Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Remembering Former O's Farmhand Joel Stephens

Joel Stephens' varsity football coach has written a book about the Orioles' 1995 first-round draft pick, who died in 1998 at age 22 following a 10-month battle with colon cancer.

The Star Gazette in upstate New York interviewed Mike D'Aloisio about the book, "5 C Hero: The Joel Stephens Story," and the player he once coached.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:
"Eleven years ago, when Joel passed away, I felt a gap was created in my life, losing somebody so young who was such an inspiration to so many people and who was such a good person. I felt to fill that void, I would like to share the story of Joel Stephens, and the Joel Stephens I knew.

It took me a while to do it. I always knew what I wanted to write about, but it wasn't until two to three years ago that I started putting things down on paper. That was the first thing: I just wanted people to know Joel as myself and the people in this area knew him."
Stephens, a celebrated athlete in his hometown of Elmira, N.Y., joined the Orioles Gulf Coast League affiliate in 1995 as a 19-year-old outfielder, playing with the likes of O's prospects Calvin Pickering and Kimera Bartee (aka the "player to be named later" in the Scott Erickson trade with Minnesota).

The Orioles' ninth pick of the '95 draft, Stephens also played with Bluefield and Delmarva before his 1997 cancer diagnosis. He became the franchise's third player to be treated for colon cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the course of a year, following Eric Davis and Boog Powell. He tossed out the ceremonial first pitch before an Orioles exhibition game the following March. Stephens passed away on Sept. 30, 1998.

The Frederick Keys established the Joel A. Stephens Memorial Fund in 1999 to benefit children dealing with serious illness or bereavement due to the death of a parent or sibling. Learn more at the foundation's website. Meanwhile, the Joel Stephens Invitational Tournament has become one of the premiere senior-level baseball tournaments in the Northeast since its founding in 1998.

Image source: The Star Gazette story.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Adam Jones - Face of the Franchise?

The Orioles will need a face of the franchise - and de facto team leader, at least in the public eye - as they re-build and hope for a brighter future. I nominate Adam Jones.

Rule #1: A team leader must be quotable. And Jones sure is.

From Friday's Sun:

"I'm just sitting back here, watching it and loving it. I'm letting Andy do what he came here to do," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "I'm letting him do his magic. He's in charge for a reason. I like all three moves, to be honest with you."


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holliday In Baltimore

Matt Holliday should play in Baltimore for no other reason than that together with Felix Pie he would allow the Orioles to compete for having the most players with names that invite witty headline attempts.

Take, for example, this offering from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Holliday Intrigue: Orioles in, and a 'mystery team' arrives."

Just imagine the Holliday Inn Express possibilities. I'm picturing Jumbotron videos that rival the 2008 Kevin Millar Orioles Magic fare.

Baltimore: We do humor better than baseball! Have a laugh at our team on and off the field.

The Post-Dispatch story is worth reading for more than just the headline. Derrick Goold rightly points out that this script mirrors the media narrative for Mark Teixeira last off-season. In other words, some folks might just be getting played (again) by Scott Boras.

Writes Goold:
This Courtship of Holliday is following a familiar script: Mark Teixeira, Take 2.
Last season, the Orioles were interested in signing Teixeira because he had Maryland roots and they had an opening at first base. The pursuit of Teixeira was, if you recall, positioned as a three-team derby, with the Los Angeles Angels looking to re-signing him and Baltimore and Boston vying to woo him back east. As Christmas approached, a word of a mystery team came and went, the talks seemed to delay and drag on. Then, out of the blue, came the New York Yankees, who swooped in with the $180-million offer.
The Garrett Atkins/Brian Roberts angle on this story - namely that Holliday is friendly with both players and was an FCA rep along with Roberts - fits with the Hot Stove Myths and Truths I discussed last off-season.
Narrative/Myth #1: We're an attractive destination for a top free agent because we have an "in" with him (aka "The Hometown Discount"/"Hometown Hero" Effect).

