Saturday, September 29, 2007

Go to War, Tike Redman!

The Lovable Losers test the limits of improbability

By Christopher Heun

Of course the Birds would fight back from a 9-6 ninth-inning deficit against Yankees ├╝bercloser Mariano Rivera last night. Of course Melvin Mora would bunt home the winning run – bunt! – in the tenth. Of course Tike Redman would score three runs and knock out four hits, including a double to start the winning rally.

This is why the Birds, with a season record of 69-91 and 26 games behind first-place Boston, are Lovable Losers. The more improbable the victory, the harder they fight.

I love the bases-loaded, two-out bunt. It’s so Melvin Mora. Just a week ago we harped on his faults (primarily, his tendency to run the bases in crucial situations like a headstrong Little Leaguer), but let’s push that under the rug.

Actually, the surprise bunt is a familiar weapon in his arsenal. Back in late April, Mora tried a ninth-inning bunt, this time with one out and the tying run on third. But the ball didn’t make it past Oakland closer Huston Street, who held the runner and eventually earned the save.

But this time, it worked. And the Orioles won a game they trailed 4-1 in the third, 7-2 in the fifth and then 9-6 in the ninth.

Best Mora post-game quote: "Like I was telling my friend, I've been involved in so many playoffs and nobody's expecting that."

For the record, as a 27-year-old rookie for the 1999 Mets, Mora played in 9 postseason games, with 6 hits in 15 at bats. It’s his only taste of October baseball. Am I wrong, or does Mora have the habit of reflecting on his playoff days as if they are a vast reservoir of experience?

One more thing about Tike Redman: He’s this year’s version of David Newhan. In 2004, Newhan had a .361 on-base percentage in 373 at bats, was 11 for 12 in stolen base attempts, and generally seemed to slash the ball to all fields and scurry around the bases with the energy of a squirrel.

This year, Redman has put up similar numbers in just 125 at bats: a .359 on-base percentage and 7 stolen bases in 8 attempts. He’s played well substituting for the injured Corey Patterson and would be a nice extra outfielder next year, but let’s hope he’s not expected to be an everyday player.

Also, for what it’s worth, I really despise the phrase “walk-off” to describe a game-winning hit. (And “walk-off bunt” sounds simply ridiculous.) Anybody agree? Perhaps we should research the origin of this phrase, but I suspect we should blame ESPN and be done with it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where Should Miggy Play?

Should the shortstop change teams or just his position?

By Christopher Heun

Fact: There’s been a lot of ink spilled over whether Miguel Tejada should remain at shortstop next year (if he isn’t traded first.)

Opinion: We love Miggy, but he should have been traded a year ago. If the Warehouse can get two solid prospects for him, they should swing a deal.

Opinion: He probably won’t be traded. If Peter Angelos refused to pull the trigger on Brian Roberts, then he’s unlikely to part with the team’s only true superstar. Besides, Miggy’s trade value has fallen. The Birds might be better off keeping him for the first half of 2008 and hoping he plays well. In that case, a position change wouldn’t be wise.

Fact: The most damning article about a possible move for Tejada, by The Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec, quoted third base and infield coach Juan Samuel as saying of Miggy, “He doesn't move real well. I don't know how we can [fix] it. He's not overweight.”

Opinion: Why is Miggy’s own coach saying this publicly? And Juan Samuel of all people? He had about as much use for a glove during his playing career as Pele.

Fact: The same Zrebiec story also quoted a scout as saying:

"His arm is still a plus, but his range is very limited. He's really gone backwards in terms of first-step quickness and his range. Really, I think most people think that he should be playing third base. I've been saying this since last year. Almost every game, there are one or two balls that he's not getting to that he used to field."

Fact: According to the Hardball Times, Tejada ranks second among American League shortstops in Revised Zone Rating (the proportion of balls hit into a fielder's zone that he successfully converted into an out.) For the Out of Zone rating, he ranks seventh. See here for more on these stats.

Fact: Derek Jeter ranks at the bottom of both of those defensive categories.

Fact: Jeter has won a Gold Glove award the past three seasons.

Opinion: The Gold Glove is a joke.

Fact: In his blog, The Sun’s Roch Kubatko has said “Forget Miguel Tejada's declining range at shortstop. He's now having trouble handling grounders hit directly at him. What's happened to his hands?” And rookie Luis “Hernandez has provided a significant defensive upgrade on the left side of the infield.

