Monday, September 29, 2008

KudO's as the Regular Season Ends

KudO's to ...

-Former Oriole Mike Mussina on finally becoming a 20-game winner. Should Mussina retire he'll be going out in style. Roar from 34 has said it before, but it bears repeating: Moose Was a Great Bird.

-The Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers for clinching playoff spots in 2008. O's fans should be able to appreciate the post-season payoff for two clubs that have endured decade-long streaks of losing seasons.

-Former Oriole Arthur Rhodes, who helped the Marlins play the spoiler role against the Mets on Sunday.

-The Pittsburgh Pirates. Somebody's gotta give these guys some love. We feel your pain, Pittsburgh. But here's hoping that your football team doesn't do anything to cheer you up on Monday night.

UPDATED: An extra Kud"O" to NL batting champion Chipper Jones for recognizing the greatness of Eddie Murray as evidenced in the following comment:
"When I was growing up, there were two guys that I wanted to be mentioned with, when I was done playing -- Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One Last Shot at 20 Wins for Mussina?

Could Mother Nature be the latest curse on Mussina's career-long quest?

by Matthew Taylor

Were bad weather in Boston to wash out former Oriole Mike Mussina's final pitching appearance of the season on Sunday it would continue a strange string of bad luck for the pitcher in his career-long quest to win 20 games. Even if the doubleheader is played, Mussina faces no small task in opposing Dice-K with win No. 20 on the line.

Baseball Library
provides the rundown of past quirks that have kept Mussina from that traditional mark of pitching greatness.
"His failure to reach the 20-win benchmark had more to do with bad luck than bad pitches. The player's strike likely cost him a 20-win season both in 1994, when he had racked up 16 wins before the season abruptly ended in mid-August, and in 1995, when he won 19 games but was deprived at least three starts by the truncated 144-game schedule. In 1996 he couldn't nail down a final victory after hitting 19 wins with four starts left. In the penultimate game of the season he staked the Orioles to a 2-1 lead only to watch closer Randy Myers let in the tying run in the ninth inning. In 1999 he won 18 games but missed four starts in August and September after he was struck in the right deltoid by a liner off the bat of Brook Fordyce."
These quirks would be amusing in the same sort of vein as the purported Sports Illustrated Jinx and the Madden Cover Jinx except for the fact that an obsession with numbers among baseball writers could harm Mussina's chances for the Hall of Fame.

Cameron Martin of Bugs and Cranks examines the meaning of 20 wins in relation to Mussina's Hall of Fame candidacy.

"With a good, but not great career ERA (3.69), Mussina has an across-the-board resume of Very Good but Not Great accomplishments. In addition to his lack of Cy Youngs and 20-win seasons, he’s never played on a World Series winner; he’s 7-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 23 postseason games; and he has no signature games: No perfect games, no-hitters or Game 7 gems.

He almost pitched a perfect game against the Red Sox in 2001. He’s almost won 20 games several times. And he’s almost won a World Series ring (2001).

Right now, he’s Mr. Almost.

If he beats the Sox on Sunday, however, he’s probably going to the Hall of Fame. Maybe not in his first year of eligibility, but eventually. And all because of one win — a win that turns the very respectable '19' into the 'great' 20."
Jim Palmer tells Roch Kubatko that Mussina belongs in the Hall regardless of whether he wins 20.

"'Twenty wins doesn't have the same cache as it once did,' Palmer said. 'If you came up in '91 and pitched 17 or 18 years, and they said you were going to be one of the top five pitchers year in and year out, you'd be pretty pleased, wouldn't you?'

Mussina's last start produced his 269th career win, moving him past Palmer on the all-time list.

'I always said I thought he was every bit as good as I was,' Palmer said.

Palmer won three Cy Youngs. He has three World Series rings and eight 20-win seasons. But he's convinced that Mussina belongs in the same Cooperstown residence."

Mike Mussina started pitching in the big leagues in 1991, the same year that his future teammate Scott Erickson won 20 games for the Twins and Bill Gullickson won 20 for the Tigers. For perspective's sake, consider Mike Mussina and his 269 career-win HOF candicacy against the likes of some other 20-game winners during his career: Bartolo Colon, Jamie Moyer (twice), Esteban Loaiza, Derek Lowe, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Rick Helling.

The last Oriole to win 20 games was Mike Boddicker in 1984.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Flashback Friday: Thank God I'm a Country Boy Edition

Revisiting the origins of an Orioles tradition

by Matthew Taylor

Dan Connolly posed a question on his blog this week that has a seemingly obvious answer: Do you still like Thank God I'm a Country Boy? Connolly used the posting as an excuse to raise the possibility of there being a John Denver Curse on the Orioles.

"I passed this observation to Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck, who was sitting next to me at the game. And Schmuck said that a reader of his blog recently told him that the Orioles hadn’t won a playoff game since Denver was killed in a plane crash.

