In a perfect world, we would look up at the stands in left field one day at Camden Yards, and there would be an orange number 13. We’d walk over to the statues beyond center field, and we’d see Cal, Earl, Frank, Eddie, Jim and Brooks. Then we’d see a tall bronze statue of another one of the greatest all-time Orioles — you. However, this isn’t a perfect world.
You came in as a 20-year-old kid from Miami with more talent than anyone could imagine — a powerful arm, the smoothest swing in baseball and a glove like no other. In 2012, you were the spark the Orioles needed to become relevant, the missing piece that eventually became the face of the Orioles.
They compared you to Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, but you were like no other. Manny Machado was ready to set the baseball world on fire. We watched you make plays that didn’t seem possible. The open stance, the Jordan cleats, the arm sleeve, the swagger, the beautiful long swing that made pitchers regret hanging curveballs, and Gary Thorne rejoicing: “Goodbye, Home Run, Manny Machado!”
We would go to the Yard and all we would see is number 13 on everyone’s back. No other player since Cal Ripken was as iconic as you. The All-Star games, the Gold Gloves, the playoff games, the Yard cheering: “Manny! Manny! Manny!” — it was what you deserved, and it was what you got. You were a kid playing with passion, loving the game of baseball and not regretting anything when you stepped between those lines.
We watched you grow up. You went from a quick-tempered player to a leader, someone who knew how valuable you were to the team and someone other players counted on.
You gave us hope, Manny. We aren’t the Yankees or the Red Sox. We can’t just go buy another superstar and lure free agents with promises of rings and loads of cash. Even if we could, we couldn’t replace you.
When you put on that orange-and-black uniform, it made us feel like we could take down Goliath, because we had a superstar and weren’t going to back down from anyone. It made us hope for something better than third place and a mediocre season. You were the Orioles’ icon, the greatest player since Cal. And, possibly, you could’ve become the greatest Oriole ever.
This season has been bittersweet. We have had four months to prepare for this separation. It has been hard watching the team crumble, and it has taken the suspense out of wondering whether we could retain you in the offseason.
You have been the only bright spot in a season that has felt more like a Greek tragedy. No number of minor leaguers will replace you, no rising star, no young kid with promise can replace the talent you have.
Baseball is a business, and you deserve all the money that will be coming your way. The front office failed you; they failed us. You’re a once-in-a-generation-type talent that came through Baltimore, and got the fans excited about Orioles baseball again.
I’m done being mad. I had all of April to be mad. I am sitting back and remembering the good times. It’s going to be bittersweet watching you in one last All-Star Game in orange and black. This is the next chapter for both of us.
You’ll be a star wherever you go, and no team should make the mistake the Orioles did. It’s going to be back to rough times in Baltimore, but it’s time to take a step back and thank you for making us feel so alive.
In a perfect world, Manny Machado would be an Oriole for life. However, this isn’t a perfect world.
I am speaking for the entire Orioles fan base when I say, “Thank you, Manny!”
Johnny Kleissas was born and raised on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He’s a junior at West Virginia University, studying sports communication and advertising. He has spent his spring and summers playing baseball (all-conference three times in high school) and at Camden Yards watching the O’s.
Editor’s Note: The departure of Mike Mussina to the Yankees comes closest to the feelings for Machado. From 1991-2000, Mussina was 147-81 for the Orioles before the team dragged its feet in its offer to re-sign him, and he chose the Yankees. Some fans never felt the same about Mussina, but I couldn’t root against him. Like Machado, he was a superstar who was raised an Oriole and was a joy to watch. They both might wind up together in the Hall of Fame.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.
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