Sunday, April 30, 2006

Williams returns to bullpen; Is another unknown not far behind?

Key to late innings, ex-journeyman rose from mysterious Bermuda Triangle of Triple-A Oklahoma City

Todd Williams is back in the Orioles bullpen. That might not mean much to many Orioles fans, since he is a middle reliever, the type of player destined to toil in obscurity unless his own mistakes cost his team victories.

Like Jim Brower, for instance. His name is on many people’s lips, but for all the wrong reasons.

Regardless of the fact that few fans would recognize Williams without a scorecard, the Orioles desperately need him. They activated him before Saturday’s game and manager Sam Perlozzo wasted no time in putting the right-hander to work, calling on him in back-to-back games. "If he pitches the way he's capable of pitching, it'll give us a big boost," Perlozzo said.

So far, so good: Williams, who has been one of the bullpen’s most reliable arms the past two years, responded with two scoreless innings. That’s really beside the point, though. No matter what happens this season, more people should know the story of Todd Williams’ career.

Two years ago at this time, he was at Triple-A Oklahoma City, pitching for his eighth organization. He was 33 years old, well past the point of being called a prospect. It had been three years since he had appeared in a big league game, for the Yankees.

One of his teammates in Oklahoma City was David Newhan. By July, the two minor league journeymen were both playing regularly for the Orioles – joined briefly by, for all you trivia buffs, backup catcher Ken Huckaby. What are the chances that three players on a Triple-A team, in this case the affiliate of the Texas Rangers, would wind up in the majors four months later with another organization?

What’s even more curious about Oklahoma City is the amount of traffic headed there from Camden Yards. So many ex-Orioles have passed through in recent years it’s like some sort of minor league Bermuda Triangle of former Baltimore prospects. In 2005, Manny Alexander, Chris Richard and Matt Riley all played there. This year, Gary Matthews Jr. and Rick Bauer have suited up with the Oklahoma Redhawks, as they are now known, having dropped the “City” from their name in a marketing move similar to removing “Baltimore” from the Orioles road jerseys. But I digress.

If you want to be completely accurate, the connections don’t end there. Going back to 2004, the Rangers featured no less than five players who had previously played for the Orioles: Scott Erickson, in the last unsuccessful stages of trying to resurrect his career (though he's still hanging on at Triple A Columbus); reliever John Wasdin, who had pitched in Baltimore in 2001; Dave Dellucci, who started his career with the Orioles; Gary Matthews Jr.; and Huckaby, who Texas picked up after Baltimore released him that year. And all that doesn’t count Ramon Nivar, who the following year would be traded for Riley and who is probably best known for repeatedly showing up late to batting practice at the end of the 2005 season.

Riley, incidentally, in the "Where Are They Now?" files, is attempting a comeback from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, his second. Rangers manager Buck Showalter said recently that Riley looked good in extended spring training.

So, what does all this mean? The bottom line is, if you think Orioles pitching has been bad the past couple years, imagine being a Rangers fan. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure; if that’s the case, Texas could open its own recycling plant. It’s certainly collected more than its fair share of garbage.

How they let Williams slip away, then, is even more of a mystery. But relievers bounce from one team to the next, piecing together careers wherever they get the chance. Brower, who’s been miserable so far this year, has pitched for six teams in eight big-league seasons. Cincinnati once traded him to Montreal for Bruce Chen, his current teammate.

The return of Williams, who did not allow an earned run in 54 of his 72 appearances last year, gives a much-needed boost to the bullpen. But should it continue to falter, the O’s might have another rabbit to pull out of their hat. The Sun’s Roch Kubatko wrote in his blog Sunday that the closer for Triple-A Ottawa, Julio Manon, has been pitching well to start the season, with 7 saves and 15 strikeous in 10 and two-thirds innings, having allowed just one earned run and two walks.

Manon, who turns 33 in July, played in Korea the last two years and is now working for his sixth organization. His only big league experience came three years ago, a 23-game stint with Montreal. If Williams is any guide, that sounds like a future star in the making.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Turning 21 With No Hangover

The O's snapped a four-game slide on Thursday, but that streak doesn't hold a candle to the record-setting run in '88; Happy Anniversary, O's fans.

by Matthew Taylor

As they might say on "Pardon the Interruption":

"Happy Anniversary, Orioles fans. Today your team set a new American League record for futility, losing its 21st straight game to open the 1988 season. With a 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome the Orioles passed the 1906 Boston Red Sox and the 1916 and 1943 Philadelphia Athletics for consecutive losses in a season. Cal Ripken, Sr. lost his job as the team's skipper six games into the season and was replaced by Frank Robinson, who followed up with 15 straight losses of his own. Hey, Frank, if you think things are bad in D.C. these days, just remember where you were 18 years ago."

The O's had no hangover after loss No. 21, winning, for a change, on April 29, 1988, against the Chicago White Sox. The '88 team fell two losses short of matching the 1961 Phillies for the Major League record (although Wikipedia incorrectly credits Baltimore with the ML record). Just last season the Kansas City Royals threatened to match the O's record losing streak, but, as Frank Robinson comments in this Washington Post article, the Birds will always be "on the hook" for their run of futility to start the season.

Part of Orioles lore, celebrated at the Legends Museum in Baltimore, is that 50,000 fans showed up for the next game at Memorial Stadium to welcome the Birds back to town. The team finished the season 54-107 but followed that up with the magical "Why Not?" effort of 1989, when they won 87 games and finished just two games out of first place after losing to the Toronto Blue Jays on the final weekend of the season.

Fifty-thousand fans? "Why Not"? I think losing has lost its charm in Charm City. See what our resident casual fan thinks in the posting below.

The Great Experiment, Week Three: In Which We Look to Mel Kiper Jr. for Inspiration

How can baseball save itself if it no longer loves the casual fan?

By Aaron Koos

This week, the only chore tougher than being an O’s fan would be serving as Mel Kiper’s hairstylist. Since my last blog, the Birds dropped two series against division rivals, lost four of six games overall, and slipped to their familiar fourth-place spot in the AL East.

I’m trying to hang in there in my quest to become a better fan, but the Orioles sure don’t make it easy. It’s OK, though. I like a challenge, which is why I resisted distractions on Tuesday night and switched on the TV to watch the opener of the Toronto series.

First I tuned in Comcast SportsNet, which carries the bulk of the Orioles games. But, instead of baseball, CSN had Game One of the Wizards-Cavaliers NBA playoffs. Hmmm…LeBron in the playoffs… intriguing, but no! I was on a mission.

So, I flipped to the local broadcast stations. No Orioles there either. Could they be on the regional sports network actually owned by Peter Angelos? Nope. MASN had the Nationals game.

I double-checked the guide in the newspaper, which only incorrectly confirmed that the game was supposed to be on Comcast SportsNet. So, I resorted to using the satellite guide search feature, which requires you to tediously punch in your search term letter-by-letter using the remote control. O-R-I-O-L-E-S–T-O-R-O-N-T-O… At this point, no one should question my commitment to this experiment.

