Thursday, July 27, 2006

Deal Or No Deal? Time to Cash In on Tejada

Trading him is the only way to improve the pitching

by Christopher Heun

With the trading deadline just a few days away, Orioles fans are collectively holding their breath, hoping that the front office can pull off a miracle. It’s become an annual ritual in Baltimore, as routine as humidity in July, and the result is always the same: no deal.

To be fair to general manager Mike Flanagan, he’s holding a losing hand. Sure, it’s easy to pick out what to discard – start with a pair of Lopezes; Rodrigo, with an ERA higher than any 10-year interest rate, and Javy, a man who’s lost his position and his power – but what team would give anything of value in return?

[Allow me to digress: Since hitting 43 homers in 2003,
Javy Lopez has managed 46 in two and half seasons. What happened to the guy?]

In pursuit of a deal, Flanagan has two bargaining chips: Miguel Tejada and a bunch of young pitchers. Whether or not he should trade the arms depends on if you think the Birds can be contenders in three years, before Tejada’s contract expires.

If you think the answer to that question is yes, then I’ve got an insurance policy on Albert Belle’s hip to sell you.

No, without some solid, experienced pitchers, the team isn’t going to contend while Miggy is here, and if that’s the case, then what’s the point of having him around? Trade him now, before he demands a move again, forces Flanagan’s hand and makes it harder to get equal value in return. If Miggy can’t stand two losing seasons, it’s ridiculous to think he’ll put up with three more.

The Orioles aren’t one player away from respectability. That’s as true now about Bobby Abreu, last week’s hot rumor, as it was last year with A.J. Burnett. And even more important, what this team needs more than anything is pitching. Tejada is the way to get it.

The Orioles have scored 483 runs this season, ninth in the league, but only 37 less than Detroit, owners of the best record in baseball. That’s about two extra runs a week. The difference between the two teams is pitching: the Orioles have given up 561 runs, second-most in the AL and a whopping 177 more than the Tigers. That works out to nearly 2 more runs allowed per game.

We all know the results. Through 100 games, the Orioles record was 45-55, which projects to 73-89 for a full season. This isn’t a rebuilding team; it only plays like one.

This isn’t a rebuilding team because the payroll on Opening Day was $72.6 million, according to USA Today – a hair more than Toronto and $10 million more than Oakland and Minnesota, teams who aren’t strangers to the postseason. You can’t fault Peter Angelos for not spending money. (You could fault him for not spending it wisely, but that's another story.)

The other reason the Orioles are not a rebuilding team is that three of their best four players – Tejada, Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez – are all at least 30 years old and signed to long-term big-money contracts. The exception is Brian Roberts, who’s 28 and looking to cash in on free agency himself.

Compare that to the pitching staff, which is full of kids. Given that Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen and LaTroy Hawkins probably won’t be back next year, it’s possible that Kris Benson and Todd Williams will be the only Orioles pitchers older than 30 in 2007. They could also be the only members of the staff not originally drafted by the Birds. Imagine that.

The 2007 starting rotation will likely be Erik Bedard, Benson, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn. Young and talented, yes, but also unproven. And maddeningly wild in at least
one case.

So let’s get Loewen and Penn into the rotation now and give them a head start on next year. That’s what rebuilding teams do; they don’t waste starts on Rodrigo Lopez and Russ Ortiz. Otherwise, by the time Loewen and Penn mature, Miggy will be pushing a walker. For the Angels.

That’s why I disagree with The Sun’s Roch Kubatko, who doesn’t think the team needs to be ripped apart. He writes in
his blog, “Find a left fielder and first baseman, and don't be afraid to spend for them.” Yes, this team is crying for a power hitter, but it needs a proven pitcher even more.

But proven pitchers are hard to get – especially as free agents. And since the Orioles have a poor record of attracting free agent pitchers, they’re going to have to cash in their chips, Tejada or prospects, to improve themselves via trade. Giving up young pitchers for older ones doesn’t make any sense for a rebuilding team. It has to be Tejada.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Miggy. He’s a great player, the best hitting shortstop playing the game today. But trading him will make the team better in the long run. Otherwise, the Birds will continue to muddle through season after season, never quite reaching mediocrity and always holding out hope that a couple free agents will turn things around.

