Calling the Pen: Orioles' trade of Machado first step toward restoring hope and long-term healing -

Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Orioles’ trade of Machado first step toward restoring hope and long-term healing

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Dr. Jon Simon was in his office late on a summer afternoon. He was there to discuss what an MRI revealed about a rotator cuff injury to a patient whose best pitching days were with a Wiffle Ball when the Orioles were winning four American League pennants and two World Series in a six-year period. Then the Orioles traded their best player to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Frank Robinson was 10 years older than Manny Machado when he went to Los Angeles, but his six years in Baltimore marked the best of times for the Orioles.

These might not be the worst of times, but the first half was painful to watch — with or without a rotator cuff injury. It’s why Dr. Simon understood the Machado trade and why the Orioles didn’t want to risk injury by sending him back on the field after a rain delay in their final game before the All-Star break. When Dr. Simon heard that Machado and manager Buck Showalter shared a personal moment when they realized Machado’s Oriole career was about to end, he understood that, too.

“You forget that these guys are human,” Dr. Simon said. “They’re such amazing athletes that you sometimes think of them as machines. But I heard an interview with Zach Britton about the possibility of being traded. And he talked about this being the only franchise he has known, where he has grown up as a man and a pitcher. You think that they might want to leave a team that is losing so much, but this is their home.”

It’s also home to a fan base that has been calling for a new direction. The 69 first-half losses, however, aren’t the most alarming thing: It has been the loss of hope that anything will change. That no longer seems to be the case with the trade of Machado and the admission by executive vice president Dan Duquette that it marks the beginning of an organizational rebuild.

“I’m looking forward to going to more games in the second half,” Dr. Simon said. “I want to see players like Cedric Mullins.”

It’s what Mullins and players such as Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays and Hunter Harvey represent — the promise of the future. There isn’t likely to be another Machado among them, but baseball has always been about finding the next talent. Would Don Baylor take the place of Frank Robinson? Bobby Grich of Dave Johnson? Doug DeCinces of Brooks Robinson? Machado of Cal Ripken if he had remained at short and with the Orioles?

Comparisons are inevitable, even though the game has changed with its obsession of launch angles and exit velocities. Certain statistics still enable us to measure the old with the new, but numbers don’t develop relationships. Machado brought brilliance to what he did — Showalter said he played with imagination — but he also brought joy … a kid playing a kid’s game. It was fun to watch his friendship with second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and how they pushed each other. Machado’s personality was as big as his play at times, and the number of Machado jerseys in the stands reflected that.

One fan wrote that Machado gave him hope. His departure could be the first step toward a renewed hope for the franchise — an acknowledgement that it’s time to rethink how to build a competitive team from the ground up. In effect, it’s the Orioles’ version of examining the results of an overdue MRI. And it has revealed that there is more than just an injured rotator cuff.

Editor’s Note: I couldn’t bring myself to pull for pitcher Doyle Alexander during his four seasons with the Orioles, even though that’s silly. He was the primary player the Orioles got in return for Frank Robinson, who happened to be my favorite. Fans can be fickle, and I wasn’t any different. I still cared about the team, which continued to have an abundance of talent. Before Frank’s last Oriole season in 1971, Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated, “By consensus, the Orioles are not only the best team, but the best organization—with the best players, the best manager, the best system, the best front office, the best morale and, definitely, the best chances….” The Orioles had players such as Baylor, Grich, DeCinces, Merv Rettenmund and Al Bumbry waiting their turn in the farm system. From 1964 through 1983, the “Oriole Way” resulted in at least 90 victories 16 times, and only one losing season—the best record in baseball. The Orioles are trying to find their way again.


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’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.



  1. OrioleMaze

    July 21, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Thank you for the wonderful article. We’re all feeling sad Manny’s presence has ‘left the building’.
    The Frank Robinson comparison is accurate as to the ‘love of the player’ but what hurts us most, is that Manny is entering his prime whereas Frank was exiting his.
    As unrealistic as it may be, I think most of us Oriole fans hold out hope that we sign Manny and Jonathan in the off-season and build around them. Pipe dream I know, but we can all dream right?

    • Jack Gibbons

      July 21, 2018 at 10:47 am

      OrioleMaze, I appreciate your thoughtful response. I particularly like how you describe the difference between the departures of the two Oriole superstars to the Dodgers: “Manny is entering his prime whereas Frank was exiting his.” It’s also good to dream big. I couldn’t help but think of Machado last night as Beckham struggled at short.

  2. Orial

    July 21, 2018 at 8:18 am

    That may have been the best article written on this site in the 6 months or so that I have been following it. Thank you. Yes I too have those memories and I too think of Frank Robinson as my favorite Oriole. I’m both sad and giddy at the present day situation. Sad because of what it could have been giddy for what I hope it will be. Let’s use Frank Deford’s 1971 words of wisdom as a guideline and focal point. Yes new direction,new beginning.

    • Jack Gibbons

      July 21, 2018 at 10:59 am

      Orial, Thank you for your words of encouragement. I’m grateful to have witnessed the Orioles in their prime, and the highs and lows since then. The 1988 team, which started 0-21, was followed by the 1989 Why Not? Orioles, who were eliminated in their pennant pursuit by the Blue Jays in the final series of the season. This rebuild is going to take time and patience — and the right architects — but I like that the Orioles have acknowledged it’s time to start the process.

  3. OsfansinWV

    July 21, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Well written article. Gonna be sad and weird for everyone on their next trip to Birdland but time will make it better. I’m excited to see some of the talent down on the farm. Let’s Go O’s!

    • Jack Gibbons

      July 21, 2018 at 11:07 am

      OsfansinWV, It was strange seeing Machado in his Dodger blue last night, but he looked comfortable. After he singled twice and drew two walks in the Dodgers’ victory, Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said, “Today, for a guy who has known no other organization than the Baltimore Orioles, I think he’s as comfortable as we would hope.” And, after watching the Orioles rally only to lose in frustrating fashion, I’m also eager to see some of the talent down on the farm.

  4. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    July 21, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Another excellent article about the Orioles past. Frank was the final piece that put them heads and shoulders above the competition. I never liked trade and felt he should finish his career here.

    The Eddie Murray trade to the Dodgers was pretty much a disaster. We flipped Ken Howell for one year of Phil Bradley. Holton and Bell were basically a bust.

    Time will tell if this trade will result in a foundation to build a successful team. The Orioles need positional depth and sound drafting to become competitive again. Hopefully it will be done right by building a solid minor league system like the ones older fans grew up with.

    • Jack Gibbons

      July 22, 2018 at 3:12 am

      Grand Strand, Thanks for the reminder about Eddie Murray, who didn’t feel appreciated by the Orioles at that point. I remember how quick his bat was while facing Nolan Ryan in his rookie season in 1977. You’re right about the need for sound drafting, among other needs. Murray reminds us of how strong that once was.

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