Just as I was about the reach for the radio, the satellite search turned up the blacked-out Blue Jays home broadcast, and finally the actual game on something called “RSNa,” an alternate channel way, way up on the dial at 648. I tuned in to see the Orioles lose, but I bet most casual fans didn’t bother.

This is the sort of behavior Orioles fans have come to expect from their team and baseball. The Orioles don’t need to win the World Series every year, but perhaps they could refrain from actually hiding broadcasts, and generally pushing fans away?

It appears that the Warehouse’s treatment of fans, which can be described as indifferent at best, is having the expected effect. The Sun reported this week (“Losing seasons, empty seats”) that attendance at Camden Yards is already down 19.5 percent this year, or the equivalent of 3,000 fewer fans per game. As Sun columnist Rick Maese correctly points out (“Losing fans, O’s have to do more than win”), the Orioles can’t blame the fan exodus on the Nationals. Attendance at RFK is equally bad, down 19 percent from last year and season ticket sales have plummeted. Orioles fans haven’t flocked south. The species is approaching extinction.

This has to be stopped, but baseball isn’t going to save itself. This is going to take an intervention. Casual fans like me are going to have to dig deeper and love a sport that no longer loves us.

To do this I’ll need inspiration, and thankfully, I don’t need to look any further than Baltimore’s own NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. Even if I tried to look further than Kiper, it would be impossible, both due to his towering coif and the fact that ESPN has now installed a camera in his colon to ensure maximum coverage for Draft Day tomorrow.

Essentially, Kiper is a paid superfan. He got his start as a teenager, basically stalking Baltimore Colts training camps, and subsequently he has transformed his passion as a fan into a 25-year career based on knowing more about players than their own mothers (The Sun: “He’s a prospect prodigy”).

He has commitment. He has drive. He has a lustrous, thick, helmet-like mane.

Sadly, I will never achieve his follicular eminence, but I can strive to pursue Kiper-like fandom. I won’t balk when the Orioles broadcast gets slapped around the dial like a ball in a game of pepper. And, I won’t be distracted by other sports that love their fans so much that they provide live, all-day coverage of their personnel moves.

Baseball and the Orioles might be trying to fade away quietly, but they’re going to have to start hiding their games on the Lifetime Movie Network to shake this fan.

According to my CAP rating—the ultra-scientific system that rates my fan activity in the categories of Current knowledge, Ardor, and Participation—I’m actually a better fan this week than last, despite the best efforts of MLB and the Orioles to drive me away.

Here are the results:

Current knowledge: .150 (at least read every game recap, but still can’t recite player stats)

Ardor: .201 (crossed the Mendoza line with extra points for dogged pursuit)

Participation: .198 (for watching or listening to all or parts of most games this week)

Still dismal results, but “moving up the board” faster than a Kiper sleeper pick.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

So far, so good enough

Repeat three times with fingers crossed: "The pitching will improve"

By Christopher Heun

The 2006 season is only 20 games old, too small a “sample size,” as the stat geeks like to say, to draw conclusions, but enough time to get a good feeling about the Orioles.

Granted, a “good feeling” about the O’s means this could be the year, after eight straight losing seasons, that they finish at .500. A lot of things have to go right for that to happen – too many, you could say – but nevertheless the season is still young enough that the fresh hopes left over from Opening Day have yet to reach their expiration date.

An 11-9 record might not be much to get excited about, but the players all look visibly relieved that the horror show of a year ago is over. It’s hard to create good clubhouse vibes without winning on the field, but Kevin Millar has brought his chemistry set from Boston and the early results look promising. Miggy, the volatile star and focal point, is yapping again in the dugout (and hitting like his old self).

Clearly, the players want to win for manager Sam Perlozzo. A night after getting trounced 15-1 by Cleveland, the Orioles fell behind 7-3 in the fifth before unloading for an 18-9 victory. And a big off-season question mark, closer Chris Ray, has been perfect in his new role.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s still early. Ramon Hernandez won’t be hitting .377 in September like he is now, but he will continue to play stellar defense, the reason he was signed last winter. He’s thrown out 10 of 14 runners trying to steal and is clearly better behind the plate than Javy Lopez, the man without a position who has yet to get on track as the designated hitter – but, to his credit, has not raised a stink about his role.

The fact that there are still 142 games to go is also a reason for hope, at least when it comes to the pitching staff. Clearly, the much-ballyhooed Mazzone magic has yet to take effect. As the new pitching coach, Leo Mazzone was supposed to turn Oriole hurlers into clones of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, his Braves protégés.

Instead, what we’ve seen so far is a pretty good imitation of Oriole pitching circa, say, 2001 or 2002, which featured nightly parades of opposing baserunners. This year’s staff leads the American League in walks, is tied with Toronto for giving up the most homers and the 5.44 team ERA ranks tenth. Those numbers will get better. They have to.

With the exception of Eric Bedard, who’s 4-0 with a 2.77 ERA, and a solid Kris Benson, the starting rotation has been shaky. And that was supposed to be the staff’s strength.

Daniel Cabrera has no idea where the ball’s headed once it leaves his hand. He’s walked 22 in 18.1 innings and has an ERA of 6.87. Incredibly, that’s a better ERA than both Rodrigo Lopez and Bruce Chen, who are both over 7.

About the best thing that can be said about the bullpen – other than Ray’s perfect six-for-six in save opportunities, with not a single run allowed – is that Todd Williams and John Parrish will return from injuries within the next month.

They can’t arrive fast enough. Ray, LaTroy Hawkins and Jim Brower have already appeared in 9 of the 20 games, with Sendy Rleal pitching in 8. If this keeps up much longer, arms may start falling off. This is no small concern, especially for a promising pitcher like Ray. The Post's Jorge Arangure addressed the issue of fatigue Tuesday in a glowing article about the young closer.

Despite the poor pitching, the O’s have managed to win more than they’ve lost, against some pretty good teams. They took three out of four from the Angels, a playoff team last year now tied atop the A.L. West, then won a series against Cleveland, who could reach the post-season in 2006 after just missing last year.

They beat the team they should, Tampa Bay, five out of seven. Who they’ll need to improve against are Boston and the Yankees, (they’ve lost five of six against the perennial leaders) but then isn’t that always the case?

The schedule for May looks a little easier: 12 games against bottom-dwellers Kansas City, Seattle, Tampa Bay and the Nationals.

A year ago, the Orioles finished April in first place with a record of 16-7 and took five of six from the Yankees. But we all know the collapse that quickly followed, a tragedy of truly Shakespearean proportion. This year’s team looks like it could be different. In another 20 games, at the season’s quarter post, we’ll know more.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Great Experiment, Week Two; Not so Fabulous

More woes for the Master of the CAP, AKA "Freakonomics" meets "MoneyBall" times ten

by Aaron Koos

At the end of last week I was psyched. I'd just made my first blog post and embarked on a grand experiment to determine if baseball has a future with casual fans like me. I was motivated to improve my CAP ranking, the system that rates my Orioles enthusiasm in the categories of Current knowledge, Ardor, and Participation (for a full explanation of CAP, see my post from last week).

