Calling the Pen: Covering the Orioles' longest season - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Covering the Orioles’ longest season

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

The famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh, once described flying as “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror.” Lindbergh, who was a devoted St. Louis Cardinals fan, didn’t know he could have been referring to the 2018 Baltimore Orioles.

I covered 126 Orioles games in 2018. Most of them were less than memorable, and Lindbergh was right. There were many hours of boredom.

During this dreadful season, readers and Twitter followers often expressed their sympathies for having to put up with horrid baseball. I try to assure them that watching even bad baseball for a living isn’t so bad.

Millions of people in America perform dangerous, unpleasant, important or simply necessary jobs. Baseball writing isn’t any of those.

The Orioles lost 115 games, and for at least part of the season, they looked as if they could lose even more. In 1962, the expansion New York Mets lost 120 games, but they were comical. The Orioles weren’t very funny.

They were just bad.

The situation could have been far, far worse. Their former manager, Buck Showalter, knew what was happening early in the season, and he tried to assuage the pain with humor, sometimes succeeding.

The players who stuck around all season, and there weren’t many, weren’t happy, but they didn’t take out their frustration on the small number of reporters who watched this travesty each day.

Since so many key players were traded with two months to play, they were replaced by younger players, who were just happy to be there, and they tried to appreciate life in the major leagues for the first time.

Many years ago, I went to Brooklyn Tech, a high school that my father, brother and uncle all graduated from. At the time I went there, it was the largest high school in the country.

A test was required for entrance, and on our first day we were told: Look to your left, then look to your right. A year from now, one of you won’t be here.

A year later, I was the one who wasn’t there because I lacked the technical aptitude.

The 2018 Orioles could have done that same exercise. Fifty-six players, a club record, performed for the team. Many won’t be around in 2019. By 2020, fewer than 10 of the 115-loss gang will remain.

If you watched the games, or fell asleep on them, you knew about the boredom part of the Lindbergh quote. And there were those moments of terror.

On July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline, I took the train to New York. Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com was a few seats away. As the train entered New York, we told each other that we’d have a quiet day.

Manny Machado had already been traded. So had Zach Britton and Brad Brach. And two days before, Adam Jones declined a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. There was a chance that Jones could change his mind, but we didn’t think so.

There was interest in Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, but we didn’t think the Orioles would trade them.

I had personal business to take care of that day. I realized it wasn’t the best timing, but it was something that had to be done and the Orioles wouldn’t be in New York again for nearly two months.

I took the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, did what needed to be done and headed toward Yankee Stadium.

Everything worked out well. There were no train delays, and I got to the press box about 2:45 p.m. The clubhouse wouldn’t open for nearly an hour.

The Gausman and Schoop speculation was heating up, and I was starting to feel the terror.

There are dozens of rumors as the trade deadline approaches, and few of them are accurate. In past years, the Orioles were buyers, not sellers.

At 3:35 p.m., the clubhouse opened, and we busied ourselves by interviewing Richard Bleier, who had lat surgery the previous month. He’s friendly and funny, but he quickly became an afterthought.

A moment before the 4 p.m. deadline, Schoop strolled into the clubhouse and looked at his phone and the televisions blaring the MLB Network. He quickly excused himself. A few minutes later, we were told that Schoop was going to Milwaukee and that Gausman was going to Atlanta.

We talked to Schoop, who seemed stunned, and Gausman, who was emotional.

There were stories to write and new players to examine. There was also still a game.

I started writing, ate a quick dinner, and then remembered that two of my relatives were coming to the game and wanted to say hello.

They wouldn’t understand that this was the busiest day of the year, especially not a 10-year-old. I trotted out of the press box, apologized for being preoccupied and talked to them for a few minutes.

Not long after the game began, there was a conference call with Dan Duquette, the team’s executive vice president of baseball operations.

I can’t remember a game that I saw so little of.

Then, the moments of stark terror ended, and two months of boredom began.

There were new players to meet and evaluate and awful play on the field to chronicle. Twice we watched a position player try to pitch for the Orioles. Too many times we saw Showalter attempt to cobble together a group of relievers to start in place of injured starters.

In all of 2018, there really wasn’t much memorable, but did you remember the Orioles were 1-0 to start the season? Jones ended Opening Day with a home run, and all seemed right.

By the time May began, we saw where this thing was headed and for two months it was just waiting.

