Calling the Pen: Looking for the good in a bad Orioles team -

Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Looking for the good in a bad Orioles team

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

It was a beautiful Monday evening when my wife, Barb, Katie and I arrived at the Downtown Sailing Center. Katie is a young woman with whom Barb works, and the center provides a sailing experience for those with disabilities. As we started to head toward the dock, one of the leaders told us to turn back toward the pavilion because a storm was coming.

Two miles from the sailing center on Key Highway, the Orioles’ grounds crew was putting the tarp on the field. They had seen the same radar — a quick storm was moving through. A beautiful evening would follow.

After the rain delay, Katie boarded a boat that was big enough for Barb and me to join her, along with another young woman, her mom, a friend, and Stewart, our captain, whose social skills matched those he had for sailing. As we moved around the Inner Harbor, I was reminded of its beauty and vibrancy.

It’s how I feel each time I see Oriole Park, and it’s how Oriole fans were feeling in the early innings against the New York Yankees. The Orioles were playing well, and built a 6-1 lead. It was smooth sailing, so to speak, until the Yankees started to flex their muscles and the Orioles began making mistakes that would lead to a 10-7 defeat.

As frustrated as I was with the poor throws and decisions by the Orioles’ outfielders, my mind kept drifting back to that hour of serenity while on a sailboat in the Inner Harbor. It was punctuated by the joy and gratitude by those who are thankful for the smallest of things.

I began to wonder what I enjoy, or are thankful for, in watching a team that is overmatched by its competition and is compounding that disparity with poor fundamentals. It’s a franchise in transition, which is painful to watch and requires a leap of faith.

And, that’s where I’ll start. I like that the Orioles are trying to build something to last, putting in place a foundation that hasn’t been there for a long time. The Orioles reminded me of Indiana Jones, making it up as they went along with surprising results until their collapse exposed the need to tear down the existing structure.

John and Lou Angelos, who are running the team for their ailing father, Peter, hired Yale grad Mike Elias to oversee the project. He knows scouting and was instrumental in the Astros’ turnaround, so there’s reason to believe he’s the right person for the job. The same with Brandon Hyde, getting his first managerial position after serving alongside the Cubs’ Joe Maddon.

I’m excited about the June 3rd amateur draft and the international signing period in July. Those choices will add definition to Elias’ plan to rebuild from the ground up.


The present team poses a challenge in terms of enjoyment and gratitude. The most basic for me is that we have a team in Baltimore, which I never want to take for granted.

I’ve also liked: the emergence of John Means as a starter; the everyday play of Trey Mancini, the one player who could be starting on another team; the consistency of starter Andrew Cashner, who might be attractive to a contender; the bat speed of Renato Nunez; the all-around play of Rio Ruiz; the athleticism of shortstop Richie Martin; the hitting approach of Dwight Smith Jr.; the progress of Stevie Wilkerson; the passion of Pedro Severino and Hanser Alberto; the re-emergence of Dylan Bundy.

I was fortunate to start my relationship with the Orioles in 1966, when they won their first of three world championships. From 1966-1971, they were the best franchise in baseball. Other teams were trying to do things the Oriole Way. Players such as Don Baylor and Bobby Grich had to wait their turn to make the major league club because there was so much talent.

This team has role players playing starting roles while those with promise in the minors build their own foundations before taking the next step. There’s a method to what Elias is doing, there is an increased reliance on analytics, and there is a commitment to the international market.

On Monday night, I didn’t expect to be on a sailboat with Barb and Katie. It was an unexpected gift, for which I was grateful. But my gratitude and joy didn’t match those who never seem to complain or criticize.

It’s a beautiful lens through which to see life. Or a bad baseball team that is working to get better.



  1. ButchBird59

    May 25, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    “I like that the Orioles are trying to build something to last, putting in place a foundation that hasn’t been there for a long time. ”
    I agree. Only time will tell of the people responsible for laying that foundation are all working from the same blueprint and using the correct materials to make that foundation a solid one.

    “From 1966-1971, they were the best franchise in baseball. Other teams were trying to do things the Oriole Way.”
    That’s not just baseball. They were one of the best franchises in professional sports…period.

    I was 7 years old in 1966 and living in Rochester, NY which was then the Birds’ AAA affiliate. In those days, the Orioles used to do a yearly exhibition game against the Red Wings. I got a chance to see Palmer, Belanger, Johnson, Powell, Blair, Grich, Baylor, Flanagan, Ripken, etc. playing AGAINST the Orioles waiting for their turn to make to the big leagues.