Incidentally, I received quite a bit of feedback on my ultra-scientific CAP system. The overwhelming majority of responses fell into the category of questions like, "Aaron, isn't all this talk of number crunching and ratings systems completely bogus?" and "Aaron, didn't you come up with this completely illegitimate system simply as an excuse to use the clever 'CAP' acronym?"

I have two responses: 1) thank you for recognizing, even with your criticism, that the CAP acronym is indeed clever, and 2) you really don't want to know too much about the science behind CAP. Did you ever see that "Beautiful Mind" movie? Well, CAP is based on very same mind-bending game theory mathematics that drove that "Beautiful Mind" guy to end up throwing phones at hotel concierges. This is "Freakonomics" meets "MoneyBall" times ten.

Despite my deep affection for the system, CAP wasn't kind to me last week. I earned an embarrassing score, putting my rating as an Oriole fan somewhat lower than Carson Kressley of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," who was in Baltimore for the Miss USA pageant Friday night.

In an interview with The Sun last week ("A touch of sass"), Kressley attested to his fondness for the Birds: “I love the orange and black.” He expanded on his recent Baltimore baseball experience: “When I was checking into the [Wyndham] hotel, the Boston Red Sox were checking out, and we did a show with the Boston Red Sox last year so it was like old home week. Or old homo week for me. And then the Orioles were there, too ... well, they actually got their butt kicked that day, so we won't talk about the Orioles.”

So, Kressley is actually bunking with the teams, and I can barely name the line-ups. I’ve been shown up by a man who rose to fame by instructing slobs like me to just “zhoosh it” when it comes to fashion. I was even more determined to forge ahead with my own makeover as an O’s fan.

And, the week started off great. I’ve learned from seasons past that if you can invest early in the spring, the games in late summer mean so much more.

For instance, when David Newhan eventually makes a triumphant return from a broken leg suffered while sliding into second base on Monday, it will mean more to me if I actually witnessed the injury. Which I did, as it happened live on TV, and then again several times in cringing slow motion, thanks to "Baseball Tonight."

I was encouraged. I actually watched a game, and then watched the recap on Baseball Tonight. I was aware of injuries, player stats, and game results. If I kept this up, I thought, I could expect my CAP scores to skyrocket. But, sadly it was all downhill from there.

After Monday, I didn’t see another game. It’s not that I consciously chose to ignore baseball. But I marvel that I was ever able to fit baseball into my life. One hundred sixty-two games over eight months, at around 3 hours a game. That’s almost 500 hours, and if you watched all the games consecutively, it would take you 20 straight 24-hour days.

I’ve got better things to do, and in honor of Carson Kressley, here are the Fab Five activities that kept me from caring about baseball this week:

The Weather. Temperatures in the 70’s and sunny practically all week. Need I say more? Yard work wins out over The Yard.

Family. Most games start at 7:00 p.m. which is a great time unless you’re interested in eating dinner, spending quality time, watching Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go, bath time, and reading bedtime stories.

Tivo. Loads of commercial free, quality television, on demand. Sorry, but while it’s intriguing to try and figure out which version of Daniel Cabrera is going to take the mound, it’s still not as mysterious or satisfying as a single episode of "Lost."

Work. I can see right into left field of Camden Yards from my office. Thursday’s game started at 3:00 p.m. Judging by the near-empty upper decks and left field seats, seems like most people were also “distracted” by work then too.

The NFL. It’s all about the draft right now on Baltimore sports talk radio. I purposely went into The Sun sports section to read about O’s results, but ended up getting sidetracked by an article speculating on how the Ravens will use their 13th pick.

So, it wasn’t a good week. I only calculate my CAP scores for the sake of science:

Current Knowledge. I do get some credit for knowing Newhan was hurt, Cabrera is inconsistent, and now I know that Harold Reynolds, John Kruk, and Steve Phillips are the analysts on "Baseball Tonight." However, any gains in this category are almost completely negated by also knowing that Carson Kressley and the Miss USA pageant were in town. Average: .142. A meager gain.

Ardor. Points for an enthusiastic start to the week, but I ended up being more passionate about applying weed-n-feed to my lawn. A shameful score of .050.

Participation. I watched one game, and actually did read two quick game summaries. Cleveland beat up on us and we returned the favor. No gain: .030.

The results are pretty disheartening. I’m a horrible fan, and baseball is still doomed. On a bright note, maybe the weekend's leftover rain will continue throughout the week, giving me plenty of time to stay in and Tivo a season pass of "Baseball Tonight."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Ray of Hope

The emergence of Chris Ray as the O's lockdown closer was put to the test on Friday night against the Yankees; Score one for the young gun

By Matthew Taylor

The Washington Post got it right. So did the Baltimore Sun. Even Comcast Sportsnet made the proper call. The story of Friday night’s series opener against the Yankees was Chris Ray.

Two years removed from the Single-A Frederick Keys, the 24-year-old Ray froze Hideki Matsui with a bases loaded, 3-2 slider that ended the game in the Bronx. Yankee fans who had been hoping to chant “Godzilla” were instead left muttering “God----.”

Said Derek Jeter: “I don't know if there’s anyone in baseball looking for a 3-2 slider in that situation.”

Alex Rodriguez: “Unbelievable.”

The Post and The Sun made Chris Ray the lead of their respective game stories. And Comcast named Ray its “Player of the Game” for Friday. In other words, the local guys got it right. and instead chose to pick up the Anna Benson version of the O’s-Yankees story provided by the AP:

Anna Benson watched nervously as her husband took on the Yankees in his return to New York.

‘He had something to prove,’ she said, ‘and he proved it.’”

The national media are missing the boat, but Orioles fans should get on board now, because it’s high tide for Chris Ray. (Just promise you won’t throw Anna Benson a life preserver. She’s already got all of the flotation devices she needs.)

Sure, it’s only April. The ghosts at Yankee Stadium are snowbirds; they never even left Florida after Spring Training. If Major League Baseball gave out pennants this early in the season the O’s would have one labeled “2005” hanging from the Warehouse. Not to mention that Chris Ray’s appearance on Friday was only his 49th game at the major league level. But the O’s pitching recovery has to start somewhere, and it may as well be from the back of the bullpen.

Consider the all-time leaders for saves in a season among the five current AL East teams. Division fans should be able to name two of them without much thought: (1) Mariano Rivera, the gold standard among closers, holds the Yankee record with 50 saves in 2001; and (2) Randy Myers leads the Orioles with 45 saves in 1997.

