Monday, March 26, 2007

SI's Best of the Blog-O's-phere

Kudos to fellow O's bloggers Camden Chat, Oriole Post, and The Orioles Warehouse for being featured (along with Roch Kubato's blog for The Sun) in Sports Illustrated's baseball preview. The magazine, which will include stories from each of the blogs as part of its Orioles team page/aggregator, is asking readers to vote which site has the best Orioles info. You can get in on the action at

Friday, March 23, 2007

Even More Useless Preseason Facts

(But mostly just opinions); springtime brings it out in us

By Christopher Heun

The best part of spring training is that the losses don’t really count while the wins, on the other hand, give everyone a reason to indulge their powers of positive thinking. There’s plenty of time to sit around and get your hopes up.

Why else would pitchers like Sidney Ponson and Steve Trachsel still be allowed to take the mound for a major league team? Only in spring training would anyone still think either of them has something left in the tank. As Opening Day draws near, the future of those two pitchers, and a couple other possible Orioles roster moves, fill us with wonder. Wonder being a polite way of saying "total confusion and disappointment."

1. Our biggest question: who will last longer in the major leagues this season, Trachsel or Ponson? Trachsel, signed by the Orioles to replace the injured Kris Benson, will likely fare this season about as well as Sir Sidney circa 2004-05. Sometime in June, Hayden Penn (or possibly Jeremy Guthrie?) will take his spot in the rotation.

Unfortunately, Trachsel looks like he’s the latest in what’s becoming a long line of National League pitchers (Mike DeJean in 2004, Steve Reed in 2005, Jim Brower in 2006) who sign with the O’s and immediately start tossing batting practice.

Meanwhile, Ponson -- who is trying to hook on this spring with the Twins, his fourth organization in the last 19 months -- could be wearing a Devil Rays uniform by the All-Star break. Or better yet, the pitching-starved Nationals may give him a shot.

That DC scenario would be particularly ironic, given Ponson’s comments last weekend when he brushed off the Baltimore media – but not before firing off a zinger within earshot of Sun reporters that “Baltimore fans have no clue what baseball is all about.”

By now, pretty much anything anyone could possibly say (good or bad) about Sidney has been said; he’s at the end of the road and probably deserving of some sympathy, if only he could keep his mouth shut long enough to listen to his few remaining supporters.

Nevertheless, in the middle of his dig at Baltimore he managed to squeeze in this odd observation: "The old Baltimore fans over on 33rd Street [Memorial Stadium], that's true baseball fans."

Say it again, Sidney! Forget for a moment the divine truth of his statement, or how much he sounds like some guy, late at night, at the end of a bar in Pigtown. How would Sid know about the crowds on 33rd Street? He was just 14 years old on Oct.6, 1991, when the Orioles played their last game at Memorial Stadium.

You’ve got to give him credit for knowing a little Orioles history. But on the other hand, shouldn’t anybody who pays to see the Orioles these days be considered a true fan?

2. While we’re on the topic of roster moves, why is Kevin Millar still playing for the Orioles? Never mind the glut of mediocre first baseman/designated hitters on the roster; because they re-signed Millar before the Rule V draft, there was no room on the 40-man roster to protect Josh Phelps, who’d they’d signed to a minor league contract.

The result: the Yankees swiped Phelps and the Orioles were embarrassed by their mistake. You’d think they would have learned their lesson, since the very same situation occurred with Chris Gomez in December 2004. After signing him to a minor league deal but leaving him unprotected, the O’s had to buy Gomez back from the Phillies, who chose him in the Rule V draft.

True, Josh Phelps will not mean the difference between a winning and losing season, but given 400 at-bats he would show more pop than Millar.

3. How many members of the 2004 Atlanta Braves rotation can we dress in an Orioles uniform?

Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Blue Jays may release starter John Thomson (if they can’t trade him first) after signing him as a free agent over the winter. That the Jays would choose Josh Towers instead for their rotation doesn’t say much about Thomson, but he did have some success a few years ago in Atlanta with pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

So, Thomson might be worth a look if Trachsel falters and Penn isn’t ready. The Orioles tried Russ Ortiz last summer based on the same logic, and that worked out great, so why not try it again? When Jaret Wright was acquired over the winter, his previous success with Mazzone in Atlanta was cited as an extra reason why the deal made sense.

