Jun 22, 2010, 10:33AM

Worse Before Better: The Baltimore Orioles Need to Give Up on 2010

It won't be pretty, but sacrificing any pretense of winning this summer will help the club next year.

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A couple of Sundays ago, while watching the Mets take batting practice against Orioles’ starter Kevin Millwood in the first inning, a family friend (and O’s fan) who joined my family at Camden Yards for the game, was quickly fatigued and asked if I’d heard that singer Crispian St. Peters had died. I hadn’t, and though the demise of pop stars from the 1960s is an every-other-week occurrence, it was still mildly jolting, if only because St. Peters’ one U.S. hit, the delightful “Pied Piper” is on a compilation tape I listen to frequently. That led, during the game instead of between innings, to a free-association of other one- or two-hit wonders who charted on Top 40 AM stations during our youth. The Cyrkle, of course, Napoleon XIV, the We Five and pre-psychedelic Moody Blues, just for a smattering.

Naturally, Mets fans boosted the attendance that Sunday, probably transplanted New Yorkers who now live in D.C. or Baltimore, but in truth, given the wretched state of the 2010 Orioles, in the eight games I’ve attended at Camden Yards, the home team isn’t mustering much enthusiasm no matter who they play. Even my wife, who wears her O’s cap and t-shirt to games, expects zip from the lackluster squad and looks forward to the “Kiss-Cam” that plays on the jumbo screen around the seventh inning each game. My son Booker and I are Red Sox fans, so the sloppy play of the O’s isn’t so maddening, but the gloomy atmosphere at the stadium really isn’t much fun for anyone.

The Baltimore Sun’s sportswriter Peter Schmuck, who writes a blog for the paper, reflected that mindset in an entry this morning, writing: “Here’s what happens when your team is the only one in Major League Baseball that hasn’t reached the 20-win level on June 22. There’s speculation that Florida Marlins star Hanley Ramirez might not play against the Orioles tonight and you’re disappointed. That’s right. Under normal competitive circumstances, that kind of thing would be considered a break for the home team, but these aren’t normal conditions. They aren’t even normal conditions for the Orioles, who have not had a winning season since Jaden Smith (the new Karate Kid) was an embryo.”

Even though I root for another American League team in the same division, a winning franchise in Baltimore is important for this city. No, it pales next to unemployment, crime and tax hikes, but it lifts the spirits of citizens, gives them something to cheer for. It doesn’t appear that Orioles president/GM Andy MacPhail’s glacial “rebuilding” phase is working, so here’s some objective advice from just another schlub who pays top-dollar to enjoy an afternoon or night of baseball.

Hire drill sergeant Buck Showalter immediately, and let interim manager Juan Samuel go back to coaching duties. Showalter’s never been very popular with ballplayers, especially the divas, and probably because of that doesn’t last too long with any team, but when, say, Adam Jones—the gifted O’s outfielder who dogs it frequently, whether at the plate or in center field—doesn’t run out a routine grounder to first base he’d be benched. Showalter would insist his squad practice rudimentary skills like bunting or nabbing an errant opponent in a rundown between second and third, and I’d bet that at least short-term the O’s would exhibit more energy.

MacPhail ought to get rid of his older players, trade them for decent (or, in the case of Garrett Atkins, a splendid fungo bat) prospects to contending teams and let the kids take over. My son disagrees, arguing that MacPhail and owner Peter Angelos are terrified of finishing the season with 120 losses, but what’s the point of keeping up pretenses? Liberate the following veterans: Miguel Tejada, Ty Wigginton, Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie (a natural fit for the Mets at the spacious CitiField), Luke Scott and Mark Hendrickson. It might sort of suck for a legitimate star like Nick Markakis to share the field with AAA and AA players, but an injection of youthful exuberance could be the only way to salvage a miserable season. Some of the no-names will flounder and never be heard from again, but others will flourish. Might as well find out now what guys will define the O’s future, and it could be looked upon as a very extended version of spring training.

Once the carnage is complete at the end of September, MacPhail will have a far better feel for his team, and enter the off-season marketplace able to make wiser decisions on whom to pursue. Cliff Lee or Jayson Werth won’t be playing at Camden Yards next year, but if Angelos opens the wallet, and lets MacPhail acquire three or four solid players to go along with the kids, 2011 is bound to be a happier time at Camden Yards.

  • Fun fact: Ubaldo Jimenez has more road wins than the Orioles do.

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  • Wondering if Angelos feels the need to ever open the wallet...there's been talk in NYC (yeah, yeah, I know) that he's content enough with the MASN deal (see http://content.usatoday.com/communities/dailypitch/post/2010/05/orioles-owner-peter-angelos-likes-the-success-of-nearby-nationals/1). Unlikely that a major league team owner doesn't want to succeed...but then there IS the example of Donald Sterling to consider.

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  • That's mighty cynical, even though I wouldn't put anything past Peter Angelos, whose ambulance chasing legal ads mar local tv in Baltimore. Still, even with his favorable MASN deal—a payoff from Bud Selig to get his permission for the Nats to relocate from Montreal—it's hard to believe he wouldn't want the revenue that an uptick in attendance would bring. Remember, Camden Yards used to sell out almost every night in the 90s; now, the only question is when the number of fans will be lower than at Marlins games.

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  • I hope something good happens; Angelos-assassination perhaps? As someone whose first memory of a World Series is the '71 O's/Pirates tilt, I'd like to see both those clubs return to some semblance of competence, if not glory.

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  • Seems to me, back when I was reading Bill James, he was always advocating bring the younger players along sooner and concomitantly (whew) ditching the older ones.

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  • Yeah, Angelos really shouldn't be an owner if he doesn't want to contend, but killing the guy is a bit over the top. Besides, then they be owned by the MLB and be stuck in monetary purgatory like the Rangers.

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  • I've only watched the O's a few times earlier this season, but they appear to have an extremely talented core in place with Wieters, Markakis, Jones, Matusz, Tillman, and (hopefully) Reimold. What seems to be the problem? I know Trembley made some mistakes, but is the interm manager any better? Do the players lack effort, chemistry, fundamentals?

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