We checked on it, and technically Denver died on October 12, 1997. And the Orioles beat Cleveland in Game 5 of the ALCS -- their last postseason victory -- on Oct. 13, 1997. But Denver’s death wasn’t confirmed until that day, a Monday.

Pretty weird, huh? Maybe the Orioles’ 11-year losing drought is The Curse of John Denver. Maybe they need to get rid of the song for a while and put something else on during the seventh-inning stretch."

Roar from 34 will now use Connolly's posting as an excuse to revisit the history of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" at Orioles games.

I first posed the "Why?" question surrounding "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" while I was a reporter in the late '90s. I was writing a story about a local resident who was employed as the Birds' music man, and I used the occasion to engage my curiosity surrounding a great tradition employed by the team I love. (Clearly, I held a favorable bias during my lone opportunity to write an O's-related story.)

The response I received from an Orioles official centered on two theories:

1. That the team used "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" to define itself relative to a loathed "other" - the New York Yankees. They were city boys, and this was to serve as a musical retort to their haughty, big city ways.

2. That shortstop Mark Belanger asked the O's to play the song as a favor to his friend, John Denver.

The latter was the favored theory and has since come to be identified as the true reason behind the musical selection. Mike Gibbons explained as much in his 2007 story on the topic, "
Baltimore's Seventh Inning Tradition Within a Tradition."

"Coincidently, 1975 was the year the Orioles, at the suggestion of general manager Frank Cashen, began playing pop music to reach out to younger fans. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s the Orioles played 'old folks' and organ music, and Cashen felt it was time for a change. So that season, public relations director Bob Brown began playing pop tunes during the seventh-inning stretch to see if anything would 'take.'

Late that season, shortstop Mark Belanger and his wife, Dee, went to Brown and suggested he try 'Country Boy.' The Belangers were fans and friends of Denver; they felt the song might catch on.

A simple kind of life never did me no harm, raisin’ me a family and workin’ on the farm…

And catch on it did. Fans seemed to like its peppy, toe-tapping attitude, and so did the players. Orioles’ current general manager Mike Flanagan, a Cy Young Award winner for Baltimore in 1979, said his teammates liked the song because it served as a daily wakeup call. It reminded them that if they were down, they still had nine outs and plenty of time to come back"

Perhaps the most intriguing portion of Gibbons' story is that the demand for "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" led fans to boo - yes, boo - the playing of "Oriole Magic."
"The fans seemed to sense their team was responding to 'Country Boy' as well, and that added to its allure, enough to make it a resident seventh-inning stretch fixture at Orioles games from then on. On several occasions, the Orioles felt their fans might be growing tired of their popular foot-stomper, and suggested changing it. On Opening Day in 1980, they played 'Oriole Magic,' a popular jingle the team had produced during the ’79 campaign.

'We got booed; I mean we really got booed,' Brown said. 'People had been waiting all winter to hear their ‘Country Boy.’ It was very humbling.'"

John Sommers, the fiddler who wrote the lyrics to the John Denver classic, affirms in a story posted on his web site that Belanger's influence led to the song's inclusion as part of the Birds' seventh inning stretch routine.

"Sommers' song would become not just a momentary pop sensation, but an enduring piece of American music. Mark Belanger, shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles whose wife, Dee, was a John Denver fan, pushed to have 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy' played over the P.A. at Orioles games at Memorial Stadium. From the mid-'70s through today, the song has been played at most every Orioles home game; whenever the practice has been interrupted, fans have made enough of a clamor to have the ritual reinstated. The song has helped make Baltimore a John Denver hotbed. In the Babe Ruth Museum, near Baltimore's Camden Yards ballpark, there is a 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy' display, complete with Sommers' original handwritten notes for the song, scratched out on paper."

"Thank God I'm a Country Boy" became a true fixture in Orange and Black lore when John Denver, fresh off a visit to Fort McHenry, sang the tune atop the Birds' dugout during the 1983 World Series. The song is so connected to the franchise that even the team's minor league affiliates utilize it.

Consider the Norfolk Tides' change of heart following their change of affiliation.

"You'd never know that this time last year fans were embracing the Big Apple and singing 'New York, New York' at the end of every game.

Now it's all Charm City, crab races on the video screen and 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy.' They even let loose with an 'O' during the national anthem."

The song is even a part of Spring Training, as related in 2003 by John Rosenthal in The New York Times. (A fact check is in order: Rosenthal uses the word "inexplicable" to describe the song choice.)

"Years later, you can read the stadium's history like sediment. The extremely roomy box seats are still Yankee blue, but the reserved seats behind the aisle are the same hunter green found in Camden Yards, the Orioles' home field in Baltimore. On the outfield wall is an ad for Riggin's Crabhouse, an 'Authentic Maryland-Style Crabhouse.' A Baltimore tradition accompanies the seventh-inning stretch: the inexplicable playing of 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy' instead of 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'"
So on this Flashback Friday, the answer to Dan Connolly's query is clear.