The addiction to free agency is tough to break. Even The Sun’s Peter Schmuck, usually a voice of reason,
can’t give it up:
“I still believe that if the Orioles sink into the American League East cellar or fall 15 games under .500 in the next couple of weeks, they must consider moving Tejada ... or commit to a huge increase in payroll that will result from the kind of free-agent spending spree necessary to get them back in contention next season.”
You can’t spend your way to the top. Did the 1998-2000 Orioles teach us nothing?
Trade Miggy now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"O"dds and Ends: Current Events Produce O's Nostalgia

Floyd & Beltran join Larry Sheets & Jim Dwyer on all-time list
On July 16, the New York Mets hit two grand slams in one inning, the first by Cliff Floyd and the second by Carlos Beltran. The all-time list of MLB teammates to hit grand slams in the same inning includes Larry Sheets and Jim Dwyer, who did so on August 6, 1986 against the Texas Rangers.

List of grand slams in the same inning

Long minor-league game brings to mind 33-inning Rochester contest
On July 20, a New York-Penn League game went on for 26 innings. It was one of the longest pro baseball games in history. The longest game was between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox and featured Cal Ripken Jr., Wade Boggs, and Floyd Rayford.

“I've been watching for the bunt for 23 innings now."

--Rochester third baseman Cal Ripken Jr., wearily replying to relief pitcher Jim Umbarger's instruction

Rochester-Pawtucket game
Rochester-Pawtucket 2
New York Times article about longest minor-league game

Remembering the O’s-Red Sox trade deadline deal: Boddicker for Schilling and Brady
“Several analysts cite a 1988 trade between the contending Red Sox and then-woebegone Orioles as a shining example. The Sox, in the midst of a tight AL East race, picked up veteran Mike Boddicker in exchange for prospects Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson. Anderson and Schilling, though a few years away from realizing their potential, in time proved to be excellent players; the Orioles, going nowhere, had time to wait for that to happen (at least in the case of Anderson, as they sent away Schilling in a misguided trade later). Meanwhile, Boddicker provided immediate help to Boston’s problematic rotation, helping them to eke out a division title.”

Trade deadline story

In Cal’s shadow; Minor league manager never got call to replace Ripken
A fun story about the new manager of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, Bobby Dickerson. Dickerson toiled in the minors while Cal stayed the course for the Birds.

“While Cal Ripken Jr. crafted an historic streak forged by iron-clad longevity, Bobby Dickerson waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The Iowa Cubs' interim manager toiled among a multitude of minor-league middle infielders in the Baltimore Orioles' system, biding time as the timeless Ripken ground his name into major-league annals with 2,632 consecutive games played from 1982-1998.

’I'm one of the 13 shortstops Cal Ripken retired,’ said Dickerson, who managed his second Iowa Cubs game Thursday - a 6-2 loss to Oklahoma at Principal Park - after Mike Quade was summoned to Chicago to replace third-base coach Chris Speier.”

Iowa Cubs article

B-Rob in North Carolina Baseball Hall of Fame
When someone tells you about Brian Roberts’ years at Carolina, ask the person which one they're talking about. Roberts played for both the North Carolina Tar Heels and the South Carolina Gamecocks; he transferred to South Carolina when his father took over as the coach there.

“College and pro jerseys hang in the museum as well. In one display case sits signed jerseys of [Trot] Nixon and Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. In between all the displays, visitors can take a look at the six steps in making a baseball bat, all the way from the raw timber to the lacquer finish.”

North Carolina Baseball Hall of Fame

You say you want a Revolution?; New minor-league team to serve up a heaping plate of O’s nostalgia in August
Feel like heading north for a Saturday afternoon with some O’s legends and fans favorites?

“The Revolution will have a free fanfest from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 5 at the York Expo Center’s Toyota Arena at the York Fairgrounds.

Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson will sign autographs in two one-hour sessions. He will also participate in a fan forum. Former Baltimore Orioles Tippy Martinez, Dave Johnson, Al Bumbry, Joe Orsulak and Ron Hansen are also scheduled to appear at the fanfest.”

York Revolution
York Revolution 2
York Revolution 3

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Patterson Could Set Steals Record

But how much is a stolen base really worth?

By Christopher Heun

In his first half-season as an Oriole, Corey Patterson has 31 stolen bases and has a chance to break the team's single season record of 57, which Luis Aparicio set in 1964.

This is noteworthy because of his possible place in team history, but also for another reason that's not so uplifting. The stathead crowd says stolen bases are overrated. In other words, the thing that Patterson does best really isn't that valuable in today's homer-happy game.