Opinion: So is Tejada a poor fielder or not? I don’t know whom to believe.

Opinion: Why not move Tejada to first base instead of third? This way, only one player is forced to learn a new position.

Fact: Hernandez, 23, was claimed off waivers from the Atlanta Braves last October. If he turns out to be an everyday player next year, that would mean that two castoffs from other organizations have become significant acquisitions for the Birds (The other being Jeremy Guthrie, also claimed off waivers.)

Opinion: That doesn’t say much about the talent in the Orioles farm system, but we already knew that.

Opinion: The Orioles need players. Young players. Lots of them. Whether Miggy plays short or third or even first next year, unfortunately he can only play one position at a time. Should we blame him for that, too?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nick Markakis Anagram of the Day

Hopefully it applies to next season

By Christopher Heun

“Nick Markakis” = "Karma Kicks In"

* Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus is the original source of this nugget, which first appeared in his online chat Friday, September 21, 2007.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mora Thrown Out to End Game – Again

This wasn’t entirely his fault, but can we redefine “aggressive”?

By Christopher Heun

Melvin Mora did it again Friday night. Except this time, he wasn’t thrown out at home to end a one-run game; he only managed as far as second base.

Perhaps this is a cruel comment on the state of the season; even the habitual boneheaded mistakes are more feeble than they seemed six weeks ago. (We’ve documented Mora’s proclivity for these blunders.)

For those of you missed the final disappointing play of Friday night’s 3-2 loss in Texas, with one out Mora was thrown out trying to steal second. It was the back end of a double play, because Paul Bako struck out on the pitch. Kevin Millar, the tying run, was left stranded on third base.

This was a dumb play all around. But in Mora’s defense, according to The Sun’s game story, the blame lies with manager Dave Trembley, who was playing for the win on the road, rather than a tie and extra innings.

I happen to like Dave Trembley as manager; he seems to have a knack for pulling the right strings with the limited talent on his roster. (Apparently, he wisely nipped in the bud any idea Mora might have had about sacrifice bunting in the ninth.) But how could anyone have looked at the ninth-inning matchup of Bako and Rangers closer Joaquin Benoit and predicted anything besides a strikeout?

Bako has struck out 50 times this season in 154 at bats (and five of his eight September at bats). He was facing a strikeout pitcher: Benoit has struck out 86 in 80 innings this year.

Had a groundball pitcher like Chad Bradford been on the mound, then the run and hit would have made sense. In wanting to stay out of a double play, the Birds ran into one. And lost the game.

Misplaced aggression

Trembley and Mora insisted after the game that they were playing aggressively. Maybe it’s in Mora’s and the Birds’ best interests if he tamed it down a bit?

I’ve dug up a few more examples of his inexplicable ninth-inning baserunning. Earlier this season, he stole third in the ninth inning of a game the Birds trailed 5-3. Jay Payton grounded out on the next pitch, ending the game. An irate Payton, convinced that Mora had disrupted his concentration at the plate and cost him a strike, nearly came to blows with Mora in the dugout.

Last year, Mora was the final out of a 5-3 loss to Toronto when he was thrown out at the plate trying to tag up from third on a pop fly caught by the shortstop.

Can anybody out there add to this list?

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Power Outage in Charm City

Fact: Tony Batista is one of the O's top power hitters of the 2000's

By Matthew Taylor

Colorado Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday on Thursday hit his 11th homer in 12 days. The feat matches Alex Rodriguez's streak of 11 homers in 12 games back in April. But which former Oriole - and Rockie for that matter - was the most recent player to do it before Holliday and Rodriguez?

If you answered Javy Lopez , you're right. Contact us to arrange delivery of your 2007 Baltimore Orioles playoff tickets.

Lopez went on his binge in 2003 and finished the year with 43 homers. The O's were so impressed with his handiwork that they signed him that off-season. He hit a combined 46 roundtrippers during his two-and-a-half seasons in Baltimore and earned $22.5 million for his efforts.

Lopez never led the O's in home runs. Had he come within six long balls of his 2003 career year he would've ranked in the team's Top 10 for a single season, territory that no Orioles player has touched this decade. Tony Batista - yes, Tony Batista - came closest in 2002 with 31 home runs.