Do you still like Thank God I'm a Country Boy?

Without a doubt, yes.

Here are some other fans of the song in action at the ballpark ...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Former Oriole Now "Playing for Peanuts"

Joba Chamberlain imitator invites reminisence of a former flash in the pan for the Birds

by Matthew Taylor

The recent story that an ordinary Joe (er, Ryan) in New York had been posing as Joba Chamberlain to score drinks, food, and women served as a reminder that one should bring a healthy level of cynicism to celebrity sightings, especially when they involve a self-proclaimed celebrity. However, there is another side to that equation, as I learned years ago in Baltimore.

In the early-to-mid '90s, while visiting one of the many nightlife incarnations of the Hammerjacks-turned-Baltimore Ravens parking lot, I met a guy who eagerly informed me that he was going to be the next great center fielder for the Orioles. Yes, he would be the one to replace Mike Devereaux, he proclaimed confidently .

My first thought was to remind this Devo-in-waiting of the unwritten guy code about not chatting up strangers in the bathroom. Then I thought of my appreciation for Mike Devereaux and how I didn't want to see him replaced in center field any time soon.

Mike Devereaux was the first guy I ever saw make an honest-to-goodness over-the-wall catch to steal a home run from the opponent. It was a marvel of a defensive gem featuring Devo, his nonglove hand notched firmly atop the Memorial Stadium wall, reaching at full extension and then some
- at least to this teenager's mind's eye - to make an almost superhuman play. The snapshot of his body alone (full extension, one arm thrust skyward) would be enough to qualify him for the Justice League. Over time, the style of catch has gone from novelty to art form (Kenny Lofton, circa the Cleveland Indian years was one of the true masters of the genre) to "Web Gems" retread.

All of my ruminations ultimately translated into little more than a cynical grunt in response to the boasting.

Perhaps sensing my doubt, the presumed player became more insistent and no less certain of himself. Ultimately, he concluded the discussion by stating simply, "You'll see." And I did.

Once Spring Training rolled around the following season I did a double-take. Staring back at
me - first from the television during a Spring Training game, later from the front page of The Sun - was the same guy I spoke with months earlier. I had met Curtis Goodwin but was too stubborn to believe it.

Extra Innings: Goodwin was an exciting flash in the pan for the Birds, and his story has gotten no less interesting over time. He played for the South Georgia Peanuts last year during the team's inaugural season, which is documented in the upcoming reality show/documentary/DVD "Playing for Peanuts." Click this link for his player page.

Curtis Goodwin's Playing Career in a Nutshell (with apologies for the bad pun)*

Baltimore Orioles (1995)
Cincinnati Reds (1996-1997)
Colorado Rockies (1998)
Chicago Cubs (1999)
Toronto Blue Jays (1999)

Berkshire Black Bears (Northern League)

Sonoma City (Western League)

Newark Bears (Independent)

South Georgia Peanuts (South Coast League)

*Not necessarily a comprehensive list at the minor league level

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Al Pardo Trivia

Former O's catcher is one of only three MLB players born in Spain

by Matthew Taylor

It was a true Flashback Friday for me this week as a friend - a Red Sox fan, no less (note: they're not all bad) - gave me some old Oriole baseball cards that he found while moving to a new house. Many of the names were familiar - Dwyer, Ford, Aase, Shelby, Sakata, Lowenstein - but some were not, including that of former O's catcher Al Pardo. So I decided to figure out who this guy was.

Al Pardo - not to be confused with the voice of "Saturday Night Live," Don Pardo - played two seasons with the Birds (50 games over the course of '85 & '86) and two seasons with the Phillies (three games over the course of '88 & '89). He is one of only three Major League Baseball players to be born in Spain. The others are Bryan Oelkers and Danny Rios.

Pardo played his college ball at Hillsborough Community College where Wade Boggs attended classes in the off-season as a minor leaguer. Pardo also holds the distinction of being an Oriole with only one career home run for the team. (At some point I'm going to compile a list of O's who have matched that feat.) A message board poster on Orioles Hangout honors the accomplishment by using the handle "Al Pardo."

Random O's fact of the day: As of Saturday, the 2008 Baltimore Orioles had hit 171 home runs on the season. How does that stack up against the Birds' World Series-winning teams? It's three more than the 1983 team (168), four fewer than the 1966 team (175), and eight fewer than the 1970 team (179).

Random link of the day: Bad Jerseys of the 90's - Baltimore Edition.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It WAS a Red Sox Fan After All

A member of Red Sox nation apparently doesn't like the taste of his own medicine.

