when he batted .297 with with 35 home runs, 114 RBIs, and, yes, one stolen base. He had the
league's third-highest on-base percentage (.412) and the second-highest slugging percentage (.549). Boog finished second to Harmon Killebrew in MVP voting in 1969.

Talk about your glory days, the 1970 Orioles had six players in the top 20 of the MVP voting that year: Boog, Brooks (No. 7), Frank Robinson (No. 10), Mike Cuellar (No. 11), Dave McNally (No. 16), and Don Buford (No. 20). Cuellar and McNally both won 24 games in 1970. Meanwhile, Jim Palmer, a 20-game winner, finished No. 25 in the MVP voting and was the seventh Oriole receiving votes.

The Orioles of course went on to win the second of their three World Series titles that season, beating the Cincinnati Reds in five games. Boog batted .294 with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs in the Series.

In 1971, the Orioles would become the last Major League team to field four 20-game winners: Palmer, McNally, Cuellar, and Pat Dobson.

In 2004, Boog was voted as one of the fans' 50 all-time favorite Orioles.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sound Familiar?

The O's pre-trade deadline dance with Miguel Tejada to the tune of the Clash - Should he stay or should he go now? - bears some resemblance to the Atlanta Braves' situation with Andruw Jones. Reading the "Inside Baseball" section of this week's Sports Illustrated produced an all too familiar feeling.

A Brave Move By Atlanta

After entertaining offers for Andruw Jones before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, the Braves caused a stir last week when they put the All-Star centerfielder on waivers. Atlanta had the right idea: The club has to overhaul its aging pitching staff, and trading Jones (26 home runs, 95 RBIs, both team highs through Sunday) for young quality arms would move the franchise in the right direction. After the Braves had won 14 straight division titles, the bottom fell out this year (51-59, third place in the NL East) with the staff ERA ballooning from 3.98 in 2005 to 4.75 (ranked 12th in the league). "Their most impressive minor leaguers are position players," says an NL executive. "They're not as stocked with quality pitchers as they used to be." With no deal in the works after four days, Atlanta pulled Jones off waivers last Saturday - effectively ending the possibility of a trade until the off-season.

A prolific offensive star serving as trade bait for a team in need of pitching? I think we've heard that one before in Baltimore. It's just too bad that the Birds haven't resembled the Braves more often in recent years. You can ask Leo Mazzone about that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chasing the O's?

Nothing left to play for in the A.L. East unless you're wearing pinstripes or Red Sox? At least one website claims otherwise. It's an interesting read, even if it comes from a gambling website:

Could the Tampa Bay Devil Rays achieve a franchise first this season? No, not win the World Series, or the American League pennant, or the AL East division title, or the AL Wild Card. Or finish at or above the .500 mark. Or break the franchise record for wins in a season (70, two years ago). So what is the D-Rays’ big ambition for 2006?
It’s to finish ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Delino in Delaware

Former Orioles MVP Delino DeShields entered the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame this spring. As recalled by Birds in the Belfry, DeShields had one of his best professional seasons while with the Orioles in 2000.

Check out the short video of DeShields' speech at the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.

In other news:

Happy birthday, Earl Weaver! Everyone's favorite fiery skip, Weaver - who was known to manage for the three-run homer, saying "if you play for one run, that's all you'll get" - was born on this date in 1930.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Some Quick O's History

On this date, Aug. 10 (courtesy of the Charlotte Observer):

1957: Mickey Mantle became the first player to clear the center-field hedge at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium when his 460-foot homer hit the base of the scoreboard. The Yankees beat the Orioles, 6-3.

1971: Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins hit his 500th home run in the first inning off Baltimore's Mike Cuellar to become the 10th player to hit 500 or more. Killebrew also hit No. 501 off Cuellar, but the Orioles won 4-3.

A current Oriole making history (courtesy of ESPN.com):

Miguel Tejada hit his 20th home run of the season in the Orioles' win in Toronto. It's the eighth consecutive season in which Tejada has hit at least 20 home runs. Only two other players in major league history had eight consecutive seasons of 20-or-more home runs and 100-or-more games at shortstop: Cal Ripken (nine straight seasons, 1983-1991) and Alex Rodriguez (eight, 1996-2003). Ernie Banks did it seven consecutive years (1955-1961).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Peter Schmuck Has Lost His Mind

Free agents aren't the solution

By Christopher Heun

Now that the trade deadline has passed and Miguel Tejada is still in Baltimore, it appears that free agency is the most likely way the Birds will try to improve for 2007.

This is a mistake for many reasons. The biggest: the Orioles have a poor track record of attracting free agent talent and when they do manage to sign someone, more often than not it ends up backfiring. For every Ramon Hernandez there is a Javy Lopez and a Sidney Ponson; for every Tejada there’s an Albert Belle and a David Segui. Not to mention the Warehouse closet filled with the inimitable likes of Marty Cordova, Steve Kline, Mike DeJean or Jim Brower.

On top of that, I doubt the team’s chances with what has to be considered a weak selection of talent this off-season, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Does anyone really believe that one of the trio of aces on the market – Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt and Mark Mulder – will sign with a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1997?

Not everyone agrees with me. When I wrote that dealing Tejada for young pitchers was the best hope for the Birds, Josh of
Since 1954 commented that writing out checks this winter could spark a return to winning ways. “If we increased spending by ~$20 million, so our payroll would be at ~$90 million, we'd be able to acquire enough tools to get over .500.”