While we're at it, no Birds player has cracked 30 home runs since Miguel Tejada did so in 2004.


O's Top 10 Home Runs (Single Season)
1. Brady Anderson, 1996, 50
2. Frank Robinson, 1966, 49
3. Jim Gentile, 1961, 46
4. Rafael Palmeiro, 1998, 43
5. Boog Powell, 1964, 39
6. Rafael Palmeiro, 1995, 39
7. Rafael Palmeiro, 1996, 39
8. Rafael Palmeiro, 1997, 38
9. Boog Powell, 1969, 37
10. Albert Belle, 1999, 37

Team Home Run Leaders By Season (Since 1997)
2006: Tejada 24, Hernandez 23, Markakis, Mora, Patterson 16, Millar 15
2005: Mora 27, Tejada 26, Gibbons 26
2004: Tejada 34, Mora 27, Palmeiro 23, Lopez 23
2003: Tony Batista 26, Gibbons 23, Mora & Conine 15
2002: Tony Batista 31, Gibbons 28, Mora 19
2001: Chris Richard 15, Gibbons 15, Conine 14
2000: Belle 23, Charles Johnson 21, Anderson 19
1999: Albert Belle 37, Surhoff 28, Anderson 24, Baines 24
1998: Palmeiro 43, Eric Davis 28, Surhoff 22
1997: Palmeiro 38, Hammonds 21, Surhoff & Anderson 18

Monday, September 17, 2007

If The Orioles Were A Tragedy, What Kind of Tragedy Would They Be?

Choose your own metaphor for the 2007 season

By Christopher Heun

Yesterday’s dramatic 12th-inning win aside (a game they had won in the 8th but promptly gave away, necessitating extra innings), the Orioles’ 2007 season has been rough.

But just how rough has it been? In many respects, pretty much exactly like the preceding nine losing seasons. Which is pretty rough. At 64-84 with 14 games to go, they look like a good bet to lose 90 games for the fifth time in seven years.

In order to describe this losing streak more accurately, we offer a multiple choice quiz:

The 2007 Orioles season has been like:

a) A train wreck
b) A car wreck
c) A yard sale promising pleasant surprises but really only offers discarded crap
d) A train and a car wrecked together
e) A shipwreck, but instead of real pirate booty buried in the depths there’s only rusted hulks of old cars and Danys Baez’s torn elbow ligaments
f) All of the above
g) b, c and e but not a or d
h) A nightmare you’ve had 10 years in a row

Saturday, September 15, 2007

After Victor Zambrano, Who's Next?

The Birds have opened a wing for former Mets starting pitchers circa 2005

By Christopher Heun

Victor Zambrano, best known for being traded to the Mets for prospect Scott Kazmir in 2004, threw four innings of scoreless relief in Toronto this afternoon in his first appearance as an Oriole. Jim Duquette, the former Mets GM who made that ill-fated trade, can't seem to get enough of his former starting pitchers.

Last year, the Birds traded John Maine to New York for Kris Benson. Then, when Benson was injured in spring training in March, Duquette and Mike Flanagan signed Steve Trachsel to replace him. And now Zambrano. What are the chances that after the season, The Warehouse swings a deal for Tom Glavine? Maybe Pedro Martinez?

Zambrano's performance today increases the likelihood that he will take Kurt Birkin's next turn in the rotation the next time around, which doesn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things but does make for odd trivia.

Here are some interesting numbers about Orioles starters in 2007:

Number of different Orioles pitchers who have started a game this season: 12
Number of Orioles pitchers who started one of the 17 games since Aug. 29: 9
Number of Orioles pitchers who started a game last season: 10
Number of Orioles pitchers who started a game in 2005: 8
Number of Orioles pitchers who started a game in 2004: 12
Number of Orioles starters from 2004-06 who started a game this year: 3
Who they are: Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen
Number of New York Mets starters from 2005 on the Orioles 2007 payroll: 3
Who they are: Kris Benson, Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cliche Warning: The Kids Are Alright

O's score a moral victory and an actual victory to boot

By Matthew Taylor

Apparently some of the 16,000-plus fans at last night’s game were
unhappy that the O’s decided to bench a few regulars in favor of younger players.