As part of my Thursday post, "The Pennant Race Through the Eyes of an Oriole Fan," I jokingly made the following observation:
Game Notes: "Some unruly fans were removed from the stands in the eighth inning. Play stopped briefly at one point while players watched police and stadium security handcuff a fan behind the Rays dugout."

Thought: Must've been Red Sox fans.
It turns out that was exactly the case. The St. Petersburg Times has the full story of the fan who was "striking back for Red Sox nation."

"So what does Sciesinski have to say for himself?

That he was tired of being hassled by security and the home crowd. Sciesinski said he was 'striking back for Red Sox nation' for all the 'hatred' from Rays fans.

As for the photo: 'Pretty cool.'

But all is not cool. Sciesinski is accused of drunkenly cursing Rays fans and was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

And one of the St. Petersburg police officers who subdued him is himself under scrutiny"

After experiencing Camden Yards when the Red Sox visit town, it's hard to feel sorry for the guy.

[Image source: St. Petersburg Times. Click photo for original.]

Flashback Friday: Brady on the Basepaths

Anderson had one of the most efficient base-stealing seasons in history in 1994

by Matthew Taylor

In his recent article "Art of the Steal," Sports Illustrated writer Chris Ballard mentions baseball's all-time most efficient base stealers, including Brady Anderson.
At week's end, Holliday had stolen 25 of 26 bases (96.2%) this season. Only Brady Anderson and Beltran, who were 31 of 32 in 1994 and 2001, respectively, have had more prolific seasons while getting caught just once.
Jim Baker similarly discussed the topic in August on ESPN's Page 2. And as noted by Seamheads this season, Anderson holds the Oriole record for most consecutive stolen bases without getting caught, a streak of 35 games that lasted from May 14, 1994, to July 2, 1995.

This week's Flashback Friday on Roar from 34 revisits Brady Anderson's lone unsuccessful stolen base attempt during the strike-shortened 1994 season. It occurred on Friday the 13th - May 13, to be specific - in a game the Birds lost to the Minnesota Twins, 4-1.

Mark McLemore successfully swiped second base in the top of the third inning. Anderson, 30 at the time, was not as lucky an inning earlier when 24-year-old catcher Matt Walbeck made him one of his 42 victims for 1994 with a throw down to shortstop Pat Meares. Walbeck gunned down 39 percent of runners on the season, including Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro that day.

The 4-1 loss also denied Ben McDonald an opportunity to become the first pitcher since Dave Stewart in 1988 to start the season with eight wins in eight starts. Stewart's eight-game streak in 1988 ended at the hands of ... you guessed it, the Baltimore Orioles, who began the season with 21 consecutive losses and ended it with 107 losses overall.

Flashback Friday Extra: The 1994 season was filled with "What Ifs?" including Tony Gwynn's chase of .400 and the Montreal Expos' pursuit of postseason glory. The Aug. 12, 1994, edition of The New York Times details what was lost.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Pennant Race Through the Eyes of an Oriole Fan

Viewing the world through Orange-and-Black-colored glasses

by Matthew Taylor

The thoughts of one Oriole fan as he reads ESPN's game story of the Red Sox - Rays series finale ...

Headline: "Rays boost East lead to 2 games with rout of Red Sox"

Thoughts: Good, good. Tampa Bay might just get the job done after all. But wait, does this mean there will be a third Evil Empire? Calm down, take a deep breath, now look at the Rays' payroll. Ah, that's better. And check the attendance numbers while you're at it. Camden Yards isn't going to be overrun by drunken Rays fans any time soon.

Text: "The Rays (90-60) became the sixth team in major league history to win 90 games immediately following a stretch of at least 10 consecutive losing seasons. The others are the 1912 Washington Senators, 1914 Boston Braves, 1956 Cincinnati Reds, 1979 Montreal Expos and 2006 Detroit Tigers."

Thought: So you're telling me there's a chance.

(Fan's mind wanders briefly from the game to thoughts of "Dumb and Dumber.")

Text: "Balfour pitched two scoreless innings for the win. J.P. Howell and Chad Bradford shut down the Red Sox over the last 2 1/3 innings."

Thought: Shouldn't that read "former Oriole Chad Bradford"?

Game Notes: "Some unruly fans were removed from the stands in the eighth inning. Play stopped briefly at one point while players watched police and stadium security handcuff a fan behind the Rays dugout."

Thought: Must've been Red Sox fans.

More Game Notes: "Ortiz has seven consecutive 20-homer seasons, six with the Red Sox."

Thoughts: Hmmm ... this is worth a visit to Baseball Reference. Let's see, Ortiz, DH ... seven straight seasons of 20 or more home runs ... streak began at age 26.

Okay, now let's check out Ripken, shortstop ... 10 straight seasons of 20 or more home runs ... streak began at age 21.

My appreciation grows.

Thoughts on the day after ...