Josh is not alone. The Sun’s Peter Schmuck has been drinking the free agent Kool-Aid in greedy gulps. In his Aug. 4
column, he espoused the oft-disproved theory – by the very same Orioles, circa Albert Belle no less! – that spending more money automatically means more wins.

I’ll let Schmuck speak for himself in italics. The normal typeface is my comments. For space reasons, I’ve skipped much of the beginning of his column, which was dedicated to the possibility that the gap separating the O’s from the top of the standings isn’t so wide after all.

The club has solid organizational pitching depth and an offensive attack that could be upgraded dramatically with one or two decent free-agent signings this winter. Throw in a No. 1 starter (Roy Oswalt still isn't out of the question) and maybe you won't be so quick to sell your tickets to the Yankees and Red Sox games next summer.

“One or two decent signings and a No. 1 starter” reminds me of what Texas Rangers manager Whitey Herzog had to say about his 1973 club: “We need just two players to be a contender. Just Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax.”

Manager Sam Perlozzo is paid to say the right things about the club, but I tend to believe him when he says the groundwork has been laid for a brighter future.

Remember this bit about groundwork. It comes up again later.

"I think one of the biggest things we did was sign some of the guys to multi-year contracts, so we have less holes to fill," he said. "We've cut our holes down to the point where we need one big guy. We could use two, but one major [offensive] guy would really make a difference."

The name that has been floating around lately is slugging left-fielder Carlos Lee, who was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers, but has not signed a long-term contract. He is expected to be one of the plums of the free-agent market and the Orioles are expected to make a big play to get him.

When did Carlos Lee become the second coming of Frank Robinson? Lee’s career on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is .830; this year it’s about .890. Alfonso Soriano, also a free agent this winter, has a career OPS of .837 and is having his best year too, with a .961 OPS. For comparison’s sake, Jay Gibbons the past two seasons has put up an OPS of .833 and .841

In a perfect world, the O's also would sign or acquire another solid run-producer to play first base or fill the designated hitter role.

In a perfect world, Leo Mazzone could pitch. In a perfect world, there would be no such thing as Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley for Glenn Davis.

Of course, there is one other big need that will be much tougher to fill - the first slot in the starting rotation. The Orioles are not likely to be competitive if they hand Erik Bedard the ball on Opening Day and hope that the other young pitchers fall in behind him.

Yes! Exactly! Now Peter’s talking some sense! Why did it take him 10 paragraphs and 447 words – much of which I’ve spared you – to get here?

"We need one starter better than what we've got," Perlozzo said. "Now, you've got that guy, Bedard, [Kris] Benson and our kids to fill in."

Notice there was no mention of Rodrigo Lopez, Russ Ortiz or Bruce Chen. That they are still making starts in August shows just how tightly Perlozzo’s hands are tied.

Really, we're talking about three significant acquisitions during the offseason, and maybe another solid middle reliever just to be sure. The reconfigured Orioles front office is coming off a winter during which the team signed catcher Ramon Hernandez and made solid deals for Benson and Corey Patterson, but it is going to take some power shopping in November to get back into contention.

Power shopping? What happened to that talk in the beginning that “the groundwork has been laid for a brighter future?” He’s just said the team needs four players – which is it?

"We've got some [pitching] talent," veteran Jay Gibbons said. "It's definitely the best since I've been here, but in the offseason we're still going to have to do some work. It would be nice to be in August and be right in the thick of things. I dream of playing in a pennant race.

"One big bopper and an ace changes everything. We're not that far away. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."

It’s great to dream, but two big signings like that are unlikely. The only way this team will land an ace is via trade or by growing them at home. The last time the Orioles signed a free agent starting pitcher was 2004. Care to guess who? Sidney Ponson. Going all the way back to the winter of 2000, here are the free agent starters that the team has managed to sign: Rick Helling, Omar Daal, Pat Hentgen, Willis Roberts, Jose Mercedes and Pat Rapp. Enough to send chills up any fan’s spine.

There's probably a little more to it than that. Even with the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) coming on line, the Orioles might never be able to compete dollar-for-dollar with the Yankees unless they wilt under the weight of their annual $200 million payroll and their giant revenue sharing and payroll tax burden.

Enough with the fixation on George Steinbrenner’s cash. MASN will never produce the revenue of the Yankees’ YES Network, but it doesn’t have to. Last year’s White Sox won a World Series with a $75 million payroll. The Yankees will always have the most money, but they haven’t won a championship in six seasons!

"You have to think that they are going to come back to the pack," Perlozzo said. "It's not like they have all the young players. They can't get everybody. Sooner or later, you're hoping the availability of players is not there for them. If we continue to be smart and make some signings, then definitely we can compete."

The fans are understandably skeptical, but owner Peter Angelos has said on several occasions that he's willing to spend what it takes to return the Orioles to glory. That opportunity will present itself again in a few months.

The question isn’t whether Angelos is willing to spend the money, the question is whether spending gobs of extra money is the right course. Look at the Blue Jays. They spent $106.5 million last winter on A. J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and Benjie Molina and where has it gotten them? Third place, exactly where they’ve finished seven of the last eight years.

Free agents aren’t the answer. It’s tough to convince the best to play in Baltimore and the strategy of simply throwing cash at whoever will take it is not the way to build a sustainable winning franchise. We need to look no further than the Warehouse since 1998 for proof.