Thursday, February 22, 2007

Around the Horn: Early Spring Training Edition

Things ain't so friendly this week in Mr. Met's corner of the blogosphere

by Matthew Taylor

This trip Around the Horn makes a special stop in the NL East to visit Mr. Met's blog ring. Our travel to New York’s "second city" for baseball is only fitting since the biggest O’s news of the past week involves former Mets.

Kris Benson’s doing the Hokie Pokie with the Birds ... “You can pencil me in, you can pencil me out, as I take my rotator cuff and shake it all about” … which led the team to sign another ex-Met, Steve Trachsel.

Earlier this week, our very own Chris Heun discussed the “Ex-Cubs Factor” and a potential “Ex-Orioles Factor.” Could there be an “Ex-Mets Factor” to boot? Like celebrity deaths, these things tend to come in threes.

Shea Stadium’s our virtual destination this week; don’t be distracted by the roaring planes overhead. Put on your away jersey with Baltimore on the front, says
Oriole Magic, and join us for a trip Around the Horn.

First: It is easy to condemn, it is better to pity.

From the “Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse” file, we’re being pitied by Mets fans. The good news is that some of the comments are pretty funny.

Them Mets says it all in this headline following Benson’s injury: “Today I Feel Sorry for Orioles Fans.” There’s also some chest thumping about “who got the better of the Kris Benson/Jorge Julio/John Maine deal” and finally, more pity: “Just to add insult to injury, those poor suckers could end up with Steve Trachsel. Nobody deserves that.”

Hey, not every deal can bring you Melvin Mora in return for an aging Mike Bordick.

YardBarker offers another funny headline, “The Baltimore Orioles: Where Old Mets Pitchers Go To Die,” with some added commentary from the poster, Harvey Bars: “The Baltimore Orioles have agreed in principle to a deal with former Met, Steve Trachsel, which is a plus, because if you're like me, you found yourself last season thinking ‘Man, I wish Orioles' games were longer.”

Yeah, but in New York longer games meant more of Mr. Met's playful antics. And that's something only Tim Hardaway couldn't love.

Bugs and Cranks offers the sharpest out-of-town jab: “News of the rotator-cuff injury that will likely end Kris Benson’s season before it gets started sent shockwaves through the small/miniscule part of the US population known as Oriole Nation.”

The good news for members of Oriole Nation is that we’ve got spelling on our side. More from Bugs and Cranks: “Benson was penciled in as the number two starter behind Eric (sic) Bedard.”

For those scoring at home, or even if you’re alone (source:
Keith Olbermann … or Steve Somers), Bedard put the “K” in Erik 171 times last season.

At least
Mets Heads was kind: “I wish Steve the best of luck down there though as he is the last of the ‘old’ Mets to leave.”

Hometown Humor on the Trachsel signing.

Camden Chat: “Welcome to Baltimore, Steve Trachsel! Now, we likely project your mediocrity!”

Oriole Central sums it up best: “Benson is nothing more than an average pitcher who can eat innings, but he’s our average pitcher who can eat innings.”

Third: Picture This!

Baseball players are feeling romantic these days, even injured Orioles pitchers whose wives filed for divorce less than a Spring Training ago.
Dawn Alexander has the visual proof.

Kris Benson is in good company with Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell, who had his wedding proposal documented.
The 700 Level provides the photographic evidence on this one.

Leave it to the Mets’ rivals from the City of Brotherly Love to share some love with Burrell. "Well wishes" in the comments section on The 700 Level include the following:

-“I wonder how much gasoline it will take to burn his little black book. I give it about 10 days til he beds some well-dressed, hair-messed Old City bar trash”

-“This woman looks classy. Where the heck did he meet her? And what an unusual pose for Pat the Bat. Him on his knees rather than the woman.”

Cue the
Elton John.

Speaking of love and pictures, you can catch photos of Larry Bigbie and Erik Bedard on the
Great Lakes Bass Fishing website. The site also features pictures of former Love Connection host Chuck Woolery.

I’d love to see Woolery do a guest spot on MASN this season ... “And that’s it for the home half of the 8th. Okay, O’s fans, we’ll be back in two and two.”

I’ll admit it’s a long shot. At least we’ll get to see Rick Dempsey doing Birds games. Surprisingly, the new O’s blog
Dempsey’s Army doesn’t offer a take on the catcher’s move to MASN. Come on Dempsey's Army, he’s your namesake!

Going Yard: Fat Boy Slim

It’s fitting, as we touch home, to bring things full circle with talk of ex-players in new destinations. Turns out ex-Oriole Sidney Ponson isn’t in the witness protection program; he’s in Minnesota.

Win Twins knows what the team is in for: “I decided to start with the player who will likely add the most drama to our clubhouse - even if it's just speculation on when/if he'll get his next DUI.”

