The phrase might not mean much anymore, but loyalty should
by Christopher Heun
Just what exactly is the Oriole Way and is it completely lost? Those are questions I expect we’ll talk about frequently throughout the season. The questions are particularly relevant when it comes to the team's current dealings with third baseman Melvin Mora.
Mora, a free agent at the end of the season, has decided to break off contract talks until then after failing to reach an agreement with the team during spring training. No matter how you define the lost Oriole Way, Melvin Mora would fit the bill. Sadly, he may soon be lost, too.
Nearly every O’s fan has their own understanding of the Oriole Way and it seems no two versions are exactly alike. Cal Ripken, as good an authority on the subject as anyone, summed it up this way in a 2003 interview with CNN’s Robert Novak: “It was about people. My dad was part of the Oriole Way. I think he was there 14 years in the minor leagues, I think seven of those years they had the same people in place. So it was about continuity. It was about stability.
“And as things evolve and as things grow, change occurred, and I think everyone's still trying to get back to a way, an Oriole Way, which really represented a good baseball model that developed their players, moved them through the system, made good choices at the top level.”
Loyalty might not have had anything to do with the original philosophy, but it’s the kind of quality many of us today attach to the Oriole Way when we get nostalgic for the 18 consecutive winning seasons from 1966 to 1983, when Baltimore won more games than any other franchise (see the "Glory" section of the Baltimore Orioles entry on Wikipedia for more about the Oriole Way and how it relates to this run of success).
The Oriole Way, in hindsight, has become a catchall for anything that wins, and since loyalty is an admirable quality, it must have been part of the organizational philosophy 30 years ago, right? And even if it wasn’t, it should have been, along with stressing the obvious skills like good pitching and defense, sound fundamentals and everything else that winning teams do.
So what’s this got to do with Melvin Mora?
He is the kind of guy you want to root for. He hustles, he plays any position he’s asked to (in 2002 and 2003 he played all the outfield spots plus second base and shortstop; then in 2004 he learned an entirely new position, third base), and last winter he brokered a truce between a disgruntled Miguel Tejada and a feckless front office that could barely get Miggy to return its calls. And on top of that, he’s an admirable person off the field, too. Mora and B.J. Surhoff were the only active members of the team to show up for the funeral of Elrod Hendricks last December. (Peter Schmuck of The Sun writes about Hendricks' funeral, Mora's attendance at the event, and how the situation relates to the Oriole Way in a Dec. 30 column.)
The Orioles should re-sign Mora for all those reasons, and the fact that he’s become a very good hitter, an All-Star in 2003 and 2005 and solid in the No. 3 hole, averaging .312 with 23 homers and 80 runs batted in the past three years despite missing 68 games in 2003.
True, the Orioles didn’t develop Mora in their minor league system. Syd Thrift, who maybe wasn’t as dumb as everybody thought, stole Mora from the Mets in July 2000 when he dumped Mike Bordick’s salary. It is perhaps Syd’s greatest deal. Many Mets fans have lamented the trade, as seen on UltimateMets.com. Hopefully O's fans won't have their own lamentations after this season.
At the time of the trade, Mora was 28 and in his first full year in the major leagues. He’s grown up with Baltimore, a late bloomer who has endured more than his fair share of losing and yet still wants to play here. But in response, owner Peter Angelos refuses to keep him over $1 million per year? (Mora wants a three-year deal for $27 million but the team won’t budge past $24 million.) For what it's worth, Ken Rosenthal, formerly of The Sun, now of The Sporting News, ranks Mora as one of MLB's most underpaid players.
You’d think Angelos would be ecstatic that he has a productive player who actually wants to take his money, because no other big-time free agent does. The sad truth is that no star wants to play in Baltimore – Miggy included. He’s the one premiere free agent to sign with the Orioles in a long time and he asked for a trade last winter. He just might do the same again, maybe even before this season is up, if the O’s fall out of the race, which few honest observers doubt will happen.
He’s even more likely to pout if the front office decides it won’t resign Mora and trades him in July for a prospect. Hopefully a prospect who plays third base, since the Orioles have none of their own to take Mora’s place. That is, unless Ryan Minor has his summer free.
Keeping Melvin Mora in Camden Yards for another three years seems like an easy decision. If it’s not part of the 21st century Oriole Way, then it should be.