Interesting bonus fact about Rosenthal: Google Ken Rosenthal and what should appear as the #2 search result (just after his writer archive at Fox) is a link to “What are the Orioles Thinking?”an article he wrote last November after the guys in the Warehouse played Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with their bullpen. (Or was it a lost episode of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"?)

The Rosenthal verdict: “Over the next three years, it's possible that the Orioles would get comparable performance from less expensive relievers.” Yes, it’s possible – until you consider that those less expensive relievers would be the likes of Kurt Birkins, Sendy Rleal, and Jim Hoey, all of whom could probably benefit from more seasoning in the minors.

By the way, we’ve said our piece about Rosenthal before.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Commentary: A Home Run Chase for the Ages

A lively winter read stirs musings on the game's greatest sluggers

By Christopher Heun

Little imagination is required to envision the greatest home run hitter of a generation, in the twilight of his career and just one rung from the top of the record book, frustrated by nagging reporters, haunted by angry fans rooting against him and ignored by the commissioner of baseball, who would decline to attend the record-breaking night.

Sounds like the life of Barry Bonds this season as he whacks his way toward home run 756 to surpass Hank Aaron as the new home run king. (He needs just 22 more). But it’s also the same environment that Aaron himself confronted in April 1974 when a new season began with him just one home run short of Babe Ruth’s record.

Aaron’s chase of the Babe is beautifully told in "Hank Aaron: One For The Record, The Inside Story of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run," George Plimpton’s account of home run 715. I read the book this winter and was struck by the similarities between the circumstances Aaron faced then and Bonds encounters today.

Plimpton, the former editor of The Paris Review who chronicled one of his many exploits, his attempt to pitch against the 1960 National League All Star lineup, in "Out of My League," is a wonderful storyteller and excellent reporter.

He recounts how reporters asked Aaron what seemed to be silly questions about what he had eaten the night before, only to complain they were getting the same answers. “It was pointed out to them that they were asking the same questions,” Plimpton writes. Bonds, no doubt, can relate.

After Aaron hit home run 714 on his first swing of the 1974 season, when the Braves were in Cincinnati, commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered Aaron to be in lineup the final two games of the series. The Braves, however, wanted to sit their star so that history could be made in front of their home crowd.

Kuhn knew his edict, which the Braves obeyed, made him unpopular in Atlanta. When Aaron did in fact slug 715 at home, Kuhn was delivering a dinner speech in Cleveland. “My presence would be a negative influence on what was supposed to be a positive occasion,” Kuhn had said beforehand.

Chances are, the current commissioner, Bud Selig, also won’t be in the ballpark if Bonds manages to break the record. Bonds, as the Sultan of the Syringe, stained by his past steroid use despite never failing a drug test, mocks Selig and the best interests of baseball that his office has failed to protect. On top of that, Selig, who owned a piece of the Braves before they moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, is friends with Aaron and if given a choice would probably choose a less controversial player to break the record.

The steroid use, of course, (and not just premium flaxseed oil) is the biggest difference between Aaron and Bonds. But there are more subtle distinctions between the two men.

Aaron never watched 715 land. “As he had done those countless times, he looked toward first base as he ran, dropping his bat neatly just off the base path, and when he saw the exultation of the first-base coach, Jim Busby, he knew for sure that the long chase was over,” Plimpton writes. By contrast, every Bonds homer now is a chance for him to do his best Vogue impersonation and strike a pose in the batter's box.

Listen to Aaron’s father when asked if he had been prepared for the historic moment. “I never paid the record no attention. It slipped up on me like everybody else. Henry was in baseball for work.”

Aaron also was not fussy about his equipment, keeping just a single spare bat on hand. Imagine how many more home runs he might have hit if fortified with the obnoxious arm and elbow pads that Bonds and others of the current generation wear to crowd the plate with impunity.

Among the players on the field April 8, 1974, who watched the historic home run, there is an interesting link to the present: Dusty Baker, Bonds’ future manager, batted fifth for the Braves, behind Aaron. Two future Orioles managers, Davey Johnson and Johnny Oates, played in the game, as did Davey Lopes, who coached for the O’s before a stint as manager of the Brewers. Lee Lacy, who ended his career in Baltimore, pinch hit for Lopes in the game.