Perhaps we should appreciate Curt Schilling's candor. However, his attack on Manny seems less bold given that it comes well after the fact with Ramirez now playing on another coast.

Schillings thoughts on Thursday included:
"The guy got to dress in a locker away from the team for seven years," Schilling said. "And then [when] he's on this crusade to get out of here, all of a sudden he's in the locker room every day, voicing his displeasure without even having to play the game that night."


"But I was a teammate, a member of this family, and I saw it … And to me, it was always those guys, the guys who played a crucial role on teams that weren't the marquee players, are the ones that were disrespected the most."
Apparently Curt wasn't too concerned about Manny being disrespectful when the guy was hitting dingers in Boston. Wrote Schilling on his 38 Pitches blog after home run No. 500: "Congrats to Manny and here’s to him hitting 600 here at Fenway."

If he was such a bad teammate, one worth criticizing after he left town, why did you want to keep him around for so long?

Curt even attacked the media and writers who dared criticize Manny.

Q-What do I think of the hypocrisy of writers who blast Manny for not talking to the media and call me a loud mouth for talking too much?

A-It’s humorous really. I saw it in Arizona as well. Matt Williams was labeled the same way. Matt wanted to show, play, and go home. Guys wrote horrible stuff because he didn’t talk to them. Those same guys would come to my locker, ask me questions, sit there and nod approvingly, ya, uh huh, I see, then write about me talking to much. It’s there, you deal with it. You learn that a lot of them do what they do to hear themselves talk. They are as interested in being the story as they are in writing it. The problem is that fans actually believe some of these guys are ‘experts’?

Well, I'll give Schilling this much: he does seem to be something of an expert on hypocrisy. Ramirez deserved to be criticized long before he changed uniforms.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ten Memorable O's - Yankees Moments

In honor of New York's anticipated playoff-less postseason, a list of memorable moments

by Matthew Taylor

After 13 straight seasons in the playoffs, the New York Yankees will likely find themselves on the outside looking in for the 2008 postseason, a fact that delights many baseball fans and gives added relevance to Buster Olney’s “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty,” which pinpoints the 2001 World Series as the start of the team's downfall.

The O's have shared many memorable moments with the Yankees during New York's run of playoff appearances. Here are 10 that stand out:
-1996: Jeffrey Maier.

-1997: David Wells to New York, Jimmy Key comes to Baltimore, both as free agents. The Birds seem to get the better end of the off-season signings; however, Key fades down the stretch after a brilliant start to the ’97 season and retires due to injury following the 1998 season while Wells wins a World Series and tosses a perfect game.

-1997: The O’s hold off a late-season Yankee run (New York won 8 of its last 10 and 15 of its last 20) to win the AL East title by two games and complete their Wire-to-Wire regular season run.

-1998: Armando Benitez plunks Tino Martinez between the numbers following a Bernie Williams home run and touches off an extended brawl at Yankee Stadium. Alan Mills becomes a fan favorite in Baltimore after he coldcocks Daryl Strawberry in the Yankee Stadium dugout.

-1998: Cal Ripken ends his consecutive games streak at 2,632 in a game played at Camden Yards against the Yankees.

-2000: After 10 years in Baltimore, Mike Mussina signs with the Yankees as a free agent. Twenty-win seasons and World Series rings seem to be sure things for the former O's ace; he achieves neither to date.

-2005: After a feel-good story to end the 2004 season - "The Evil Empire is Vanquished!" - O’s fans soon discover that they now have a second Evil Empire fit with obnoxious fans to cheer against: the Boston Red Sox.

-2006: The O’s consider drafting Jeffrey Maier. Says Peter Angelos: "To forgive is divine."

-1998- 2006: The Yankees win the season series against the O's for nine straight seasons. The Birds earn a season split (9-9) with the Yankees in 2007 to halt if not altogether end the streak; it is the first non-losing season for the Birds against the Yankees since 1997's Wire-to-Wire run, during which they won eight games and lost only four against New York.

-2007: Joe Girardi turns down an offer to manage the O's.

“I was flattered that the Orioles called me,” said Girardi at the time. “It's a great city, a great organization. I have the utmost respect for Andy. As a coach or a player, I always loved going there [to Baltimore]. I am not going to get into a whole lot, but it just wasn't the right time for my family. I was impressed. But timing-wise, it just wasn't right.”

After the season the timing is right, and Girardi accepts an offer to manage the Yankees; however, the results aren’t what he expected.
Have another memorable moment in mind? Share it in the comments section.

[Image source: The Online Wire. Click photo for original.]