The thinking here is that a player's relationship to the city, the team, or its personnel will propel him to take a below-market deal with the Orioles. This favored narrative applies to cases where we're trying to keep a guy in the fold (i.e. the hometown discount) or to bring him into the fold (i.e. the hometown hero). Mike Mussina was an example of the former, Mark Teixeira is an example of the latter. A.J. Burnett, whose wife is from the Baltimore area and who has an off-season home in Monkton, could also fit into the latter category.
I would love to add  Matt Holliday's bat to the Orioles' lineup and to see what kind of trade that would allow the team to make from there. But, as was the case when Teixeira flirted with the Birds, I'm not getting my hopes up.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ballard Calls B.S. on Red Sox Nation and Moneyballers

Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard uses the magazine's latest "Point After" column to call b.s. on the sports world, including Red Sox fans and Moneyballers. Read the piece in context before you form any conclusions.

Ballard's critiques are tough, but fair - and, for me, much appreciated - as they cut through the pretense that so often surrounds the otherwise simple joy - and if you're lucky, shared joys - of watching games being played at their highest levels.

Writes Ballard:
In fact, it's high time to call b.s. on lots of stuff in sports. It's the rare precinct in which we're encouraged to be ourselves, unburdened by the solicitousness and the affectations of polite society. In sports there should be no equivalent of obscure indie rock bands people say they love but never listen to, or Stephen Hawking books that are displayed yet never opened. No, this world is about winning and losing and loving and hating. This is no place for pretense.

So for starters, I call b.s. on Red Sox Nation. You are not a "nation." Your fandom and your suffering is no more or less important than anyone else's. To insinuate so is to insult all of us who passionately follow our teams. No, at best you are a province. Please stop migrating.
I know and like Boston fans who when it comes down to it are just good baseball fans. They enjoy talking about your team as well as their own. They respect the game and its history. They're easy to root for.

But then there are the others - the bandwagon jumpers, the BIRGers and CORFers, the never-lived-in-or-near-Boston-nor-knew-anyone-who-did-but-still-manage-to-live-and-die-by-the-Sox types - who give the "Nation" its numbers and its obnoxious qualities.

So Ballard is tough on Red Sox nation. But fair.

Key line: "Your fandom and your suffering is no more or less important than anyone else's." Fans who realize that fact - and they are out there - show a glimmer of the Red Sox mythology that at one time was actually endearing.

More from Ballard:
Moneyballers, come on down, because I'm calling b.s. Not on the stats revolution (valid) or Billy Beane (ahead of his time) or even the measures themselves (OPS is pretty damn useful). No, I'm talking about the holier-than-thous who profess to prefer a game predicated on driving in runs with walks, never stealing bases and acquiring a fleet of Scott Hattebergs. The ideas may have been enlightening, but we all know that when it's late at night and no one's around, you revel in watching Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval bushwhack his way on base and Rays outfielder Carl Crawford swipe second and third. You know why? Because sports aren't homework; they're entertainment.
After some initial skepticism, I've come to appreciate the value of the stats revolution in baseball. Heath at Dempsey's Army has helped me with that journey as he often provides valuable context to O's fans by playing the numbers game.

However, as Ballard points out, let's not allow slavish devotion to formulas to keep us from enjoying the bushwhacking and swiping of bases. After all, we're still fans, not GMs.

Key line: "Because sports aren't homework; they're entertainment."

In the end, I think that's the primary point underlying Ballard's entire column: sports are entertainment. So allow yourself to be entertained.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Alomar is Already in the Hall of Very Good; Will He Make the Hall of Fame?

He won't be an Orioles Hall of Famer; more likely a Blue Jays or Indians Hall of Famer. Or perhaps, given how many future nominees would benefit from such a thing, Cooperstown will create a new category for vagabond players, who won't be required to choose just one team's hat for their plaque.

