Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Were the Orioles Quitters?

On multiple occasions during the past 13 losing seasons it has seemed, from a fan's perspective, that the Baltimore Orioles quit during the second half of the season. It makes sense since quitters never win and frankly neither do the Orioles. 

From 30-3 to the late summer swoon, circumstantial evidence abounds. But it turns out there's testimonial evidence as well.

I'm currently reading John Feinstein's "Living On the Black" (Thanks, Barnes & Noble clearance rack), which chronicles the 2007 seasons of pitchers Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine. Mussina offers many interesting anecdotes, including a statement about playing on teams that approach the second half of the season in a manner similar to that of a high school senior facing his final weeks before graduation. It's baseball's version of senioritis.

Were the Orioles quitters during Mussina's time in Baltimore? [Vote in the Roar from 34 poll on the sidebar.]

Here's the relevant section from the book (emphasis added):
"Player meetings in baseball are rarely emotional, and it isn't often that anything especially brilliant or revealing is said. This meeting was no different. Pettitte was the right person to call the meeting and start it because he was the one pitcher on the staff who had pitched well. His point was simple: What we're doing isn't good enough. Yes, we've been injured, and yes it's early (it is, of course, a long season),  but this was unacceptable.

He was talking, for the most part, to the starters. The bullpen hadn't been that great, but it had the excuse of being overused because of the starters' incompetence.

Mussina, the other veteran in the room, also spoke. He pointed out that he hadn't been much use to the team in April but went on to talk about what was expected when you pitched for the Yankees. 'I've been on teams that began circling days on the calendar trying to get the season over with from the All-Star break on,' he said. 'Believe me, it's not fun. And it really wouldn't be fun here. That can be tough, but it's what's expected ....' "
Was Mussina using hyperbole in his clubhouse speech, or did he believe his teammates had quit on him the in the past? If so, when?

At the time Mussina made the comments he had yet to experience a non-playoff season with the Yankees.  So if he was wasn't exaggerating for effect (which is possible), he was referring to the Orioles.

Mussina played for the Orioles from 1991 through 2000. The O's finished with a losing record in five of those seasons: 1991, 1995, 1998, 1999, and 2000.  We can remove the '98 and '99 seasons from consideration. Baltimore had solid second-half records both times (41-33 in '98, 42-33 in '99).

Next to go is 1995. The Birds were an even 38-38 in the second half of the '95 season, won nine of their last 10 games, and posted a 16-11 record in August.

That leaves the 1991 and 2000 seasons.

The 2000 Orioles went 36-40 in the second half, won eight of their last 12, and finished the months of July, August, and September one game under .500. Hardly the stuff of champions, but also not the obvious mark of quitters. 

In 1991, the Orioles went 34-48 after the All Star Break and lost seven of their last 10. So the guess here is that Mussina thinks the '91 Orioles phoned it in after the All-Star Break.

Mussina entered the big leagues on Aug. 4, 1991. It's possible that the young, eager pitcher encountered a dour clubhouse atmosphere that left an indelible impression on him. In other words, his first cup of coffee was bitter. And as we fans can tell you, losing is an acquired taste.

It's also worth noting that Manager Frank Robinson was fired at the end of the 1991 season. So perhaps the Orioles quit on a manager they expected would soon be gone. Kind of like they did with Dave Trembley. But that's a topic for another day ....


Related Reading on Roar from 34:

-Moose Was a Great Bird

-The August Swoon is a Myth

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