Friday, September 12, 2008

Flashback Friday: The Beginning of the Lou Montanez Saga

Revisiting the 2000 Major League Baseball draft and its ties to the Orioles

by Matthew Taylor

Some of the names from the 2000 MLB draft and their respective fates since they were selected are well known. They're the guys who have had their cup of coffee and and a refill, players like Adrian Gonzalez (selected No. 1 by Florida), Rocco Baldelli (No. 6 - Tampa Bay), Chase Utley (No. 15 - Philadelphia), John "Boof" Bonser (No. 21 - Atlanta), and Adam Wainwright (No. 29 - Atlanta).

Then there are the players who aren't experiencing a late-season pennant race like Baldelli, the ones who haven't tasted World Series glory like Wainright. Guys like Lou Montanez. This week's Flashback Friday revisits the 2000 MLB draft and its obvious connections to the Birds.

The rundown on Montanez following the draft, in which he was selected third by the Cubs, went as follows (source: USA Today):
3. Chicago (NL): SS Luis Montanez, Coral Park High, Miami. He's 6 feet tall, weighs 165 and hit .421 this year. He'll be compared to longtime Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston for his arm and bat. Dunston's arm was better, but Montanez has comparable range. Will sign in $ 2.75 million range. Hit .431 with 25 RBI in 27 games.
Eight years later, Montanez is wearing Orange and Black and fighting to make a Big League name for himself in order to stay on the Birds' roster. It's surely not what he envisioned at the time: "
Montanez said he will sign and compared himself to "the new breed of powerful shortstops that teams like the Yankees (Derek Jeter), Boston (Nomar Garciaparra) and Seattle (Alex Rodriguez) revolve around.'"

While the Orioles would eventually wind up with Montanez, they envisioned Beau Hale and Tripper Johnson in their future back then. These days you can catch Hale on Facebook rather than a baseball diamond and, as was noted in a Roar from 34 post last week, Johnson is on the football field.

Here's the story on Hale and Johnson from 2000, courtesy of The Washington Times:

"Beau Hale led Texas into the College World Series on Saturday night. Yesterday, the fireballing right-hander became the Baltimore Orioles' first-round selection in the baseball draft.

Hale, a Sporting News second-team All-American, was the 14th player taken. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior threw a three-hit shutout Saturday against Penn State and boasts a 12-5 record and 2.77 ERA for the Longhorns. Hale tossed a no-hitter in February against Sam Houston State, throws in the upper 90s and struck out 125 in 139 innings this season.

'Amen,' Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift said. 'We were hoping we would get this guy.'

Baltimore chose third baseman Tripper Johnson, out of Newport High School in Bellevue, Wash., with the 32nd pick overall. The Orioles also took Richard Bartlett, a right-hander from Kamiakin (Wash.) High, and Cooper High (Tex.) catcher Tommy Arko with their two third-round picks.

'We were surprised Hale was available,' Baltimore director of scouting Tony DeMacio said about the pitcher, who comes from the same college program as Roger Clemens and Greg Swindell. 'Our problem was we didn't know if we would get that type of arm where we were picking.'


The scouting director said one reason Hale slipped might have been money. Several small-market clubs may have passed on him fearing he would cost too much to sign. With the left-handers taken and Baldelli gone well before most experts expected, DeMacio wasted no time grabbing Hale.

'About a 96 miles-an-hour fastball,' DeMacio said about what separated Hale from other possible choices. 'He's a power arm is what he is. He is a strikeout pitcher. He's very strong and very durable.'

Thrift forecasts Hale will begin his pro career at Class A Delmarva.

Baltimore took one of the draft's few power-hitting prospects in Johnson with their second pick.

'Johnson is a good athlete who shows power," DeMacio said. "He is a Jeff Cirillo/Ken Caminiti type'""

Another common Orioles thread from the 2000 draft is a guy who was surely involved in the discussions surrounding Montanez: then-Cubs President and CEO Andy MacPhail.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Double Trouble for O's Opponents as Trio Makes History

Roberts, Huff, and Markakis are setting team records for two-baggers

by Matthew Taylor

The Orioles are making history in 2008. Believe it or not, it's the good kind of history.

For only the second time in modern history, three Baltimore players will finish the season with 40 or more doubles: Brian Roberts, Aubrey Huff, and Nick Markakis.

After Tuesday night's game, Roberts has 47 doubles, Huff has 45, and Markakis has 43. The only other trio since 1954 to record 40 or more doubles each was Roberto Alomar (43), Rafael Palmeiro (40), and Cal Ripken (40) in 1996.

Roberts, Huff, and Markakis have already eclipsed Alomar, Palmeiro, and Ripken in total doubles, and the individual team record of 51 doubles, set by Beau Bell 1937, is arguably still in reach for all three players. At the very least, Roberts, Huff, and Markakis should each finish 2008 in the top five in team history for doubles.

As for the highest total for two players combined, Roberts shares the current team high of 95 doubles, set in 2005, with Miguel Tejada. He will likely share the team high with someone other than Tejada by the end of 2008.