My heart doesn't want this to be true. As the recently released Luis Matos can attest, Patterson is exciting to watch: not just the steals, but his ability to bunt for a hit in one bat and then homer in the next. Despite that, though, his stats aren't as good as you might think: his on-base percentage is just .307 and his slugging percentage is .413 for an OPS of .720. Decidedly average.

The low on-base percentage, which trails all other regulars in the lineup except Jay Gibbons, is the reason why Patterson should not bat at the top of the order, even though it's tempting to put him in the No. 2 spot, given his speed. He hasn't walked since June 24 and has drawn just 14 free passes all season. He's also hitting just .197 against lefties in 76 at bats.

Still, Patterson, who is four steals behind the American League leader, Chone Figgins, has only been caught six times and was successful in 26 of his first 27 attempts. Brian Roberts has been even better; he's swiped 24 and only been caught four times.

That high rate of success is important, because the "break even" point for steals is about 73 percent, according to the sabermatricians. So, a runner who gets caught more than once every four tries is hurting his team.

For his career, Patterson has always been successful in 75 percent of his attempts. This year is no different: he’s bagged 31 in 37 tries, an 83.8 percent rate. His next steal will tie his career high set in 2004.

But all that running doesn’t add up to much. In his essay, "What If Rickey Henderson Had Pete Incaviglia’s Legs?" in the book "Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong" by the writers at
Baseball Prospectus, James Click writes: "The stolen base may be exciting, but even the best base-stealers in the game are producing only marginal gains for their teams in the recent offensively dominated era."

This is how they figure it. They calculated the number of runs a team can be expected to score based on the distribution of baserunners and the number of outs in an inning. In 2004 a stolen base was worth an average of .1593 runs; getting caught cost teams even more – .3687 runs. That means so far this year Patterson has added 4.9383 runs but given back 2.2122 for a net gain of 2.7 runs. (Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post
wrote about Patterson and the declining value of the stolen base earlier this year.)

Click points out that Rickey Henderson's 130 steals in 1982, the major league record for a single season, added 22.2 runs for the A's, but since he was caught 42 times, that subtracted 20.6 runs for a total gain of 1.6 runs for the season. (In case you're checking my math, the value of the steal changed from 2004 because scoring increased).

The verdict is even worse for Juan Pierre, Patterson's replacement in Wrigley Field this year. He stole 45 bases in 2004, third in the majors, but was caught 24 times, so instead of helping the Marlins score he actually cost them 1.7 runs.

Corey Patterson makes an interesting sabermetrics case, because last year he rated the absolute worst, and next to worst, respectively, in two of the offensive statistics Baseball Prospectus designed, VORP and EqA. (We're not statheads here, but let's be honest: VORP, EqA and another new BP stat, WARP-1, all sound like the work of a bunch of guys who stumbled out of a Star Trek convention and happened to turn on "Baseball Tonight.")

Click does allow that in certain situations an extra base can be very important. A steal late in a tie ballgame is worth much more than a steal in the early innings, and thus the margin for error is higher in the later innings of a tie game. The best example is Dave Roberts' steal of second in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS. He went on to score the tying run of the game and the Red Sox won in extra innings. Seven games later, The Curse was history.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom about the importance of "manufacturing" runs for a weaker offense, "The decision to steal should be driven more by the inning and the run differential than by the team’s run scoring potential," Click writes. The stolen base is most valuable to a home team down by one run and more generally when either team has a one-run lead or trails by two runs or less.

Click sums it up this way:
"We can confirm the long held notion that stolen bases and extra bases are worth exponentially more in the later innings, especially in close games. More importantly, the game situation – inning and run differential – is more significant than the team’s scoring tendencies when it comes to attempting the extra base."
So what does all this mean for Corey Patterson? He is clearly the center fielder of the immediate future now that Matos will be roaming cavernous RFK for the Nationals and Val Majewski and Jeff Fiorentino, the only outfield prospects above Single A, are not hitting this year.

Here's how The Sun's John Eisenberg
described Patterson recently:
"He isn't an All-Star, but he is a pleasant surprise offensively, his speed is welcome and his defense is above average. He and Markakis would give the Orioles two-thirds of a strong defensive outfield. (Remember defense?) His contract is up after 2006, but he won't break the bank."
I say let Patterson steal as much as he wants, whenever he wants, as long as he keeps succeeding in four out of every five attempts. Let's not overstate their value, though; I'd trade the steals for something a lot less glamorous: walks. "You can't steal first base," the old saying goes. The Orioles' first manager, Jimmy Dykes, once wrote a book with that as the title.