The arguments expressed in today’s edition of The Sun remind me of Peter Angelos’s rationalization back in the late ‘90s for not trading away aging, high-priced players in exchange for young talent. In short, the thinking goes, the fans paid to see the big names no matter how poorly they’re doing. I would argue instead that I want to see the guys with the most passion regardless of their pay grade.

One game doesn’t prove anything, even if it was a 3-0 shutout victory over a first place team and a potential Cy Young candidate. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with Dave Trembley’s decision to light a fire under his moribund team by revamping the lineup. The players practically tell you that themselves, whether they intend to or not.

Just compare the comments from Wednesday night’s 18-6 loss with those that came after Thursday’s 3-0 victory.

From
Wednesday:

Jay Payton: "It's pretty miserable, to be honest with you. It's bottom of the barrel right now. I don't think it can get a whole lot worse than it is right now. ... I've been with six different teams and I've never been through anything like this."

Melvin Mora: "This is the worst [stretch] ever in all the years I've been here and the worst ever in my life. The worst."

The lead of
this story says it all: “Wednesday’s game was a perfect example of what happens when a team going places meets one about to go on vacation.”

From
Thursday:

Brandon Fahey: "It was a blast. All the backup guys, we're all out there and we all played hard. It was a blast, maybe the most fun game of my life."

Jon Leicester: "I'm having a good time out there and trying to keep our team in the game. I was just trying to get them to swing the bat early, and the defense was amazing for me."

After an error-filled contest the night before, you simply had to watch some of the O’s early defensive gems on Thursday, including Luis Hernandez’s diving snare of Vladimir Guerrero’s third inning grounder, to know that for one night at least, the names on the jersey didn’t matter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

O's Continue To Remember Wild Bill

Looks like the O's are doing things right when it comes to remembering Wild Bill Hagy. First they created the "Wild Bill Hagy Award" for the Orioles Hall of Fame, and now they're collecting memories to post on the team's MLB website, with a pretty good video of the man himself to spark your memory. It's worth a visit over to the Orioles' website to check it out.

Venting: A September Tradition in Charm City

With Red Sox fans in the rearview mirror for this season, it's time to look at some potential bumper stickers for next year

by Matthew Taylor

I promised my wife before Sunday's O's - Red Sox game that I wouldn't engage with the visiting fans. I kept my word, with one minor exception. When a drunken Boston fan attempted to start a "Yankees Suck" chant, I yelled, "So do the Red Sox ... you're both the same." You know times are tough when I'm using the Yankees in my own team's defense. I feel so dirty.

Having kept my frustration bottled up this past weekend, I need a release. So, in the new tradition of Camden Yards vendors selling Boston gear, I present my list of slogans for bumper stickers that can be sold to Red Sox Nation next season.

"Tired of the Yankees? Try Yankees Light."

"Red Sox Nation: You're guaranteed to sell more beer while we're in town."

"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you annoy the locals."

"You'd be arrogant, too, if your team won one championship in 86 years."

"We hate the Yankees; they're the only team that can outspend us."

"$52 million bid + $52 million contract = 4.44 ERA."

"Pahk ya cah near Camden Yahds."

"A-Rod sucks ... because we couldn't get him."


"We love Manny ... because we couldn't get rid of him."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ownership Won't Defend the Home Turf ...

so why should we?

By Matthew Taylor

I'm a typical underdog of an Orioles fan. I don't possess the arrogance of Yankees and Red Sox fans. I know better than to expect winning as a baseball birthright. I've seen more losing than winning. I'm too often pessimistic about the O's. And yes, I have an occasional baseball inferiority complex.

Still, I man the trenches for my Birds. I'm loyal in good times and bad. I stand by my team. No one can ever accuse me of being a fairweather fan or, when the good times finally come, of jumping on the bandwagon (ahem, Red Sox "Nation," I'm looking at you ... if you don't talk funny, don't tell me you're a fan).

Somehow I believe there's honor in all this, though it makes me squeemish to associate the word honor with being a fan; it suggests I'm taking it all too seriously.

With all that said, today's game at Camden Yards, which I attended, has pushed me into a new frame of mind. I'm still loyal, but I refuse to be blindly loyal. I'm still an underdog, but I'm dropping the inferiority complex. Frankly, I'm a little pissed off.