The list of modern Oriole players to hit more than 40 doubles in a season includes the following:

Roberts – 47

Huff – 45

Markakis – 43


Roberts – 42

Markakis – 43


Roberts – 45

Tejada – 50

Roberts – 50

Tejada – 40


DeShields – 43


Palmeiro - 40

Alomar - 43

Ripken – 40

Ripken – 46

Ripken - 47

***UPDATE: In response to Matt's question in the comments section, the overall MLB record for doubles in a season belongs to Boston's Earl Webb, who hit 67 in 1931. Joe Medwick of St. Louis holds the NL record with 64 in 1936. However, Brian Roberts' personal best of 50 doubles is the American League record for doubles by a switch hitter.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Flashback Friday: Sept. 5, 2000

A late-season O's-Twins match-up provided a glimpse of other teams' respective futures

by Matthew Taylor

It was a game that featured familiar faces, all of which are now in different places: Mike Mussina, David Ortiz, Cristian Guzman, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, A.J. Pierzynski, J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins, Jerry Hairston, Chris Richard, and then-Major League rookie Johan Santana.

This week's Flashback Friday revisits the O's game from this very date eight years ago - Sept. 5, 2000. The Birds defeated the Minnesota Twins 6-5 before a less-than-robust crowd of 6,285 at the Humpert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Mussina (9-13) got the win, Romero (2-5) took the loss. Ryan Kohlmeier closed it out for the O's, recording the 10th of his 13 saves that season.

Baltimore shared the offensive wealth on the day with six different players recording an RBI: Delino DeShields, Cal Ripken, Brook Fordyce, Chris Richard, Mark Lewis, and Gene Kingsale.

The rookie Santana pitched 3.1 innings in relief for the Twins, giving up one hit, walking two, and striking out none; he finished the season with a career high 6.49 ERA in 86 innings pitched. Ortiz, hardly an O's nemesis at the time, collected two hits in five at-bats and finished the season batting .282 with 10 home runs and 63 RBIs.

The O's were still losing back then, as their 63-75 record attests, but the team hadn't yet started its tradition of late summer swoons; the Birds won 8 of their final 10 games to close out the 2000 season.

Flashback Extra: Speaking of Chris Richard, the former O's first baseman/outfielder/designated hitter is still kicking it around in the minors these days and was recently named the co-MVP of the Durham Bulls. Richard batted .293 with 26 homers and 88 RBIs for the Bulls this season. He also earned the Media "Good Guy" Award and the Team Spirit Award.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

That's Trip as in Triple

Former O's prospect returns home to Washington to play football

by Matthew Taylor

Roar from 34 has moved into its new nest and established a reliable Internet connection. This Bird is ready to chirp again.

College football's return this week provides a useful theme in these initial days back on the blogging beat. If the O’s can focus on football (Exhibit A: Saturday’s “Ravens Rally”), Roar from 34 can do the same.

One immediate Orange-and-Black connection to the college football world comes in the form of minor-leaguer-turned-University-of-Washington-defensive-back Nelson Alexander
Johnson, III, better known as “Tripper.”

His non-intuitive nickname may have grown out of "triple" rather than "round tripper," but Tripper Johnson blew off the stop sign this summer and continued on home to Washington after giving it a go in the Birds' minor league system.

A 2000 first-round draft pick of the O’s, Johnson spent eight years in the minors before pulling a Rodney Dangerfield and heading “Back to School.” He recorded three tackles on the gridiron over the weekend in a 44-10 Huskies loss to Oregon.

His amateur-turned-pro-turned-amateur story begins on June 6, 2000 when the three-sport high school star, who can be seen in this YouTube highlight reel, decided to forgo his college baseball eligibility and a scholarship spot at UW for the chance to play with the Birds.
Newport High's senior sneak day took on a whole new meaning yesterday as the school's star baseball player, Tripper Johnson, snuck away as the highest Washington state pick in the major league draft.

Johnson, a power-hitting third baseman chosen by the Orioles, was the second player drafted in the supplemental first round, the 32nd pick overall. That left him with a tough choice, since Johnson had committed to play baseball for the University of Washington next year.

Yesterday, he said he plans to sneak away to Sarasota, Fla., after he graduates June 20, and will join the Orioles' rookie team there to begin his pro career, foregoing his college baseball eligibility.
By 2004, Johnson was listed along with the likes of Nick Markakis, Hayden Penn, John Maine, and Chris Ray as one of the O’s Top Ten prospects. It happened to be Johnson’s best year in the minors, as he batted .269 with 21 home runs, 74 RBIs, 19 doubles, and 14 stolen bases for the Frederick Keys.