Birds Stealing Like It's 1973

Once upon a time, O's played for more than the 3-run HR

By Christopher Heun

Besides Corey Patterson, how do the Orioles as a team measure up on the basepaths? They're not the 1987 Cardinals (who stole 248 bases), but they're swift by Baltimore standards.

This year, with 81 steals through 94 games, the Birds are on pace for 140, which would fall just short of the team record. They do have a chance to lead the league, though. They're just one behind the leader, the Angels, and four ahead of the Yankees.

Most important, as a team they're 81 for 97 in steal attempts, a success rate of 83.5 percent.

The 1976 Orioles stole 150 bases, which still stands as the team record for a single season. Al Bumbry led the team with 42 steals, with Reggie Jackson adding 28, Mark Belanger 27, Paul Blair 15 and Bobby Grich 14.

Overall, the O's were caught 61 times in 211 attempts that season, a 71 percent success rate. The 150 steals ranked fourth in the American League.

It's curious that a team managed by the world’s biggest fan of the three-run homer, Earl Weaver, would run so much.

But it wasn't unusual. In 1973, the O's led the league with 145 steals. It was the same cast of players, with one exception. Reggie wasn’t with the team, replaced by Rich Coggins and Don Baylor.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

“O”dds and Ends; A Collection of Orioles News

Familiar faces in different places, fresh faces in minor league places

Sakata a Star, but we always knew that

San Jose Giants Manager Lenn Sakata in California League/Carolina League All-Star Game

The San Jose Giants Coaching Staff will lead the California League in the bi-coastal showcase of the top prospects in Advanced Class-A professional baseball from 18 Major League affiliates. San Jose Giants skipper Lenn Sakata -- the Milwaukee Brewers first round pick in the 1975 amateur draft (secondary phase -- 10th pick overall) -- will be joined by San Jose Pitching Coach Jim Bennett, Coach Garrett Nago and Trainer Yukiya Oba.

Sakata link
Sakata link 2

One former pitcher who we miss talks about another who we don’t

"I always saw his potential, everybody did," said Yankee starter Mike Mussina, who was on the Orioles staff with Ponson for three seasons. "He was like 20 or 21 when he came up and everyone always thought he had a lot of potential."

Ponson story

Sugar Bear not always sweet; Rayford, coaching in the minors, vents

In an organization that prides itself on developing players - 16 members of the Twins' 25-man roster had stops in New Britain - the coaches were finally out of answers, tired of making the same excuses, and this time they laid it on the kids.

"Why don't you go ask the players [what the problem is]?" hitting coach Floyd Rayford barked. "Why don't you go ask Perkins?"

Floyd Rayford link

How Rayford got to the Rock Cats

A new face will arrive in New Britain as the Club's Hitting Coach in 2005. Floyd Rayford, a 47-year-old resident of Silver Springs, MD, succeeds Jeff Carter who served in this capacity for the Rock Cats in 2004. Nicknamed “Sugar Bear,” Rayford played Catcher and 3B for the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals over portions of seven major league seasons between 1980-87. He comes to New Britain after having served in a similar capacity last season for Ft. Myers in the Florida State League; immediately prior to that, Rayford served for four years as a Coach with the Swing of Quad City.

Roenicke’s son starts pro career in New York-Penn League

They are referring to the Jamestown Jammers of the short-season Class A New York-Pennsylvania League, a starting level in professional baseball. And because it is a short season developmental league that runs from mid-June to early September, the teams are filled with newcomers.

Except for a few returnees, the Jammers, along with every other team in the NY-P League, have an entirely new roster made up mainly of players drafted in June along with some players being moved up the Florida Marlins’ farm system. There are no sons of former major leaguers on the Jammers roster this season. But there were plenty in this year’s draft, including the sons of Don Mattingly, Dave Henderson, Candy Maldonado, Jesse Barfield, Carney Lansford, Chet Lemon and Gary Roenicke.

Roenicke link

Ellie’s son takes over at the helm of local high school team

"Baseball is one of those things where the more you are around it, the more you get the game," said Hendricks, a 1994 McDonogh graduate who has served as a varsity baseball assistant there for the last six years. "The stuff I learned from my dad you can't measure."

Hendricks link

O’s top pick gets started; Billy Rowell, he of the 500-foot home run, now in Bluefield

By the time he reached his sophomore year in high school, he was being noticed by pro baseball scouts.