In July, there was an All-Star Game nearby to cover, and our story, Machado, was suddenly a national one.

I hadn’t covered an All-Star Game in 18 years, and thought perhaps this would be fun, but everyone wanted to talk Machado, all the time. It wasn’t fun at all.

He had been removed from the Orioles’ final home game before the break because of a wet field. The team didn’t want to risk injury to their most valued commodity, and wanted him to represent them in the All-Star Game.

Machado knew he was gone and before the All-Star Game, we got our chance to say a private goodbye, not knowing that two months later, he’d become an even bigger national story.

Once the trades were over, we settled in to wait for what might happen after the season. On Oct. 3, the stark terror returned. Showalter, and then hours later, Duquette were out, and a search began for replacements.

Just over two months until spring training begins.

Editor’s Note: If Rich felt stark terror that day, he did a good job of concealing it as we discussed the stunning breakup of the team in bold moves that illustrated the commitment to building something new. That challenge now belongs to Mike Elias, whose presence has already brought back hope to a team that lost it during its most miserable of seasons. The Winter Meetings should reveal more of his plans for the Orioles’ future.

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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. DevoTion

    December 8, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Rich, you have an awesome job, but it can’t be easy coming up with something to write about nearly every day when the team was so bad. I barely even watched the O’s all season especially after Manny got traded. Growing up in the late 80s and through the 90s, I watched the team constantly my favorite player was (take a guess). I wanted to do a play by play on the radio when I grew up. I actually got to do an internship with a local sports talk station in the summer 2005(that year may have been worse than this year). I can’t imagine if my dream came true and I actually had to sit through this past season and watch every game and comment and analyse the team over this past season. I may have asked for a trade myself. I commend you for a job well done and thank you for letting me state my opinions and somewhat living my dream

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 8, 2018 at 6:51 pm

      Devo, thank you for the kind words. When there’s a game, there’s usually something worth writing about it.

      I’m glad you’ve found this forum valuable and that you take the time to
      share your opinions.

  2. TxBirdFan

    December 8, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    Great article Rich, and I especially liked the Lindbergh quote. Aside from a few highlights it is very appropriate!

    I hope to see a few more game winners from Adam Jones in an O’s uniform, although I’m not betting on it. He’s a bit like the recently retired Adrian Beltre of the Rangers. People go to see him play, enjoy his lighthearted interaction and entertainment with fans, and don’t always fret about the wins. Will there be anyone like that on the O’s roster next year? Will pie celebrations be things of the past if Adam is gone?

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 8, 2018 at 6:53 pm

      Tx, I don’t believe you’ll be seeing Adam Jones in an Orioles uniform next season.

      I am not a fan of the pies, so that’s a tradition I won’t mind seeing slip away.

      I don’t have any idea who will be on the Orioles roster next year, but there are usually some characters. At least I hope there will be.

      • BirdsCaps

        December 8, 2018 at 9:21 pm

        Hey Rich, Why didn’t you like the pies? I would argue that they were both fun and a team building exercise. Also, I would much rather see the pies (or almost anything else) than the bat flips. The bat flips (especially the Bautista ones) are often just used to show up the pitcher. One of the things that I love about baseball is that there isn’t constant gloating and showing up the opponent. I don’t mind emotion or even “organic” celebration, but some of these players go too far. Unfortunately, MLB desperately wants to celebrate obnoxious celebrations that mimic the NFL (you can see it in their marketing).

        • Rich Dubroff

          December 9, 2018 at 6:04 pm

          BirdsCaps, if the fans love them, that’s fine, but if they injure a player’s eye, they’re not fun.

  3. boss61

    December 9, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Really fine article and an insider’s perspective, Rich. Many thanks for sharing.

    And I had that same teacher for Calculus – he was Iraqi or Iranian or something and spoke with a challenging accent. “Look to zee left. Look to zee right – vone weell fail!” I’m the geeky science kid so it was not me, but he was right and your story sure takes me back to my freshman year in College Park with that one!

    I can’t imagine what it feels like for a player – a centrally important player who came up through one organization – to suddenly and improbably find he is traded for thr first time. Thanks for sharing a little of the reactions of Schoop and Gausman too.

    I miss our guys.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 9, 2018 at 6:06 pm

      I miss them, too, Mark. Many thanks.

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