As for the rest of the AL East, Boston is led by Tom Gordon (46 saves in 1998), the Blue Jays by Duane Ward (45 saves in 1993), and – bonus points if you got this one – the Devil Rays by Roberto Hernandez (43 saves in 1999).

Now consider the success that each of these teams had during those record-setting seasons. The Yankees played in the World Series, the Orioles in the ALCS, the Red Sox in the Division Series, and the Blue Jays won the World Series. As for the Devil Rays, well, they’re still the Devil Rays no matter who’s closing games for them.

Granted, this proves little more than the fact that successful teams offer their closers more opportunities to save games. But there’s a strong argument to be made – one that has been made many times in recent years – for the value of a lockdown closer. Considering the $47 million the Blue Jays gave B.J. Ryan, Toronto sure thinks so. Ryan took his 36 saves (Myers is the only Orioles closer to ever have saved 40) North of the border in the off-season. The O's should therefore consider themselves lucky (or smart?) to be in this position. It’s already clear that Chris Ray is a keeper, free agency and Peter Angelos' low-ball negotiations be damned.

You’ve heard all the hype about Jonathan Papelbon, but it’s time to start getting hyped about Chris Ray. Right now Chris Ray’s stats are every bit as impressive as Papelbon’s. After Friday, Ray had one less save than Papelbon (unless you consider Ray’s “win” in Tampa Bay for what it really was – a save), three more strikeouts, one less hit allowed, and two more walks. Neither pitcher has given up a run so far this season.

The point is not to argue for Ray over Papelbon as much as it is to acknowledge Ray as a young closer who, like Papelbon, is worth getting excited about. And he’s a product of the Orioles’ farm system to boot. Hail the return of the Oriole Way!

If you watched Friday night’s game in the Bronx you know why I'm making this argument. There were the Yankees chipping away at the O’s lead in the eighth, stealing the team’s insurance run faster than you can say GEICO. Chris Ray had zero breathing room as he entered the game to face the top of the Yankee’s lineup: Damon. Jeter. Sheffield. Pass the oxygen.

How many times have we seen this before at Yankee Stadium?

As Jeff Zrebiec of The Sun describes it: “It is a place where young relievers tend to fold, where mystique and aura and one of baseball’s most vaunted lineups traditionally takes over, rendering pitchers powerless to avoid timely hits and clutch comebacks.”

Chris Ray didn't fold. Instead, he provided another example to support Curt Schilling's famous argument, made during the 2001 Word Series, that “Mystique and Aura are dancers at a nightclub.”

This wasn't the World Series. Alex Rodriguez may have struck out in the clutch, but it is still only April. Nevertheless, the truth is that without Chris Ray on Friday the O’s ship would’ve sunk.

It’s time to get on board.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Missing David Newhan

"Roar Jinx" shelves Nehwan; In his place, Markakis should play every day, Millar should bat second

by Christopher Heun

Just when we were ready to sing the praises of outfielder David Newhan, hopeful that he could recapture some of his 2004 magic as a catalyst at the top of the lineup, he broke his right fibula Monday night when he caught his ankle on second base after a steal.

He’ll miss at least two months. I’ve heard of the Sports Illustrated jinx, but maybe there’s some bad mojo connected to Roar from 34, too. Of all the people mentioned recently in this space, let’s hope the next victim is Jeffrey Maier rather than Melvin Mora.

Luis Matos – whose name had not been mentioned here yet – followed Newhan on the disabled list Wednesday, but that doesn’t count. He gets hurt every year. Suddenly, the game of musical chairs the Orioles were conducting in the outfield at the beginning of the season now has two fewer players.

But regardless of whether or not manager Sam Perlozzo can write his name into the lineup for the next two months, we’re going to praise Newhan anyway.

He had to battle in spring training just to make the team after coming out of nowhere –Oklahoma City to be precise – in 2004 to hit .311 with eight homers and 54 RBIs in just over half a season. Before then, he hadn’t appeared in a major league game in more than two years, and his career in The Show had amounted to just 86 at bats.

Newhan smacked a 435-foot pinch-hit home run in his first at-bat with the O’s and never looked back, hitting safely in his first 15 games and 31 of 33, batting over .400 for nearly two months. He finished second in the American League with five four-hit games. Not quite Roy Hobbs, but close.

He slumped, though, during the final 34 games, hitting just .233. Last year, playing only part time, he couldn’t find a consistent stroke. He was sent down to Triple-A Ottawa twice and finished the year hitting .202.

His chances didn’t look so good this off-season, either, when the front office decided to sign as many guys as it could to solve the hole in left field. First Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar, then Jeromy Burnitz, who it thought it had under contract until he backed out of the deal, and finally Richard Hidalgo, who they invited to spring training. After a couple days, he changed his mind too, although unlike Burnitz, who’s now with the Pirates (and batting .246), he is not on a major league roster.

Meanwhile, my Dad (and a lot of other people, too) were yelling for Newhan.

Perlozzo came around. Before his injury, Newhan had started eight out of nine games and was getting on base consistently, stealing three bases. Along with rookie Nick Markakis, another pleasant surprise, two-thirds of the Orioles outfield had come from the most unlikely of places. The Sun’s John Eisenberg noticed, too: "Newhan, Markakis are outfield answer."

"He's swinging the bat, hustling, giving us a little energy, sparking us a little bit," Perlozzo said of Newhan last week. "He's really done enough, for me, to be playing."

Newhan’s injury leaves a hole in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Conine batted there (and took Newhan’s spot in left field) the first two nights and even though he has struggled early this season, he’s probably best suited for the role. Kevin Millar is another option; he knows how to work the count, his lifetime on-base percentage (.365) is slightly better than Conine’s (.350) and he also has a little more power.

The truth is, neither one of them should be playing every day. They’d make an excellent bench; the problem is there’s nobody better to play ahead of them. They still get on base more frequently than either Matos (.316 lifetime on-base percentage) or Corey Patterson (.293). Markakis, 22, who never played above Double-A before this season, is the wild card. It might be too much to expect him to hit second, but he should be playing every day. Otherwise, there's no point in having him on the big league club.

Both he and Patterson are left-handed hitters, so they should start against righty pitchers. Let Conine hit against lefties. When Markakis is in the lineup, Millar should bat second.

This is all a lot easier to figure out, unfortunately, because Newhan and Matos are injured.

The Great Experiment, Week One: Is baseball doomed?

Introducing a weekly column about how one casual fan, who didn’t grow up with the game but still has a special place in his heart for Mark Lemke, will track baseball’s success this season at winning him over. He’s got a log book, a clever new acronym and he promises to crunch some numbers.

By Aaron Koos

I don't bleed black and orange. I couldn't tell you who hosts Baseball Tonight. And, I don't have a fantasy baseball team, let alone three. In fact, if you're reading this blog, rest assured, you care more about baseball and the Birds than I do.

So why am I posting on "Roar from 34," a blog by fans for fans devoted to the Orioles and the love of baseball?