"I started to do showcases. That’s really where I got my name out there," he said.

At a home-run showcase in Florida, he was credited with a 512-foot home run, said to be a new national record. Rowell batted .507 with 161 RBI as a four-year starter at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School in Pennsauken, N.J. In his senior year this spring he hit .571 and drove in 37 runs in 82 official plate appearances.

Rowell link

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pinstripes are Slimming

Is the acquisition of Sir Sidney a sign of desperate times in the Bronx, or should I just give up baseball now?

By Matthew Taylor

I'm not going to offer any reasoned analysis on this one. Instead, this will rank as one of my least-reasoned postings to date, even though there's competition in that category. No one has ever accused me of being a rational sports fan.

Sidney Ponson is now a Yankee. Based on his troubled tenure in Baltimore, I cheered against Sir Sidney in St. Louis. And I like the Cardinals. I do not like the Yankees, even a little.

Any thought, no matter how unlikely it might be, of Ponson reviving his career in pinstripes and helping the Yankees to late-season success troubles me deeply.
As the O's continue their ignominious streak of losing seasons, the one thing that keeps me truly interested in baseball these days is the possibility that the Wild Card will go to the AL Central, the Red Sox will win the AL East, and the Yankees will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Tortured soul that I am - especially so after attending college in Yankee territory - every acquistion made by that dreaded organization seems in my mind like a winner. It's a natural thought among rivals; my fiancee hates the Tennessee Vols and insists that, last season excepted, the universe aligns itself in favor of the Good Ole Boys in hunter orange. Well, my universe perversely aligns itself toward the city that never sleeps ... and the University of New Jersey at Durham during basketball season.

As an example, I convinced myself prior to the 2005 season that Carl Pavano was destined to be a Cy Young winner and World Series MVP. Forget playing the games, just give the Yanks their rings. Instead, Pavano's 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA as a Yankee, including an injury-prone 2006 campaign. The Yankees have won the same number of World Series titles during his tenure that the Birds have won. That would be zero if you're scoring at home, or even if you're alone. Sigh, don't you miss the Keith Olberman SportsCenter years?

But I digress ...

Jose Canseco has a World Series ring as a Yankee, so I'm entitled to some illogical baseball thoughts. (Okay, the proper tense is "had" since Canseco sold the ring on E-Bay, but you get the point.)

And what of Luis Sojo? Four World Series rings? A two-RBI, game-winning single in Game 5 of the 2000 World Series? A freakin' website in his honor? I guess Braves haters have Francisco Cabrera, he of 10 regular season at-bats prior to his game winner in the 1992 ALCS, but I still think the sun shines on a Yankee dog's rear end more often than it does on any other canine in the pound.

Even if my Pavano premonition was to the left of the foul pole, I still felt a sense of anxiety today upon learning that the Yankees had acquired David Wells' old running buddy. Should this latest premonition come to pass I might just have to pass on baseball altogether.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Benson Swats His Way to History

Noting what only comes around once every 33 years

By Christopher Heun

This blog would not be doing its duty if it did not recognize the amazing feat accomplished recently by Kris Benson, especially since I was there to witness it.

You know what I’m talking about, even though it happened three weeks ago and has nothing to do with how he’s been pitching (which is pretty well, or at least well enough; the most reliable starter behind Erik Bedard).

One swing of his bat grabbed all the attention. The home run Benson hit June 17 was remarkable because he is a pitcher, of course, and not known for his skills with the lumber. But even more amazing, the ex-Met managed his first career dinger in Shea Stadium, during his return to New York after last winter’s trade to Baltimore. And he hit it against Pedro Martinez of all people, one of the greatest hurlers of his generation.

Given the circumstances, Benson’s longball may be the most famous by a pitcher in Orioles history since Dave McNally’s grand slam in Game 3 of the 1970 World Series. [For the record, Mike Cuellar hit a slam of his own in the A.L. Championship Series that same year.] It was the first homer by an Orioles pitcher in more than 33 years, dating back to the days before the designated hitter.

Today, there’s something about watching a pitcher hit a home run that feels like winning the lottery. Blame the DH.

I was at the game that Benson described as "one of the best, if not the best” of his life. From the upper deck on the third base side, I watched his fly ball carry out to left field. And keep carrying. And keep carrying. Until it dropped just beyond the fence and the awkward glove of Lastings Milledge, who might have saved his team a run if instead of jumping he had focused all of his energy on pushing the wall another couple inches away from the field.