A confused Ponson jumped at the chance to sign a deal with the Twinkies.

And that's a wrap.
You stay classy, O's fans.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rites of Spring: Completely Useless Facts

Get to know some new Birds and contemplate an Ex-Orioles Factor

By Christopher Heun

Now that the first team workouts of spring training have begun, the grand tradition continues of reporting about mundane details like fielding drills, unruly facial hair and new designs for practice jerseys.

To do our part, we present a few completely useless facts about the 2007 Orioles:

1. Newcomers Jay Payton and Chad Bradford were once traded for each other. Not sure what this proves, exactly, other than that 19 months ago a pair of general managers (Theo Epstein in Boston and Billy Beane in Oakland) estimated the two players were of roughly equal value.

If that’s still the case, and Bradford signed for three years and $10.5 million while Payton got nearly the same amount this off-season, $9.5 million, but over just two years, then Bradford must be a steal. All that talk of overpaying for the bullpen is totally unfounded.

2. Hayden Penn’s 2006 season was derailed by an appendectomy the night before he was scheduled to make his first big league start of the season. But he isn’t the only pitcher on the staff to have suffered the unusual injury last year. New reliever Danys Baez suffered an “emergency appendectomy” last August. That prompts the question, when is the removal of a person’s appendix not an emergency?

Bonus Appendectomy Tidbit: During spring training six years ago, Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre was forced to forced to undergo surgery to close a wound in his abdomen that had not healed from an appendectomy performed two months before in his native Dominican Republic. He had not eaten solid food since the first operation.

3. Miguel Tejada hasn’t missed a game since the middle of the 2000 season. His streak of 1,080 consecutive games played is the longest in the major leagues; if he keeps it up this year, he’ll surpass three players and own the fourth-longest streak in history.

He’ll pass Joe Sewell April 27 at Cleveland, Billy Williams May 12 at Boston and then Steve Garvey Aug. 24 at Camden Yards against Minnesota. At that point, Everett Scott, who played in 1,307 games in a row, is all that would separate Miggy from Lou Gehrig and Cal at the top of the iron man list.

Tejada, who turns 31 May 25, would pass Scott in early June 2008 but would need to play every day for five more years to catch Gehrig. He’d need to play three more years after that to reach Cal at 2,632. By that time, Miggy would be 40 years old.

4. The Birds traded Rodrigo Lopez to Colorado last month (where he joined his former battery mate, Javy Lopez; more on that in a minute) for two Double-A relievers, Jim Miller and Jason Burch. Neither of the young pitchers were invited to spring training – not a good reflection on the likelihood they will appear in a big league game anytime soon.

So, rather than the players, why couldn’t Lopez have been swapped for the Rockies’ infamous humidor? The cooler – a humidity- and temperature-controlled room built near the Coors Field clubhouses – has had a chilling effect on scoring in Denver. Maybe it could work the same wonders for the Orioles’ pitching staff? But with Rodrigo coming to town, the Rockies were wise to keep their contraption.

(Incidentally, Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball is considering making the humidors mandatory for all teams. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone probably wouldn’t object.)

But getting back to the Rockies. In addition to acquiring Rodrigo Lopez, this winter they also signed two 2006 Orioles, Javy Lopez and LaTroy Hawkins. That’s a lot of former players from a team that lost 92 games a year ago. The logical initial reaction to such a move would be to send condolences and pencil in the Rockies for a woeful season.

But maybe it’s actually a positive sign. Four of the eight playoff teams last year featured at least three former Orioles. (The other four teams had none.) The Padres had the most, four: David Wells, Manny Alexander, Jack Cust and Jim Brower. Remember Jim Brower?

Meanwhile, Sidney Ponson, Larry Bigbie and Brian Falkenborg (a second round pick by the O’s in 1996 who got a cup of coffee three years later) all wore a Cardinals uniform last year – though none of them did so in October, which may be exactly the point. The team that signs the most former Orioles, and then sees the error of its ways, winds up World Series champs.

The well-documented “Ex-Cubs Factor” that predicts post-season doom for any club with three former Cubbies may have a corollary in The Ex-Orioles Factor. More research is necessary. Who knows, since the 2001 Diamondbacks World Series victory disproved the Ex-Cubs theory, could it be time for the Orioles to fill the void?

The 2007 Texas Rangers may have an inside track on testing the theory on behalf of the Birds, having already signed Bruce Chen and Sammy Sosa (who, it should be noted, has played for both the Cubs and the Orioles).