Because I think baseball is doomed and this is the first step in a season-long experiment to see if there is any future for the sport.

I'm volunteering to serve as the guinea pig in this experiment, because unlike many of the people reading this, I'm the fan that is going to make or break baseball. Of course, not me specifically, but the millions of others just like me that have moved on to other, greener pastimes. Last year's World Series netted Fox only 17.2 million viewers, the lowest-rated series ever. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I didn't even watch one inning. Major League Baseball is going to have to find a way to reverse this trend and captivate fair-weather fans like me if it is ever going to survive.

The prospects aren't good, though. If 2005 was bad for baseball, 2006 is shaping up to be downright ugly. In addition to the nagging problems – the revenue disparity between teams in small and large markets, prima donna players and their obnoxious agents, tedious marathon games, etc. – this year carries the additional burden of starting under a heightened steroid controversy. Prior to opening day, The (San Jose) Mercury News predicted that 2006 would go down as "The Unhappiest Season on Earth."

And yet, despite all this, I'm hopeful. I've been a fan. Now, I've never been on the level of the folks that started this site. They've suffered through strikes and lockouts, weathered cheating scandals of all kinds, and endured extended losing stretches by their team. While I can't pretend to love the Orioles like they do, I have known the joy of listening to games on the radio over steamed crabs and Natty Boh. I've had my share of basement dwelling fantasy teams. I even held a season ticket package at Camden Yards one year.

Can my interest be revived? Will I ever peruse a box score again?

That is the purpose of this experiment. This blog will track my progress, or rather track baseball's progress in winning me back as a fan. I think it could be a good indicator for the health of the sport. Plus, I feel pressured to blog. "Dude, you don't have a blog? Oh, you've got to blog."

Each week I plan to post an entry that chronicles my baseball-related activities this season. Using a highly scientific system, I will score my progress. To accomplish this I've developed the Baseball "CAP" formula. CAP rates my fandom in three acronym-friendly categories: 1) Current knowledge, 2) Ardor, and 3) Participation.

Current knowledge

The litmus test for this category is whether or not I'd be able to convince you that I'm an Orioles fan in a five-minute conversation. Knowledge of schedule, roster, current injuries, player performance, game results, and the big storylines for the season would certainly be required.


Do I even care enough to engage you in a five-minute conversation about baseball? Originally, this category was going to be called "Enthusiasm" but it didn't work with the ultra-clever "CAP" acronym.


Did I watch, listen to, or attend any games? Did I buy any merchandise? Could I be bothered to read the sports section or watch Baseball Tonight?

For each category, I'll assign myself a batting average. Now, I won't bore you with the ultra-scientific statistical analysis used to derive that average, but just know that I'm not just randomly assigning values, even though it will look exactly like that is the case. Really.

That's the experiment. Simple. Elegant. Quite possibly revolutionary.

Now, on to my first CAP ratings. The numbers have been crunched (really), and the results aren’t good. I'm well below the Mendoza line in all three categories.

Current knowledge average: .127.

I know the O's have played the Devil Rays, won the home opener, got swept by the Red Sox, and then I think they went back to Tampa, but maybe not. I have no idea of any player stats, and I probably couldn't name the full line-up or starting rotation. I couldn’t convince Grandma that I’m a fan. So .127 is generous (but highly accurate and based on data from my comprehensive log book, which you can’t see, but which I assure you exists. Really.).

Ardor average: .000.

And I don't even care. I went out of town and didn't read the sports page for five days. I'm only slightly embarrassed as a man to admit this. This is a very bad sign.

Participation: .030.

Watched one Orioles-Red Sox game, off and on, and saw it through to the end. Seemed like sloppy play from Kevin Millar and Chris Gomez, plus the Orioles' perennial inability to hit a knuckleballer that contributed to the loss. Read the synopsis in the paper for the first five games, but none since.

There you have it. According to initial CAP results, baseball is still doomed. The good news is that it can’t get much worse. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Oriole Way should be to keep Mora

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 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.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Maier of New York

Back in the news almost a decade after his infamous "catch," Jeffrey Maier tries to change his image

By Matthew Taylor

It’s been nearly 10 years and I still can’t get over it. To this day I keep seeing his face. There it was last night in my Sports Illustrated (Scorecard, April 17). Then I saw it again this morning on my television (SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays”). Is there no escaping Jeffrey Maier?

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough that you don’t recognize the name Jeffrey Maier. He became baseball’s most notorious 12-year-old on Oct. 9, 1996, when he did some early trick-or-treating during the ALCS, tricking Baltimore’s Tony Tarasco out of a routine catch in right field and treating Derek Jeter to his only homerun of the series. With Maier’s help the Yankees won Game 1, 5-4, in extra innings. They later went on to win the World Series against baseball’s perennial runners-up, the Atlanta Braves.

Jeffrey Maier is back in the news this week, but this time it’s for his bat rather than his glove. Maier, now a senior third baseman at Wesleyan University, became the team’s all-time hits leader on April 12 with a third-inning double against Bates College. After tying the record on April 9 he told The Philadelphia Inquirer (the quote was also included in the aforementioned Sports Illustrated article): “People seem to be noticing that I’m a pretty good ballplayer. What happened when I was 12 is finally just a sidebar.”

“O” if that was only true.

Whether he likes it or not, Jeffrey Maier cannot escape his past. The scarlet letters might be interlocked - an “N” and a “Y” - but, like poor Hester Prynne, Jeffrey Maier must forever bear the burden of his impure act. He can keep references to his Yankee Stadium heroics out of the Wesleyan baseball team’s media guide, but Maier is to fan interference what Monica Lewinsky is to White House interns. His image, like that infamous blue dress, is stained.

In my opinion, Maier should stop trying to resist his place in baseball history. Rather, he should do like those faded stars on VH-1’s “The Surreal Life” and simply accept the fact that he’ll forever be typecast in his most famous role.

Bronson Pinchot will always be Balki. Sherman Helmsley will always be George Jefferson. And Jeffrey Maier will always be a 12-year-old punk kid who rode the shoulders of fans in the right field seats, appeared on “Good Morning America” and “Live with Regis and Kathy,” turned down similar opportunities with Geraldo (who was reportedly offering $1,000) and Letterman, was treated to lunch at Manhattan’s All-Star Café, and got a limousine ride and free tickets to Game 2 of the ALCS, all because he stole a baseball (source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 11, 1996).

Rudolph Giuliani cleaned up the streets of New York City by focusing on small quality-of-life crimes. But when a 12-year-old committed a baseball fan’s biggest crime under his watch, Guiliani gladly allowed the kid to ruin the quality of Orioles fans’ lives for days, weeks, and years to come. The Mayor did nothing about The Maier. Instead, the city celebrated Maier's theft and gave him his 15 minutes of fame in the media capital of the world. During that 15 minutes Jeffrey Maier was typecast. No number of record-setting hits will change his role in baseball history.