The crowd was too stunned to boo. There was only silence as 52,320 people looked at each other and asked silently, “Did you see that?”

The only other pitcher to ever take Pedro deep is Doug Drabek, 13 years ago, when Martinez was a 21-year-old rookie. Back then, before the three Cy Young awards and the seven All-Star game appearances, Pedro was a strikeout machine with a blazing fastball.

But on this night, the scoreboard said the 3-1 pitch was 86 miles an hour. Not long ago, Pedro threw 10 miles an hour faster. That’s probably why the scoreboard operator, when required to identify the pitch, figured anything that slow had to be a changeup.

But after the game, Pedro told the Associated Press that he had challenged Benson with a fastball. “Whenever I fall behind [a pitcher] I'm not going to fool around. Make him hit it. The next time up he popped up to center field. Same pitch. Same location. Fastball. Eighty-five, 86 miles per hour."

Yes, Pedro Martinez now throws 86 mile an hour fastballs. We’ll leave that topic to Mets fans to
discuss amongst themselves.

Most important, the home run tied the score in the top of the third and completely reversed the momentum of the game after Benson had squeezed his way out of a bases-loaded jam the previous inning.

The game had started poorly for him. He allowed two runs in the bottom of the first after fielding a Paul Lo Duca bunt and throwing past Kevin Millar at first base. As Jose Reyes scampered home and Lo Duca took second, Benson stood alone inside the diamond, hands on his hips, looking like a man playing a boys’ game and wanting to start everything over again.

But the homer changed all that. He wound up throwing eight innings, never giving up another run and the O’s went on to win, 4-2.

So who was the last Orioles pitcher to homer? Roric Harrison, in the final game of 1972, before the American League adopted the designated hitter at the start of the following season.

A name like Roric Harrison reminds me of the impromptu list of Best Rookie Names of 2006 that I’ve been compiling. If only Hayden Penn could have dodged his appendicitis and made a start at Shea, he might have faced Lastings Milledge in a matchup that radio broadcasters surely dream about. Those two, along with Cole Hamels of the Phillies, have to top the list. The Marlins have a pair of relievers, Logan Kensing and Taylor Tankersley, who, should they ever warm together in the bullpen, sound like four partners in a law firm. And lastly, though Minnesota just demoted him, the list wouldn’t be complete without Boof Bonser. If the pitching thing doesn’t work out, there’s always Sha Na Na.

The woman sitting next to me made a few harmless comments about Benson after his trot around the bases, with her son leaning over to add that he was a bigger fan of the Wife Who Shall Remain Nameless.

When his mom left for ice cream, the kid, who looked at least three years shy of his learner’s permit, slid over into her empty seat and started what would become a four inning long conversation with “So, who’s your favorite player?”

I had to think for a moment. Did I even have one? When was the last time I did? Tim Hullett, Chito Martinez and Jim Dwyer suddenly came to mind but instead I offered up Miguel Tejada, thinking it was what he wanted to hear. Then I remembered the
love letter I had written Melvin Mora, the most Oriole of them all.

The kid was full of opinions.

“You need a power hitter to play first base.”

“Someone should feed Fahey more. That guy’s too skinny.”

“You could have had Milledge but you drafted Markakis instead. Did you know that?”

He’s right: Markakis was the seventh pick in 2003; Milledge, the twelfth. Both teams passed on Chad Cordero, the biggest success of that draft, whom nineteen teams overlooked before the Expos selected him. He saved 47 games last year at age 23.

Another young closer was chosen that year, too: The Orioles selected Chris Ray in the third round.

Since the Benson gem in Queens, Milledge has been sent back to the minors (“He’s another Gregg Jeffries,” I told the kid, who probably wasn’t even born when the Mets were hyping their former “can’t-miss” prospect). Markakis, meanwhile, has caught fire, putting to rest whispers that he should be demoted, too. Markakis has raised his batting average 51 points since June 13, to .272. His on-base percentage is a respectable .340 for an OPS of .695, which while not great, isn’t that far behind Jeff Conine or Kevin Millar.

What I didn’t understand about the calls to send down Markakis is who would replace him every day in the outfield. The stick figure-like Brandon Fahey, who’s not even an outfielder himself?

Fahey, a utilityman in training whose stats this season are nearly identical to those of Markakis, drove in the go-ahead run while playing left field. The night before, he had two hits, including a triple, scored two runs, knocked in two more and even stole a base.

He had outplayed Milledge, but the night belonged to Benson.