In the interest of thorough reporting, the three former Birds to play for the Yankees last year: Mike Mussina, Sidney Ponson and Scott Erickson. For the Mets: Jorge Julio, John Maine and Eli Marrero.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

100 Words or Less About … The Off-Season

A concise summary of O’s events

By Matthew Taylor

We debut our "100 Words or Less" theme - which we'll use regularly during 2007 - with a tongue-in-cheek review of the Birds' off-season maneuvering.

The goal of this particular posting is to use 100 words or less of corporate speak to dissect the hometown Hot Stove action. How many of these buzz words have you heard in your office?

100 Words or less starts ... now:

"A download of the off-season: The 30,000-foot view suggests there won’t be a hostile takeover of our Northern baseball neighbors. It’s fair to question the synergy between the front office and ownership. The O’s reached out to free agents like Soriano and Lee, but our disconnect with top players continues. The GMs did think outside the box and loop back in to the market to sign 10 free agents. The deliverables included Huff, Payton, and a revamped bullpen. To your point, re: losing, the 2007 team could leverage a .500 record as a metric to incent disillusioned fans."

Final Count: 98 words. Mission Accomplished, with room to spare.

See you next time on "100 Words or Less."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Around the Horn; A Round-Up of O's News

The Best of the Blog-O's-phere, Feb. 5 - Feb. 11

It’s not quite time to fly south, and the weather’s awfully chilly in Charm City. Nevertheless, Birds bloggers are still hard at work this off-season. Grab a coat and join Roar from 34 for a trip around the Blog-O’s-phere for the week of Feb. 5 – 11.

Perhaps the biggest story this week was the death of former O’s manager Hank Bauer.
Camden Chat featured a tribute to the man who led the Orioles to their first World Series championship.
“Bauer's run as manager of the Orioles is, of course, one of the keys to why the
team was perhaps the best in all of major organized sports for many years. His
first two teams turned in third-place finishes, going 97-65 and 94-68. And then
came the 1966 Baltimore Orioles.”
Other tributes came in from Baseball Crank (“Yes, out of respect for Bauer I haven't even called them the Hated Yankees, for once. Anything and everything that was ever good about the Yankees was true of Hank Bauer”) and non-baseball blogger SteveAudio shares a photo of his Hank Bauer model baseball glove.

Finally, the “former Orioles fan” at
Swing and a Miss offers his personal memories of Bauer.
“Today I learned another figure from the Orioles of my youth had passed away. ..
I not only recalled the thrill of watching that youthful Orioles team featuring
Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Barber, Paul Blair, Boog Powell,
Davey Johnson and newly arrived veteran Frank Robinson among others, I had the
opportunity to meet the manager himself in my capacity as sports editor of my
high school newspaper.”
In other O’s news, Jim Flanagan and Jim Duquette visited Baltimore’s ESPN Zone this week for a chat with fans. The Sun’s Roch Kubatko remarks on his blog about the low attendance at the event before acknowledging that he didn’t make it there himself.

Charm City blogger
Baltimore Reporter was at the event and says that Flanagan and Duquette were honest when evaluating the team’s chances headed into the 2007 season.
“The duo of Flanagan and Duqette were optimistic about the Orioles this season
and how they will fare; however, they were realistic with what the team is up
against, especially in the American League East. The two men were honest in the
sense that the team is trying to recover from almost a decade of losing, and
change may not happen immediately – but the team is improving.”
Later in the week, Baltimore Reporter visited the Sports Legends museum for another baseball-related event, this one a birthday celebration for Babe Ruth, and says some hometown favorites made the event worthwhile.
“Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, Former Oriole stars Al Bumbry, Joe Orsulak,
Dick Hall, Dave Johnson & Ken Singleton entertained fans with stories of
their glory days, a few laughs, and reminisced about Orioles’ baseball a
generation ago.”
In transaction news, the Orioles settled on contract numbers with Cory Patterson, which invited some cynicism from Baseball Musings.
“If you can just stay in the majors long enough, it doesn't matter how well you
play. While a second team waits for Patterson to reach his potential, he's
racking up service time and making millions.”
Meanwhile, Roch Around the Clock talks about Bruce Chen joining Sammy Sosa in the Texas minor league system; The Pastime says farewell to Rick Helling, who has announced his retirement from baseball; MLB Trade Rumors keeps alive rumors that the O’s might invite Juan Gonzalez to spring training; and Camden Chat offers its projected O’s stats for the 2007 season.

We’ll wrap up this week’s Blog-O’s-phere trip by taking a swing out to the West Coast where the weather’s warmer and Blue Notes, a Dodger blog,
interviews former Orioles executive Logan White, who says that then-GM Roland Hemond “was very influential” in his career.

A.J. Pierzynski's
been moonlighting on Jerry Springer, so it's only fitting that we leave you with this final thought ... "Take care of yourselves, and each other."