Some would have you believe there are ghosts in Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter said as much following the 2003 ALCS (funny thing, those “ghosts” went away during the World Series that year), and others have followed suit. But the thing that really haunts me – other than Tim McCarver’s unlimited ghost references during any and every taut Yankee playoff game – is Jeffrey Maier’s fishing expedition in 1996 when he reeled in the big one for the Bronx Warning Track Bomber.

Unforgettable. Unforgivable.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What makes a hometown hero?

In an era of free agency and frequent player movement, individual memories are what make a player "one of ours."

By Matthew Taylor

What makes a guy "one of ours"? What allows the fans of a particular team to claim a guy as one of their own despite the fact that he's played in many major-league cities? Is it the length of tenure? Is it postseason performance (in which case, I'm not going to have anyone to claim as my own)? Or is it a "Moneyball" matter, strictly stats?

I started this debate with a grad school friend last summer. We have a lot in common - he's from Boston, and I'm a flip-flopper. In terms of this debate, though, could it be that we have a Burger King matter on our hands? Can we both really have it our way?

Some context is necessary.

On July 9, 2005, the Orioles topped the Boston Red Sox 9-1 at Camden Yards. Bruce Chen pitched seven strong innings for the quality start. Miguel Tejada was 5-for-5 at the plate with an RBI. And Rafael Palmeiro went 2-for-3 with a homerun and six RBIs, putting him just three hits shy of 3,000. David Ginsburg of the Associated Press described Palmeiro’s afternoon at the dish as “a prolific offensive display.”

On July 10, 2005, I received an unhappy e-mail from my friend, a Red Sox fan who saw that display in person at the Yard. Clearly bitter about the outcome, he commented that he couldn’t help but think, as he watched the crowd of 49,000 strong (okay, many of those in attendance probably weren’t O’s fans) heap adulation upon Raffy, that Palmeiro wasn’t really an Oriole. More of a Ranger, really.

A fast, friendly debate ensued about what makes a player "one of ours." I argued vigorously on behalf of O’s fans everywhere. Rafael Corrales Palmeiro was indeed an Oriole. Sure he put up his biggest numbers, including a mammoth 1999 season (.324 average, 47 HR, 148 RBIs, all career highs), in a Texas uniform. But I wasn’t going to let a little thing like fact get in the way of my opinion. After all, who could forget Palmeiro’s open letter to Orioles fans in The Baltimore Sun, the one thanking us for our support that ran after he signed with Texas following the ’98 season? That has to count for something.

Was Johnny Damon a Red Sox guy or a Royals guy, I asked. What about Big Papi? A Red Sox guy or a Twins guy? After all, despite all of their success in Beantown, both players (Damon, Ortiz) had spent more seasons with small-market teams than they did with the (Not Quite As) Evil Empire.

I kept the fight above the belt – no mention of Clemens – and it’s a good thing. Less than a month later Raffy was suspended by Major League Baseball for violating the league’s steroid policy.

I e-mailed my friend one final time: “You know,” I wrote, “I’ve always considered Palmeiro more of a Ranger than an Oriole.”

Is Palmeiro an Oriole?

Numbers-wise, Rafael Palmeiro had some great years in Baltimore. And I guess all of those numbers will stand until someone other than a blogger says otherwise.

Palmeiro ranks No. 5 all-time for the Orioles in homeruns, No. 6 in slugging percentage, and No. 11 in RBIs. He is the team’s single-season leader for RBIs among left-handed batters (145 in 1996). He won the Silver Slugger award, honoring baseball’s best hitter at each position, in 1998. And while wearing an Orioles uniform he became one of only four major league players with 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray are the others).

Sadly, Palmeiro also was wearing an O's uniform when he got busted for steroids. At least it was a sharp-looking blue suit, and not the orange and black, when he wagged his finger and stated to members of Congress and, thanks to television and endless video replays, the world: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sure there’s a case to be made for postseason success in a particular uniform (Wouldn’t that make Boggs a Yankee?), along with any number of other defensible measures of what marks a player as "one of ours." But let's face it, what it ultimately comes down to is each fan’s individual connection with a player. It really is a Burger King matter. Like him, he’s one of yours. Hate him, he’s one of theirs. Anywhere in-between is not worth discussing. Baseball is like politics that way. There's just no convincing a partisan that he's wrong.

I had made Palmeiro "one of ours." I was at the Yard for the O's day game against the White Sox when word got out about Raffy's suspension. It felt like a cleat to the stomach. But can I, in good faith, now claim that he's no longer "one of ours"? Or would that hypocrisy invalidate my measure altogether?

It appears that I'm not the only one who can't make up my mind. The Orioles’ website has pictures of Raffy in both uniforms on the page that celebrates his 3,000 hit, 500 homerun accomplishment.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sam Horn, he's one of ours

A long foul ball at Memorial Stadium gives the author territorial rights, Red Sox fans be damned

by Matthew Taylor

I've got a bone to pick with Red Sox fans, and it’s as simple as this: Sam Horn is one of ours.

That’s right, Boston, I’m claiming Sam Horn and his 62 career home runs for Baltimore. And I’m taking his .240 career batting average, his 250 hits, his 323 strikeouts (yes, more career K’s than hits), and even his lone stolen base attempt with me.

(I guess Sam learned his lesson after he was caught trying to steal a base during his rookie season; he never again attempted to pilfer on the base paths. You see, the guy’s smart. They say that colleges are like Dunkin Donuts in Boston, one on every corner. All that intelligence must’ve rubbed off on Sam before he came to Charm City.)

Sam Horn is an Oriole whether you Sawks fans like it or not. You can have him as an NESN studio analyst. The “brightest and most passionate Red Sox fans” can even continue to use his name for their famed “Sons of Sam Horn” discussion community. But Sam Horn is, and always will be, an Oriole.

Take Freddy Lynn. When I was a kid I saw one of his multi-homer games at Memorial Stadium, but I know he's "one of yours" in Boston.

Take Curt Schilling. He's rightfully yours after wiping out the Yanks in the 2004 ALCS. All we O's fans have when it comes to Schilling are the dreaded "What if?" questions. For example, "What if the Orioles had guarded Schilling for his potential the way they guarded Sir Sidney?"

Heck, you can even have Brady Anderson (41 games) if you want. We'll throw in Manny Alexander and his .211 Boston average and make it a package deal.

But leave Sam Horn in his rightful place in my memory, wearing the orange and black and blasting balls into the right field bleachers on 33rd Street.

Bottom line: Sam Horn belongs to Baltimore. He's one of ours.

This past Sunday marked the 16th anniversary of Sam Horn’s greatest documented career game, April 9, 1990. That’s the day – Opening Day in Kansas City, to be specific – he went 4-for-5 with two three-run homers and six runs batted in, as the Orioles beat the Royals (Johnny Damon’s team?), 7-6, in 11 innings. An equally-powerful performance by Sam Horn isn’t documented anywhere other than in my mind.