    It was a different era though. Today, if a kid isn’t hitting 30 homers in the bigs by the time he’s 25, they write him off. If a pitcher can’t throw 98 mph they give up on him. If the kid can run, catch, and throw but, doesn’t have the right numbers, he never makes it past A ball. If a pitcher gives up a ton of fly balls in or out of the park it’s ok as long as he gets strikeouts.

    I’ll be 60 very soon and admit I’m an old-timer and a bit old fashioned. But, I am not too stubborn to realize we have to put the franchise in the hands of people who understand baseball in the 21st Century. I was not convinced that was the case last season. I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case now but, I’m willing to give these guys a chance.

  2. Jack Gibbons

    May 25, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    ButchBird59, I agree with every point you make and appreciate your insight. You’re right about extending the Orioles’ sphere of influence back then. You had an ideal vantage point, living in Rochester and watching such great players waiting their turn. There were many who thought the Orioles “open” spring training competition wasn’t really open because a number of players went back to the minors after a strong camp. But I like what Elias is doing with regard to the rebuild. It’s too soon to know if he’ll be successful, but it was the right time to bring him in.

  3. geevee3

    May 25, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    Been a fan since 1966 as well. I was 10, living in South Jersey, but I’d been born in Baltimore. Saw a picture of Frank Robinson sliding into 3rd base that April and said: “The Orioles will be my favorite team, and Frank Robinson will be my favorite player.” Just lucky I guess.
    I’m ready for someone to build teams the way Harry Dalton and Hank Peters did. I think Elias and Mejdal are the right men for the task. I’ll be patient. If it does pay off, it will pay off for a long time.

  4. Jack Gibbons

    May 25, 2019 at 10:09 pm

    geevee3, That’s an interesting tale about how you became an Orioles fan. Frank had the same effect on me. Dalton was a heavyweight, and Peters was a solid baseball man. It’s a different time, but building a strong foundation isn’t outdated.

  5. SailinO

    May 26, 2019 at 1:32 am

    Nice article. With poor ball clubs we need to evaluate each ball game by much more than the final score. There is joy to be found in every game if you open yourself to it. I like that this team competes so much more than last years team of stars. I will always be grateful for the Showalter era Birds; but I thought of them as a poorly proportioned body builder, big upper body running around on spindly legs. The minor leagues were our Orioles spindly legs and the failure to restore them is what has led us to this chapter. Repairing a foundation and building a “talent pipeline” is the right thing to do, it also takes time and tons of patience.

  6. Jack Gibbons

    May 26, 2019 at 9:59 am

    SailinO, I love the way you described the Orioles’ build — big upper body on spindly legs, with those legs belonging to the minor leagues. And, this group does seem to be playing harder, hustling more, even if some of that hustle is leading to mistakes. As you say, “There is joy to be found in every game if you open yourself to it.”

  7. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    May 26, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I have followed the Orioles since the late 50’s . They had the best winning record for 25 years starting in the early 60’s until 1984. Since then a combination of poor drafting, bad trades, and an overbearing owner has resulted in numerous years of futility and frustration for Oriole fans. Only the 96-97 teams and the 2014 team had the best chances in capturing a World Series title for Baltimore. The new management is now focusing on upgrading talent mainly through drafting and the international market – prior to this year was largely ignored.

    The Orioles have the number 1 pick in the upcoming June draft. Catcher Adley Rutschman is projected to be their selection. Our farm system has several young pitching prospects that are having excellent seasons . This seems like a perfect fit to draft a talented catcher to work with them. The international market is another story. If you look at the top 30 international players on None of them are presently linked to the Orioles and 28 are listed to sign with other ball clubs. It may take a while before the Orioles can convince top international players to sign here. However, I believe this will happen in the next few years under the current management .

    • Jack Gibbons

      May 27, 2019 at 9:37 am

      Grand Strand, Appreciate your big-picture look and perspective. I also like your thinking about drafting Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, who could be a centerpiece for a developing team and pitching staff. Elias has been honest about the work that needs to done on the international side, but they’re taking steps.

  8. Raymo

    May 26, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Loved your article and its positive outlook Mr Gibbons. I would add Jesus Sucre to your list of hustling and enthusiastic players, even though he was sent down.

    And the response from SailinO was almost poetic. Good stuff!

    • Jack Gibbons

      May 27, 2019 at 9:41 am

      Thank you for reading it and taking the time to respond, Raymo. This team might lack talent, but it’s a resilient group, as it demonstrated again yesterday.

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