It's time for me and other Birds backers like me to stop feeling like we have something to prove as a fan base. There is absolutely no question that Baltimore loves its baseball team. And there's no question that we would drown out the respective fan bases of both A.L. East Evil Empires when they visit Camden Yards if ownership would reignite the flame of our passions by fielding a competitive team.

Give our team a fighting chance, and we fans will have a fighting chance of defending the home turf. Even better, ownership needs to defend the home turf with us, which is the very reason I'm writing this piece. We'll "Take Back the Yard" when ownership does the same.

Baltimore can be a great baseball city again, but it's not up to the fans to make the push at this point. We've been pushing like Sisyphus for too long only to have that baseball boulder roll back down upon us. I refuse to apologize for the fact that Baltimore is not a great baseball town - at least not at the moment - for one simple reason: the fault doesn't belong to the fans no matter how much people want to tell us that it does.

In the late '90s Peter Angelos publicly criticized the locals for ceding the home-field advantage whenever the Yankees came to town. He noted in a Baltimore Sun interview that Yankees fans were sitting in the box seats at Camden Yards, which meant that O's fans were selling them their seats. Peter gave us a collective slap on the wrist for bad baseball behavior.

Fast forward to this season. Earlier this summer Brian Roberts took an only slightly veiled swipe at O's fans by noting how difficult it is to play in a hostile home environment when the team is playing hard and improving.

On these occasions, and many others like them, I've taken a defensive posture. My reasoning has been apologetic at best. I've felt like I have something to prove - to ownership, to the players, to visiting fans.

That thinking led me to purchase a ticket for Sunday's game and, even after the recent run of horrid results, to honor that ticket. My reasoning was simple: "Roberts is right." I was determined to prove something about fan loyalty, as if sticking with the home team through 10 straight losing seasons isn't enough. But after my latest trip to Camden Yards I realize that this organization has something to prove to me, namely that it cares about more than just money.

The first way that the Orioles can prove to die-hard fans that they care about more than money doesn't even involve winning. Rather, it's this: Stop selling Dice-K jerseys inside the stadium. That's right, you could buy a Dice-K, Boston Red Sox T-shirt inside the stadium on Sunday. How far have we fallen?


Some would argue that it's smart marketing to cater to visiting fans while they're in Baltimore. That argument is fine for the street vendors outside the stadium, but things should be decidedly different once you step inside the gates. (And that's not even to mention the whole "Baltimore" on the road jerseys issue, which also reflects a deference to dollars whenever the opportunity presents itself.)

I felt like a fool for buying into the "our fans don't care enough about this team" hype as soon as I saw that No. 18 replica T-shirt hanging in a Camden Yards souvenir stand. The experience got me to thinking about the business side of Baltimore baseball, and the results of that thinking aren't as pretty as I'd prefer.

I'm a baseball romantic at heart, but my anger stripped away the nostalgia long enough for me to realize that I've been played the fool for too long. If the Orioles can sell Red Sox T-shirts at the home stadium because it's what the market demands, I can have some demands of my own.

The biggest of my demands is that the Orioles' organization start having some pride in its product. And make sure that it's local pride while you're at it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Politics of AL East Baseball

You want to look away, but you can't

By Matthew Taylor

These are tough times for Charm City baseball fans. And for tried and true fans there’s little escaping the frustration. You still have to check the score even though you know it’s not going to be good. You still flip back to MASN to see if the bullpen has blown the late-game lead. You still allow yourself to get mad about the obnoxious cheers from visiting fans at Camden Yards.

It’s September, all potential marks of optimism are erased, yet still we watch. It’s about time I used that “car wreck” analogy, isn’t it? You want to look away, but you can't.

Much like the O’s August swoon there’s seemingly no turning away from the 2008 presidential race. But in this case it’s not because you’re a fan. Just try watching a news program without hearing some reference to the campaign, I dare you.

Heck, it seems you can’t even catch a good comedy without things getting political. I did a comedy movie double-header earlier this summer and both flicks – “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and “The Simpsons Movie” – referenced at least one of the candidates. The horses are running extra lengths in ’08 because the race has gotten longer.

Well, we might as well give in. With apologies to the non-political, we ask the question, “Which 2008 presidential candidates are most like the teams in the AL East?”