Friday, February 02, 2007

MASN Plays the Classics, and Devo Whips it Good

A replay of Mike Devereaux's blast from the past livens up an otherwise ordinary TV night

By Matthew Taylor

The retro California Angels uniform and the “Orioles Classics” logo in the corner of my television screen were dead giveaways. Upon seeing both last week I knew immediately that MASN had transported me back to 1989 for Mike Devereaux’s ninth inning “Fair or Foul?” blast. The moment exemplified that season’s “Why Not?” theme and was unforgettable for this Birds fan, and surely many others as well.

Here are a few reasons that a regular season home run during an 87-win, second-place season could be meaningful enough to provoke nostalgia for Birds fans nearly 20 years later.

It was Oriole Magic at its Best

I’d like to think that Oriole Magic hasn’t disappeared; the rabbit’s just stuck in the hat. Sunday’s MASN broadcast reminded me why I started believing in the first place.

Down 7-3 in the seventh inning against the Angels? No problem. Still trailing by two headed into the bottom of the ninth? All according to script. Final score: Orioles 11, Angels 9.

Losing wasn’t nearly as much the norm in the ‘80s as it is now; comebacks were. On any given evening, during any given season, the O’s gave fans reason to believe. After posting their worst record in post-St. Louis Browns team history in 1988, the Birds followed up that effort with the riveting ‘89 campaign.

Songs like “Oriole Magic” and “Why Not?” only contributed to the myth making.

We never talked about ghosts the way they do at Yankee Stadium, but, as Mike Devereaux demonstrated, we had our own, less pretentious version of the same. Think less Monument Park and more Earl Weaver tomato patch.

Times have changed, but there are occasional hints that remind us, naiveté be damned, to keep believing.

Ron Snyder explained in a touching Examiner column last year that the Magic is alive and well for his young son, who this past season witnessed Nick Markakis’s three-homer game in person. Snyder states, “In its purest form, baseball can still hold a special place in the hearts of frustrated Charm City residents.”

It does for me, and the 1989 season is a big part of the reason.

Mike Devereaux was a Hometown Hero in the Making

We’ve made the case before on this blog that Mike Devereaux has a special place in Orioles lore, largely because of his controversial, game-ending home run against the Angels. Easily forgotten is the fact that he did nearly the same thing against Texas less than a month later. In other words, two of Devo’s eight home runs during his rookie season were game winners.

This explains, in part, how a .254 lifetime hitter with 105 home runs became a hometown hero and now ranks as one of the 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles.

Devo’s popularity is further understood when you consider his defensive prowess, which Baseball Library describes as follows: “He also earned a reputation as one the league's most spectacular center fielders, using his speed to rob batters of sure hits, and his fantastic leaping ability to climb outfield walls and rescue long drives that appeared destined for the bleachers.”

Before Kenny Lofton made a habit of torturing O’s fans with his over-the-wall grabs in Jacobs Field, Mike Devereaux used the outfield fence as a personal springboard to defensive success in Memorial Stadium. The metal bleachers on 33rd Street – the same ones that nonjudgmentally welcomed Devo’s controversial July home run – often offered the best views of his outfield theatrics.

Mike Devereaux was easy to love. When the “Roar from 34” crew offered up the traditional “Devo” cheer prior to a 1995 White Sox game at Tiger Stadium, Chicago’s new free-agent acquisition responded with his familiar smile and a modest tip of the cap.

Later that same season, after he was traded from the White Sox to the Atlanta Braves, Devereaux earned NLCS MVP honors for delivering in the clutch.

Just like his days in Baltimore, Devo was an unlikely hero.

Things Happened Then That Wouldn’t Happen Now

On July 15, 1989, you would’ve seen:

-Forty-seven thousand screaming fans packed in Memorial Stadium.

-An $80,000-a-year rookie go deep in the clutch.

-TV broadcasters leave a controversial call alone after a few replays and accept that the game was every bit as over in slow motion as it was in real time.

-A game ending home run that wasn’t called a “walk off.”

-The Birds go 12 games over .500.

-Oriole legend Frank Robinson managing in the home team’s dugout.

-A celebration at home plate that didn’t seem to come out of a playbook. Had each of those men dropped their season’s earnings out of their pockets during the raucous celebration they still couldn’t cover Javy Lopez’s 2006 salary.

-The Rookie of the Year (Gregg Olson) sitting in the Birds bullpen.

-A player wearing the number 88 (Rene Gonzalez) taking his cuts.

-"The Moose" -- no, not Mike Mussina.

-Chuck Finley, but no thought of Tawny Kitaen.

Want more facts about the Devereaux game or the ’89 season?

-The July 15, 1989 Box Score, courtesy of Baseball Reference.

-Birds statistics from 1989, courtesy of Baseball Cube.

-A review of the “Why Not” season, courtesy of Birds in the Belfry.