Whatever the case, Roberto Alomar will be in the Hall of Fame regardless of which team claims him as its own. Maybe not first ballot - given, um, that incident I'm sure you remember - but he'll be there.

The Hall of Very Good sizes up Alomar's candidacy.
Alomar went to twelve straight All-Star games (nine as a starter), compared to Ryno’s ten. Incidentally, his ten Gold Gloves over a span of eleven years is the most ever by a second baseman.

His .984 fielding percentage is a hair behind Sandberg’s .989.

His 2724 hits (and career .300 batting average) is the most by any every day second baseman since Charlie Gehringer’s 2839. Gehringer was inducted in 1949. FYI…Sandberg finished with 2386 and a .285 batting average.

Even, Alomar’s OPS+ (a stat that I am not that high on, but some people are) of 116 is smack dab in the middle of the pack when you look at those already enshrined. For the record, Sandberg’s was 114. Joe Morgan...a surprising 132.

Alomar even slugged .347 in back to back World Series victories for the Blue Jays
And yes, for every “case for”…there is a case against:


Alomar was the type of player that, because he was so damn solid for nearly 17 seasons…people forget that he was a hitting machine. From his second year in the majors (1989) until 2001, Alomar hit under .295 only twice. He even had an impressive run of nine out of ten years where he hit .300 or better.

Open your doors for Robbie, Cooperstown, I’ll be watching...all the while knowing that the best second baseman I ever saw play is getting his just desserts.
Alomar seemed to dog it toward the end of his three-season stay in Baltimore when his numbers dropped accordingly. The fact that those numbers rebounded enough for him to finish third in the MVP voting in 1999 after returning to Cleveland only added to existing accusations that he played hard only when he really wanted to. Nevertheless, when Alomar gave it his all there weren't many who were better at the position.

I first saw Alomar play in Toronto, where he dominated the Blue Jays game I attended. It's not very often you walk away from a baseball game most impressed by a second baseman, but that's exactly what happened that night.

I went to Toronto to see the SkyDome; I left there talking about Robbie Alomar, a future Hall of Famer.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Hot Stove Wasn't Always So Tepid for the Birds

The Hot Stove season is likely to be a fairly tepid affair for the Orioles this year. Rather than comb the current class of free-agents and potential trade targets I revisited the team's moves headed into the 1998 season, when the the O's became the first team in baseball to post a $70 million payroll.

Take a minute and let that sink in: the O's were baseball's biggest spenders just a little more than a decade ago. In fact, Baltimore holds the distinction of being the last team to outspend the New York Yankees, who have had baseball's highest payroll every year since 1999.

Unfortunately, the end result for the Birds in '98 was a 79-83 record, the first of an active 12-season losing streak

Mo' money, mo' problems? Try mo' money, mo' intrigue.

Big bats, frontline pitchers, aging veterans - the O's chased them all back then.

[To be fair, much of the team's '98 payroll went to players who led the team to back-to-back ALCS appearances in 1996 and 1997, including Robert Alomar ($6.3 million), Brady Anderson ($6.2 million), Mike Mussina ($6.5 million), Rafael Palmeiro ($6.5 million), and Cal ($6.3 million).]

Here's a rundown on some of the Birds' 1997/1998 Hot Stove maneuverings:

-Fresh off a league-leading 45 saves in 1997, closer Randy Myers spurned the Orioles' two year, $11 million offer in November to sign with Toronto for three years, $18 million.

Myers recorded 28 saves in 41 games for the Blue Jays, who let him go in August when the Padres claimed Myers off waivers and inherited the remainder of his contract. Myers did not pitch again after the 1998 season.

-The Orioles chased future first-ballot Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who ultimately signed with the Twins for $4.25 million in early December.