New York Yankees –Hillary Clinton

Seemingly endless resources and a willingness to spend big make them a favorite out of the gate. Freed from any kind of cap on spending they use their financial advantage to overwhelm their competitors in ruthless pursuit of victory. The organization’s obsessive flirtation with attractive free agents suggests that relationships within the team are a marriage of convenience. Supporters, known for their arrogance, believe that victory is inevitable. Should it happen we’ll be forced to live with dynasty talk.

Boston Red Sox –Barack Obama

Considered a rock star, the sexy alternative to the frontrunner also has significant resources, drawing support from throughout the Nation, but is relatively inexperienced in the highest levels of the game. Even when leading they’re pre-occupied with the presumed favorite. Claim there are great differences between themselves and the frontrunner and work hard to highlight those distinctions. In the end, though, many suspect that only the packaging is different.

Toronto Blue Jays –Al Gore

You never really know if they’re going to be in the race, but there’s always a chance for it to happen. Had glory days that included back-to-back victories, but those days are behind them. It’s time for them to make a name for themselves. It’s an “Assault on Reason” to believe they’ll contend once you consider the “Inconvenient Truth” that their division rivals have too much firepower.

Baltimore Orioles – John McCain

Campaign that started with such optimism has crashed and burned. Continue to stick with an unsuccessful game plan, one that has squandered both resources and good will. Recent talk of a comeback can’t match the tough talk of the old days. Supporters still dream of the days when the campaign was associated with a short, fiery leader who put a scare into the competition.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays –Mike Gravel

No chance in hell of winning; probably shouldn't have entered the race. Nevertheless, keep things interesting, especially when it comes to angry demonstrations. Previous outbursts suggest that you should expect the unexpected, anything from flying bats to threatening voice mails.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How Many Aubrey Huffs Does It Take To Add Up To A Carlos Pena?

By Christopher Heun

Answer: 2.467

This is a case of who’s on first vs. who could have been on first.

The Orioles have been searching for a power-hitting first baseman ever since Rafael Palmeiro left Baltimore the first time, after the 1998 season, possibly to find some clean needles. The search will continue after the season. (For a slugger, I mean, although Raffy may still be juicing and working on that comeback. Who knows?)

Here’s a guy the Birds almost signed last winter but didn’t:

Carlos Pena (2007): 418 AB, 37 HR, .615 SLG

And here’s three guys the Birds chose to use at first base and DH instead:

Aubrey Huff (2007): 479 AB, 15 HR, .438 SLG
Kevin Millar (2007): 393 AB, 14 HR, .430 SLG
Jay Gibbons (2007): 270 AB, 6 HR, .348 SLG

And here’s three other guys the Birds could have had this season:

Adam LaRoche (2007): 489 AB, 21 HR, .462 SLG
Jack Cust (2007): 329 AB, 23 HR, .523 SLG
Josh Phelps (2007): 139 AB, 7 HR, .525 SLG

What makes this sting even more is that Millar is just 13 plate appearances away from vesting his 2008 option, meaning that all three of the ill-fated triumvirate of Huff-Millar-Gibbons are signed for next year.

But back to the present. Carlos Pena hit two home runs, including a grand slam, against Orioles pitchers Wednesday night, to give him 37 HR and 105 RBI for the season, his first in Tampa Bay. In his last nine games, six of which were against the Birds, Pena has hit seven home runs.

Lest you accuse me of cherry-picking stats in his favor, consider that it weren’t for those very same games with Tampa Bay, Aubrey Huff’s numbers would look even worse than they do already. Seven of Huff’s 15 homers have come against his former team; he is batting .390 against them, compared to .258 against the rest of major league pitching.

In other words, in 112 games not against Tampa Bay this season, Huff is batting .258 with 8 homers. For this he is receiving nearly $20 million over three years.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Leo Mazzone, We Pity You

Who could blame him for retiring, rather than endure another year?

By Christopher Heun

None of this is his fault.

And by "this" I mean the 22 hits (including five home runs), five walks and 17 runs Orioles pitchers gave up to the Devil Rays Wednesday night, for a grand total of 34 runs allowed for the three-game series. Plus the 30 runs in a single game not long ago. And the 11 runs in a single inning to the D-Rays in the previous series.

(I know nearly everyone reading this is probably well acquainted with these stats already, and repeating them here is just piling it on, but everyone else is doing it to Orioles pitching, so why can't I?)