True story. It was a day game at 33rd Street. The O’s were playing against a team I can’t remember on a date that I’ve long since forgotten. It was sunny, I can tell you that much. What sticks out in my mind (there is something) is that Sam Horn nearly put a ball clear out of Memorial Stadium. The only player to ever accomplish the feat was the great Frank Robinson in 1966. As noted on “Frank Robinson hit the only home run long enough to leave the stadium completely when he drove a Luis Tiant pitch 450 feet and over the left field bleachers on May 8, 1966.”

The Orioles flew a “1966” flag out beyond the home bullpen at Memorial Stadium to commemorate Robinson’s accomplishment. Were it up to me there would’ve been a separate flag flying for Sam Horn in the right field upper deck.

Sitting in the stands at Memorial Stadium with my father that day, I watched Sam destroy a ball down the right field line. We’re talking Roy Hobbs stuff here, only minus the exploding stadium lights (that wouldn’t have been quite as cool during a day game) or the coverless baseball. A sure homerun – Dad and I knew it from the second it left the bat – if only the ball would stay fair. Instead, it raced just to the right of (and well above) the foul pole and kept rising … and rising … and rising. The only thing that kept that ball out of some poor fan’s passenger seat was the familiar horseshoe seating of Memorial Stadium’s upper deck.

The baseball came to rest – or, more appropriately, came thundering down – three rows from the top of the upper deck. To this day I’ve never seen a baseball hit that hard. And for what it's worth, I’ve watched Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds take batting practice at what was then Pac Bell Park.

Had Sam Horn played at Camden Yards I’m convinced he would’ve broken a warehouse window and made lifelong memories for Orioles fans everywhere. Instead, we simply have Ken Griffey’s warehouse shot during the All-Star Home Run Hitting Contest. No flags for that one. And no flags for Sam Horn's near-accomplishment on 33rd Street. Only memories.

I've hung pictures of three Orioles players in my home at one time or another: Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, and Sam Horn. So Sam Horn is an Oriole. Because although the specific details might be fuzzy, I’ll never forget that long foul ball one sunny afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

O's Should Retire No. 44 for Elrod Hendricks

Failure to honor "conscience of franchise" more proof organization lacks class

by Christopher Heun

When the Orioles took the field on Opening Day last week, for the first time in nearly four decades Elrod Hendricks wasn’t wearing a uniform.He died last December after 37 years as a player and coach. No one has worn the orange and black longer than Ellie.

A catcher who split time with Andy Etchebarren and others, he played ten seasons for the Orioles, including the 1969-1971 World Series teams. Probably his most famous moment came during Game 1 of the 1970 Series, when he “tagged” out Bernie Carbo in a play at the plate that made a sandwich out of umpire Ken Burkhart (See a photo of the play).

Younger fans remember Ellie as the man in uniform always ready with a bright smile, eager to sign an autograph. If you don’t have one of your own, it’s only because you never asked. On top of that, he was a tireless advocate in the community.

That’s why it’s such a shame that the team hasn’t retired his number 44 – they’re wearing a shoulder patch this season – and only two players from last year’s club, B.J. Surhoff and Melvin Mora, bothered to show up for his funeral. (All the more reason – along with Mora’s off-season role as a peacemaker between the front office and an unhappy Miguel Tejada – that the third baseman should be re-signed immediately, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The failure to pay proper tribute to Ellie, a man John Eisenberg has called “the conscience of the franchise” is further, painful proof that the “Oriole Way” is history. The team has slipped to also-ran status, a perennial fourth place finisher, but what really makes it hard to be an O’s fan is that the organization doesn’t have enough class anymore to honor some of the most loyal and fan-friendly members of its family.

Eisenberg has written columns for The Sun (column 1, column 2) about how much Ellie meant to the organization and why it should retire his number. He also described how clumsily the O’s reassigned him from his duties as bullpen coach after last season, speaking with his widow, Merle Hendricks.

"I need to speak out to set the record straight," she said. "The fact is they broke his heart. They broke my husband's spirit," she said of the Orioles.

"Teams now have community relations departments because there aren't enough Elrods who care about their communities," Eisenberg wrote.

When the Hall of Fame voters snubbed Minnie Minoso and Buck O'Neil last winter, Buster Olney suggested Major League Baseball establish a lifetime achievement award “to honor those who didn't necessarily hit the most home runs or win the most games, but whose contributions to the game are nonetheless indelible and have helped shape the baseball experiences of others.”

Olney, who once covered the Orioles for The Sun, included Ellie (along with former general manager Roland Hemond and clubhouse man Ernie Tyler) in a long list of baseball figures who deserve the recognition. A case could also be made for Cal Ripken Sr., whose number hasn't been retired by the O's, either.

Ellie's old teammates still remember him, though.

"We lost the most beloved Oriole of all time,” Brooks Robinson told the Associated Press. "Not only was Elrod loved here in the Baltimore area but all over the country. Every ballpark that we would go into he'd be the first one on the field signing autographs and saying hello. It goes beyond the game of baseball. He was just a people person. Certainly, he was a big part of the success of the Orioles organization. He has touched more lives in this town than anyone else. From 1968 to 2005, he was the Orioles' goodwill ambassador. He gave me so many laughs and so many wonderful memories during our years together."

When Ellie was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2001, manager Mike Hargrove had this to say: "It's people like Elrod who give baseball a good name. I've never seen Elrod not be accommodating to people.”

Even umpires liked Ellie. Ron Luciano wrote in "The Umpire Strikes Back" that Ellie had “the nicest way of arguing of anyone in baseball,” and helped restrain Earl Weaver during his spats with the men in blue.

Follow this link for a great quick biography, including details about Ellie’s 16 Puerto Rican winter seasons and how he earned the nickname "The Babe Ruth of Mexico."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Before B-12, There Was Brady

In light of the current steroid controversy, is it fair to question Brady's big season?
By Christopher Heun

Brady Anderson has something in common with Barry
Bonds, but it might not be what you think.

They both hit 50 home runs in a single season. Only 22
players have ever done that. Hank Aaron never did.
Besides belonging to that elite club, Brady and Barry
also both stole 50 bases in a single season. They’re
the only two players ever to accomplish both

And you thought this was going to be about steroids.
Well, it is.

After his career year in 1996, when he hit exactly 50
homers (which still stands as the Orioles record),
Brady never came close to matching his surprising
power. He never hit more than 24 homers in any other
season. calls Brady, "the most
unlikely fifty home-run hitter in baseball history."

But there is no proof Brady Anderson ever took
steroids. He said publicly that he did not after Jim
Palmer aired his suspicions during spring training two
years ago.

“I don't think you should get accused of steroids if
you perform well,” Brady told The Sun. “I know what I
accomplished, am proud of it, and know that it was
done with integrity.”

“It was 26 more home runs than I hit in any other
season, but that's just one more home run per week,
just one more good swing.”