O's fans bummed about losing out on Molitor received good news days later when Brady Anderson signed a five-year, $31 million extension with the team

Here's what the Washington Post had to say on Dec. 8, 1997:
“The Orioles will be one of baseball's highest-spending teams next year. In the past eight months, though, Angelos has gotten the club's three cornerstone players -- third baseman Cal Ripken, pitcher Mike Mussina and Anderson -- to sign contracts below their free agent market values. Anderson, 33, agreed to receive $ 1.5 million of his $ 6.25 million  salary in each of the first four years of his new deal as deferred compensation without interest.”

"I thought the whole thing was cool," Anderson said. "I was surprised how concerned the fans were. They seemed to care a lot more than I thought they would. That's one of the reasons I got out of Baltimore. I thought I was getting ready to sign for whatever the Orioles were offering."

-On Dec. 12, the Orioles signed free-agent pitcher Doug Drabek to a $1.8 million, one-year contract that included $600,000 in performance incentives.

Drabek won 12 games for the White Sox in 1997. He went 6-11 with a 7.29 ERA in Baltimore.

-On Dec. 13, the team inked free-agent outfielder Joe Carter to a $3.3 million one-year deal. According to the New York Times the move "added another sizable bat to their lineup."

Carter hit 11 home runs in 85 games before being traded to San Francisco for Darrin Blood.

-Ozzie Guillen and Norm Charlton signed minor-league deals with the Birds in January.

Said Guillen: "I picked the Baltimore Orioles because I think they have the best chance to win." Both players finished the '98 season in Atlanta.

-In January, the Orioles also re-signed pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, who went 10-6 with a 4.01 ERA in '97, for two years, $6.2 million. Kamieniecki won four games in those two years.

-The intrigue continued into the spring when the O's retained the services of free-agent-to-be Scott Erickson by signing him to a five-year, $32 million extension in May.

When it was all said and done, the Orioles produced a payroll that was larger then ($70.4 million in 1998) than it is now ($67.1 million in 2009). The record-setting '98 figure would rank in the lower two-thirds among teams today. It's essentially what the Royals ($70.5 million) are spending these days.

Sherrill Being Shopped

I hope Erik Bedard and George Sherrill are renters rather than buyers; otherwise, they should be lauded for their efforts to stimulate the nation's real-estate market.

As you've surely heard, the O's have an interest in re-acquiring Bedard. Now Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports reports that the Dodgers are shopping former Oriole closer George Sherrill on the trade market.

But when teams have inquired about those relievers, according to one rival executive, they have been encouraged to instead submit proposals for left-hander George Sherrill.
It appears that Sherrill is available for two main reasons: He's about to earn a raise (perhaps as high as $4 million) through salary arbitration; and he had a lousy NLCS against the Phillies.
The Dodgers are looking for a starter in exchange for Sherrill.

 Talk about short-term fixes.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Nets, The Orioles, and The Larry Sheets Family Amusement Center

So 'Duk - Kevin Kaduk - at Yahoo's Big League Stew blog has made the inevitable New Jersey Nets - Baltimore Orioles comparison now that the Nets have set the NBA's season-opening record for futility.

More importantly, though, 'Duk directs us to the website for the Larry Sheets Family Amusement Center.

In other words, there is baseball news this off-season, and it is decidedly good. 

Here's an excerpt from "The resurrection of the 1988 Orioles, courtesy of the Nets":
As you might remember, the 1988 Orioles lost their first 21 games of the season, setting a record for a pro sports franchise and becoming fodder for wise aleck columnists like Tony Kornheiser and a national punchline in the process. (If you're a certain age, you remember that Michael Jackson glove joke. If you're not, you've heard it about another team.)More than 20 years later, the '88 O's are still the standard bearer for downright bad debuts and will be the first team mentioned unless the Nets have four more losses in them before their first victory.
Am I the only one who has a strange appreciation for the 0-18 Sports Illustrated cover featuring Billy Ripken?

Mister Irrelevant also examines the Nets - O's comparison (and provides the 0-18 cover).