Remember all the hope and optimism when Mazzone was hired before last season? For what he's been given to work with, I wouldn't blame him if he quit tomorrow and opened a lemonade stand.

Of course, after his run in Atlanta, he was supposed to be a genius pitching coach. If he can't fix Danys Baez or turn Paul Shuey and Brian Burres into dependable relievers, should we complain? I think so.

I don't want to see any of the following pitchers on the Orioles Opening Day roster next spring, unless there's a rash of injuries to the staff:

Radhames Liz
Garrett Olson
Rob Bell
Brian Burres
Paul Shuey

Liz and Olson are not ready for the big leagues. Shuey was released Wednesday, so that solves that. Burres gave a nice boost earlier in the season but has run out of steam.

And what should they do with James Hoey? He was the the top pitcher in the Orioles farm system last year but has allowed 27 baserunners in 12.1 innings this year.

Was Brady More Than Just Good Looks?

Anderson put up some surprising numbers, and not just in 1996

By Matthew Taylor

The last American League player to qualify for the batting title and ground into only one double play all season was the Orioles' Brady Anderson in 1997.

Tim Kurkjian's article today on ESPN.com about Curtis Granderson's potential 20-20-20-20 season (doubles, triples, home runs, steals) for the Tigers includes a mention of former O's outfielder Brady Anderson. Apparently we should remember Anderson as more than "the most unlikely fifty home-run hitter in baseball history" and not just another pretty face.

"None of the numbers have been ridiculous,'' Granderson said of the 20-20-20-20 possibility. "I'm not doing anything drastic. I've been near those numbers before. But if there's even a chance to be in the same sentence with the great Willie Mays, that'd be special.''

And there are more numbers. Granderson grounded into a double play for the first time this year only recently, giving him 23 fewer than the major league leader, Washington's
Ryan Zimmerman. The last American League player to qualify for the batting title and ground into only one double play all season was the Orioles' Brady Anderson in 1997.
Here are some additional interesting stats about Brady, courtesy of Baseball Library:

-In 1992 he became the only player in AL history to reach 20 home runs, 50 steals and 75 RBIs in the same season.

-In 1994 he stole 31 bases in 32 attempts, setting a single-season record for the highest percentage of any player with at least 25 steals.

-From May 13th, 1994 through July 3rd, 1995, Anderson set an AL record (since broken by Tim Raines) by stealing 36 straight bases without getting caught.

-In 1996, 35 of his home runs came while batting leadoff, tying a record set by Bobby Bonds in 1973. Anderson broke another of Bonds' 1973 records by leading off twelve games with a home run.

-With 21 steals in 1996, he became the first player to own a 20-homer, 50-steal season as well as a 50-homer, 20-steal season. His 50 home runs set an Orioles record, as did his 92 extra-base hits.

Even with these numbers, O's fans still remember Brady best for his oft-questioned power surge in 1996 and the suggestive poster for which he posed, one that generated sales among female fans and scorn among male Bird watchers.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No-Hitter Memories

With history on the line, can a true O's fan root against the home team?

By Christopher Heun

When Clay Buchholz no-hit the Birds last Saturday night in just his second major league start, I was instantly reminded of another rookie who threw a no-hitter in Memorial Stadium 16 years ago. It was a game I attended.

By the late innings of Wilson Alvarez’s no-hitter on Aug. 11, 1991, I was unsure of whether to root for history or for the home team to break it up. I have three clear memories of that day: that it was a Sunday afternoon, that Cal Ripken grounded into a double play to end it and that Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All the Luck” played over the loudspeakers after the final out was recorded.

Turns out I have a bad memory. All I got right was the day of the week. I looked up the final box score and play-by-play on retrosheet.org (search by box score, then by year, then by team, then by game log) and found out that with two out in the bottom of the ninth, Cal walked. Perhaps my memory of pleading for him not to make the last out has warped slightly in my conscience. (Both he and Dewey Evans reached base twice that day, odd for a game without any hits.)

As for the music after the game, I don’t know of a resource – on the Web or anyplace else – that would record such trivia.

But according to Baseball Almanac, even Alavarez admitted that fortune was on his side that afternoon. The site quotes him as saying, "Let's just say I got a couple lucky breaks today. That ball stayed in and they hit some bullets right at people."