Simply looking for career years may be a crude way to
comb for potential juicers and cheats. But looking at
50 homerun hitters might not be. It’s such a rare feat
and yet so many players have done it recently that you
have to wonder about the entire group.

In the century before 1995, players had hit 50 in a
single season just 18 times. But in the 11 years since
then, the Steroid Era, sluggers managed to do it 19
times. In descending order of swat: Bonds. McGwire.
Sosa. Griffey. Luis Gonzales. Alex Rodriguez. Thome.
Fielder. Belle. Andruw Jones. Greg Vaughn. And Brady.

Jose Canseco, for what he’s worth, wrote this about
Brady in his book, “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant
'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big:”
“Was he
using steroids? I never saw him inject himself, but he
and I discussed steroids many times. And consider
this: How else could someone go from hitting a total
of forty-one home runs over three seasons to cranking
out fifty in one, without a major boost from

According to one theory, some players have turned to
steroids before a free agent year. Big numbers equal a
big contract. That doesn’t quite hold true for Brady.
The Orioles had a $4 million option after the ’96
season; he wasn’t a free agent until the next
off-season, when owner Peter Angelos, over dinner in
Little Italy, convinced his centerfielder to sign for
$31 million over five years, considered below market
value at the time.

The theory looks a lot stronger, though, with some
more recent performances by players whose power
shriveled the following season. Adrian Beltre, who hit
48 homers for the Dodgers in 2004 (after never hitting
more than 23) and then signed a five-year, $64 million
deal with Seattle, managed just 19 homers last year in
as many at bats. And then there’s the Orioles’ own
Javy Lopez. No catcher has ever hit more homers in a
season than the 43 he popped for the Braves in 2003.
After that season, he signed at the Warehouse for
three-years and $22.5 million but then managed only 23
homers in 122 more at bats in 2004. He missed 59 games
last year and hit just 15.

In Brady’s defense, he played hurt in 1997, the year
after he joined the 50 Homer Club. Not only did he suffer
from tendinitis in his knee, he cracked a rib late in
spring training but refused to go on the disabled
list. By then, he was used to people questioning his
performance. In his nine full seasons after stealing
53 bases in 1992, his breakout year, he managed to
swipe more than 30 only twice.

There’s another curious link between Anderson and Bonds. Brady set a record (later broken by Alfonso Soriano) with 12 leadoff homers in 1996, eclipsing the previous high set in 1973. The man who had held the record? Barry’s dad, Bobby Bonds.

Was Brady on the Juice? Vote in the poll on the sidebar

Orioles Moments; An Introduction

Some moments are more defensible than others
By Matthew Taylor

I have two all-time favorite Jumbotron videos from Camden Yards. One I can defend. The other is defensible only in the “Sports changes all the rules of manliness so that it’s suddenly okay to cry and hug your male friends” way. And even then I’m still not sure it’s okay.

My indefensible favorite among Jumbotron videos used to come on at Camden prior to the home half of the 9th inning whenever the Orioles were trailing in a close game. In other words, I’ve seen it a lot.

A montage of heroic highlights – O’s players running, diving, homering, celebrating – hits the screen as Bonnie Tyler’s “Hero” blasts through the stadium speakers.

“I need a hero!!!” BOOM. “I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night.”

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da.

“I need a hero!!!”

When you’re standing in the ballpark, daydreaming about the Orioles Magic that as a kid you ranked right beside Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in terms of believability, getting chills seems okay. And besides, that line about needing a hero rocks.

But then you head home after another close loss and Google the lyrics to the song. Suddenly you realize that you were just part of a collective call for a man who “has gotta be strong … gotta be fast … gotta be fresh from the fight.” And here I always thought the words were “da da da da da ….”

At this point you feel a little dirty, so you distract yourself by starting a “To Do” list:

“To Do: Return ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to Blockbuster … After dark …Take the wife’s car.

But things get worse.

Does Bonnie Tyler really sing, “Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed? Late at night I toss and turn and dream of what I need”?

You heard “steed” and assumed it was a decidedly more gender-appropriate reference to “Anchorman.” But that wasn’t Ron Burgundy yelling out to Veronica Corningstone, “I'm storming your castle on my steed, m'lady.” No, it was Bonnie Tyler. And I’ll be damned if she wasn’t talking about tossing and turning and … gasp … What. I. Need.

Might as well cross the “After dark” and “Take the wife’s car” lines off of that To Do list.

Perhaps there aren’t many Oriole fans who can relate to my “Hero” experience at the ballpark. Or at least who are going to admit it. But I’m willing to bet that I could get more agreement on my other favorite Jumbotron video from Camden. Because I’m certainly not the only O’s fan who feels “like a kid again, when I am at the Yard."

Jason Siemer hit a nostalgic roundtripper with his song, “A World of Orioles Baseball.” There’s no shame to be had when you Google these lyrics.

“Orioles baseball, feel the magic where you are.
I feel like a kid again, when I am at the Yard.
Born and raised to love the game
in Baltimore, no better place.
And I am glad, that I am lost
in my own little world of baseball.
I remember the days, when I just couldn't wait
for Opening Day to arrive, what a time to be alive.
33rd Street they would play
Memorial Stadium, I'd say.
The memories still live with me
full of baseball history.”

I don’t have to be at the ballpark to get chills from this video (see it for yourself). It’s the greatest Baltimore promotional song since “Orioles Magic” (Who can forget the words, "Feel the magic happen"?) If you grew up on the O’s, you understand how I feel. Because in Baltimore, like other great baseball towns, the fans’ connection with the team goes beyond wins and losses.

The Orioles have won two league championships (1979, 1983) three division championships (1979, 1983, 1997), one Wild Card (1996), and one World Series (1983) in my lifetime. Most of those accomplishments came before I was old enough to truly follow the sport. My only real memories of the ’83 Series are Cal gloving the final out and my dad running out to the car to honk the horn. And the ‘90s success came at a price to my sanity (think Jeffrey Maier). But for all the angst associated with cheering for a losing club, including a current run of eight straight losing seasons, I have fond memories of the Orioles as a team, of individual players, and of many humid summer nights (and too few cool fall nights) spent at the ballpark.

When it comes down to it, what keeps this otherwise cynical guy cheering for a broken team playing a broken sport is the moments. The moments at the ballpark. The moments spent listening to the game on WBAL. The moments you recall in such vivid detail that it scares your significant other. (Not to mention that it makes forgetting your anniversary even more inexcusable. Because if you can remember who was catching for Tippy Martinez when he picked off three Blue Jays in ‘83, you can remember when your non-baseball romance began.)

Roar from 34 will regularly use the “Orioles Moments” feature to chronicle the memories of local writers who have been through the occasional ups and all-too-frequent downs associated with life as a Baltimore baseball fan. Hopefully some of the stories will make you feel like a kid again. And who knows, some might even leave you holding out for a hero.