Perhaps the most surprising fact I learned from the game’s
box score is that Bill Buckner batted second for the Dodgers that night and played left field; he stole 31 bases for the ‘74 Dodgers and then 18 for the ‘85 Red Sox. His moment of infamy would come the following season, hobbled in a pair of high top cleats in Game 6 of the World Series, when he let a ground ball through his legs and Sox fans would have to wait 18 more years for a Series win. But he was speedy once.

Bonds needs 22 homers to ruin the record book. But at least one baseball scribe doesn’t think he will make it this season.’s
Dayn Perry may just be engaging in a little wishful thinking, but he insists that a combination of age (Bonds turns 42 in July), potential for injury, off-field trouble and a lack of protection in the lineup, among other factors, will prevent any fireworks celebrations for the Giants and their star this season.

If Bonds does pass Aaron as baseball’s home run king, I doubt anyone will write a book as skillful as Plimpton’s that captures the moment – and the pressure leading up to it – from so many different perspectives, everyone from the radio announcer to the mascot. The book on Bonds, in one way, has already been written: "Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports."

It could be a few years from now, after Bonds finally retires and the investigations surrounding him – of perjury, money laundering, and income-tax evasion – are resolved, before we reach some perspective on steroids and the accomplishments of those who played before drug testing.

Regardless, we may not ever hear something like this from Bonds. It’s Aaron reflecting on his accomplishment:

“Maybe what I’ve done is make new fans. At first there was a lot of mail from people, older people, who didn’t want me to break Babe Ruth’s record. The young generation took note of that, and supported me. I think they want to relate to me, to see me have a record, not someone their granddad saw play.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Bird is the Word

A collection of Birds-related quotes from around Spring Training

Compiled by Matthew Taylor

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Eutaw Street?

Hopefully it's not the cornerstone.

"Just a building block. You don't really put much on it.”

-Steve Trachsel after a rough first outing for the O’s; 3 runs, four hits, one walk .

Neither team is exactly "The King of the World."

"I was watching on the computer as the tickets were being sold and it looked like the Titanic going down. It was amazing."

Dave Rosenfeld, GM of the Norfolk Admirals, on ticket sales for an O’s – Nats exhibition game at the minor league stadium.

Now that's news: The Angelos family actually has a heart.

‘‘It was amazing to see the quick response ... The Orioles will give him VIP treatment.”

-Erik Scheidhauer, talking about his communication with the Orioles, which resulted in the team granting a spring training trip for his 4-year-old neighbor who has an incurable illness.

B-Rob's Mob Mentality.

“There were days last year where I couldn't even take batting practice because I needed to save some of my bullets for the game.”

-Brian Roberts shares what he learned from last season.

It's nice to know he still cares.

"Of course I'd like to do well against them, any team. But I'd like to do well against them. But I think it's just more anxious to get out there and get the first one out and that's about it."

-John Maine says he’d like to play well against the O’s.

O's pitching makes me nauseous for a different reason.

"I'm sitting there getting nauseous listening to this thing. I kept waiting for him to throw a pitch and just drop on the mound."

-Former Orioles great and current Bowie Pitching Coach Scott McGregor on the snapping scapula of Birds prospect Radhames Liz.

Does this mean Metallica concerts are out as well?

"I have a couple glasses of wine here and there, but I used to go out and drink 20 beers and stay up until 5, 6 o'clock in the morning. I'm in bed, at the latest, by midnight. One o'clock is way past my bedtime."

-Sir Sidney, in a highly quotable newspaper story, says he’s a changed man.

There's no "I" in crap.

"I think this is Kevin's battle. I don't think anyone else really gives a crap."

-Chris Gomez responds to Kevin Millar’s effort to generate a change in the team’s grooming policy.

These days Flanny prefers "Deal or No Deal."

"Actually, 1983 is the last time this organization was really happy. We were so close and loose, smart about
the game, beating clubs with more talent. We lost the first game of the '83 ALCS. The next night it's 7:28 p.m. The TV announcers were saying, 'Where are the Orioles? They're not on the field yet. They must be in disarray after losing Game 1.' We were at the door of the clubhouse, packed together, watching 'Wheel of Fortune.' We're yelling, 'Pick a vowel!' Finally, somebody figured out the puzzle and we all barreled out the door."

-Mike Flanagan reminisces about the ’83 O’s.

Coming out swinging.

"If you're in that clubhouse and you don't think this team is vastly different and vastly improved, you're crazy."

-Jim Duquette makes his case for the team’s off-season moves.