Nevertheless, Birds in the Belfry wasn’t buying the hype. In a 2004 review of the 2000 draft, the Belfry noted the following:
If an analysis of the 1999 Orioles draft could be summed up as "ambivalent," no comparable adjective will likely ever be used to assess the 2000 experience. At this point, roughly four and-a-half years later, it looks a whole lot more like an utter disaster. To date, not one player selected by the Orioles in 2000 has reached the big leagues and while it is highly likely that at least a few players will, it's relatively likely that no one drafted and signed by the club that year will ever be a player of significance at the big league level.
Johnson continued to be mentioned in the same breath as the O’s top young players, as seen in’s 2005 look-back at the Arizona Fall League, “O’s prospects have strong campaigns.”
3B Tripper Johnson III -- The 23-year-old corner infielder went 3-for-15 this week as his batting average slid to .333. On Nov. 7 against Grand Canyon, Johnson was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. He ended the campaign with two homers and 13 RBIs in 18 games.
However, after hitting .305 with five home runs in 2007 for the Keys, and appearing on the 2008 Bowie Baysox roster as late as August, Johnson hung up his baseball spikes and returned to his native Washington for a chance at gridiron glory. Now, his story is making the rounds of the Evergreen State.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
He's a little different from your typical walk-on wannabe in the Washington football program. Instead of scraping by on mac and cheese, for instance, he's got his own financial adviser, wisely investing the first million dollars he earned in 2000. Rather than worrying about how he's going to pay for school while hoping to eventually play his way into a scholarship, he's got the Baltimore Orioles taking care of his tuition and books as part of the guaranteed baseball contract he signed coming out of Bellevue's Newport High School.
UW Website
One newcomer, though eight years older than many of his cohorts, is safety Tripper Johnson. Johnson, from Bellevue's Newport High, originally signed a letter of intent to play baseball with the Huskies out of high school, but opted to sign with the Baltimore Orioles after being selected in the first round of the 2000 draft. Johnson spent eight seasons in the Orioles organization, but last spring, hung up the bat and glove in favor of a helmet and shoulder pads when he decided to enroll at the UW and walk on the football team.

Recently, Johnson sat down with Here's what he had to say:

After eight years of minor league baseball, you're back playing football. How's it going?

"It's going pretty well. This is my first go-around at camp, and it's going well. You know, it's tough - a lot of work, a lot of hours watching film, and then we have to go practice on top of it. So yeah, it's very tough but I'm enjoying it so far."

Can you shed some light on how playing baseball all those years has affected your go at football? Do you think baseball helped in the long run?

"Yeah I think it's helped out. Baseball taught me how to plan, to get in a routine. You can't just show up and play. You have to have a plan. You have to treat your body right, you have to eat healthy, and you have to stay consistent in the weight room. Playing baseball for all those years, at the professional level, has definitely helped me mentally and maturity-wise."
The Seattle Times
A year ago this week, Tripper Johnson was taking bus rides to Potomac, Md., and Salem, Va., putting the finishing touches on his eighth season of minor-league baseball. Unknown to him, it turned out to be his last.

"At the time I didn't think it was going to be," said Johnson, who was a member of the Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats.

But in the unforeseen directions life sometimes takes, Johnson finds himself this week preparing for his first college football season, one that begins Saturday in Eugene against the Oregon Ducks.
The Kitsap Sun
Tripper Johnson's baseball career was stuck in neutral when he thought again about giving football a try. He was no longer a hot prospect out of Bellevue's Newport High School when he finally decided to give up on one dream and pursue another. Johnson was only in his mid-20s, but in Class A ball, and even AA, 25 can start to feel old after spending eight years in the minors. But if Johnson felt age catching up with him in baseball, he must feel downright ancient playing football at Washington.

"They call me Uncle Trip, Old man," said Johnson, who at 26 is a walk-on safety for the Huskies. "I enjoy it, I think it's pretty funny."
The News Tribune
How Johnson found his way to Montlake and wearing the purple and gold of the Huskies is a tale of big baseball bucks, few peaks and many valleys in baseball’s minor leagues, and a lingering football itch that never could be scratched even with a career in professional baseball.

During his senior year at Newport in 2000, Johnson was considered one of the top athletes in the state – earning all-KingCo honors in football, basketball and baseball.
But baseball was his best sport.

After accepting a baseball scholarship to the UW with hopes of walking on in football, Johnson instead passed on both and signed with the Baltimore Orioles for a reported $1.5 million signing bonus after being selected with the 32nd pick of the 2000 draft.

“It was something I couldn’t pass up,” said Johnson, who played third base.
Even with a million dollars in the bank and a first season in which he hit .307, Johnson still couldn’t keep thoughts of football out of his mind.
These days, Johnson has an asterisk by his name, but the mark has nothing to do with a performance-enhanced baseball accomplishment; however, it does still relate to his life on the diamond.

Johnson’s bio on the Huskies’ football site notes, “Experience: HS*.”

[Image source: Bowie Baysox. Click image for original photo.]