Like Buchholz, it was just the second major league start for Alvarez. In his first, he failed to retire any of the five batters he faced and was yanked from the game. Only one other pitcher since 1900 has thrown a no-hitter in his first or second start in the big leagues: Bobo Hollomon did it in his debut on May 6, 1953, for the St. Louis Browns at home against the Philadelphia A's.

A few more facts about the Alvarez game: For a team that would finish in sixth place, (67-95), the 1991 Orioles still drew 40,455 that day. Maybe the final season in Memorial Stadium had something to do with it.

It wasn’t the only no-no for the Orioles that year. Nearly a month earlier, on July 13, 1991, Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson combined to no-hit the Athletics in Oakland.

A former Memorial Stadium usher gives a detailed description of the Alvarez no-no here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lovable Losers or Just Losers?

Why all this losing might actually be a good thing

By Christopher Heun

After the Orioles game this afternoon – another one-run loss – I flipped through the channels and landed on “The Natural” on AMC. It was just as a shrink, hired by the manager in the middle of an interminable losing streak, addresses the players in the locker room:

“Losing is a disease... as contagious as polio... as contagious as syphilis... as contagious as bubonic plague... attacking one, but affecting all.”

The parallels between the New York Knights of the movie and the Baltimore Orioles of 1998-2007 seemed pretty obvious. Except, of course, the part where Roy Hobbs saves the day. A more apt movie metaphor for the Orioles might be the Bad News Bears, but they too wind up battling for the championship, which is a little much for any of us to believe for the O’s anytime soon. There can only be one 2006 Detroit Tigers.

So, after the 30-3 loss and then, in a single week, the 11 eighth-inning runs coughed up to the Devil Rays followed by the no-hitter in Boston, I am fully endorsing the Orioles as lovable losers. This requires me only to see their failures as endearing and not to expect any Hollywood endings. (Matt wrote about this once last year, but we need to revive it.)

Here’s the evidence for the Birds as Lovable Losers:

They lose in style
They carry a lead into the late innings, only to blow it spectacularly. They get swept by the Devil Rays. They end a nine-game losing streak by giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but still hang on for a 9-8 victory. They beat the Yanks 12-0 one week, then lose 30-3 the next. And that was just August.

They make us laugh. Then cry.
I want to like Kevin Millar. He jokes around in the clubhouse. He wears his eye black like a Kiss cover band. On Opening Day he did a little Ray Lewis dance. Of all the Birds, Millar is the most likely to play the role in The Natural of Bump Bailey, who died after crashing through the outfield fence chasing a fly ball.

Unfortunately for him and his teammates, though, Millar hits like a second baseman but plays first base. He symbolizes the Orioles and some of their fans; he believes he’s better than he really is and he can’t understand why any manager wouldn’t play him every day. On Sunday, batting cleanup, he couldn’t deliver with a man on third and one out. And he got caught wandering too far off second base.

Sometimes they actually cry
I could have sworn I saw tears on Melvin Mora’s cheek after a strikeout. You know you did too.

For a while, they fool us into thinking they’re actually good
I know at least a few Birds fans (some of whom write for this blog) who swooned under Dave Trembley’s magic wand. Not long ago, they were convinced this team had a shot at .500 or third place or some other modest accomplishment that only fans of losing teams get excited about. Then they lost nine in a row.

Unbelievably ridiculous misfortune befalls them
In recent seasons, Marty Cordova fell asleep in a tanning bed and had to go on the disabled list; Jack Cust, the tying run, tripped twice between third and home and was tagged out despite no opposing player standing between him and home plate; and Ed Rogers had a ball in play get stuck inside his uniform. And that’s just the left fielders.

Here’s why all of this is actually a good thing: at the end of the season, the guys in The Warehouse will not be able in good conscience to say that this is a good team that just missed, that it should be improved with the signings of a few middling free agents. Instead, they'll be forced to start over and build from scratch.

I’m rooting for the Birds to completely tank the rest of the season, to finish last. Maybe then the truth will become irrefutable. There’s four more years before Nick Markakis is a free agent. Think we can get it together before then?

If anyone this winter points to the more than 30 one-run losses this season as the only reason why the Birds didn’t make .500, show that person a picture of Aubrey Huff and $2o million. And tell them about the Lovable Losers.