Goodbye to the Keys; Orioles lose 2 pitchers in Rule 5 draft; Remembering Phil Linz - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Goodbye to the Keys; Orioles lose 2 pitchers in Rule 5 draft; Remembering Phil Linz

It’s a sad goodbye to the Frederick Keys, who are leaving the Orioles’ organization after a three-decade run. The Keys were the losers in Major League Baseball’s reconstruction of the minor leagues.

Forty-three teams that were part of MiLB won’t return to organized baseball. Frederick will be part of the six-team Major League Draft League for top prospects.

In MLB’s restructuring, each team is limited to four full-season affiliates; the Orioles had five.

The Orioles were faced with a tough choice. Their setup with Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick, Delmarva and Aberdeen was ideal with all affiliated teams within a four-hour drive.

Aberdeen’s insertion into the full-season mix was a good call. Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium is the newest and nicest of the affiliates, but cutting ties with Frederick is hard.

Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick was convenient, an hour west of Baltimore. The Keys drew well. In 2019, their average crowd of 4,392 led the Carolina League, and fans were enthusiastic.

But the New York/Penn League, of which the IronBirds were a part, has been dissolved, and the Orioles didn’t want to lose Aberdeen to another major league team.

Aberdeen’s park had been underutilized and deserved a full-season team, even though that might have to wait until 2022 because of the coronavirus.

Frederick’s departure leaves a hole in Western Maryland, where the Hagerstown Suns, a one-time Orioles farm team, have also ended their run.

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Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium was a relic and the Suns, who were most recently an affiliate of the Washington Nationals, drew only 918 fans a game in 2019.

The Orioles’ affiliations in Norfolk, Bowie and Delmarva continue.

Orioles lose 2 in Rule 5 draft: The two right-handed pitchers the Orioles lost in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft were more well known that the two they drafted.

Mac Scerorer and Tyler Wells were drafted from Cincinnati and Minnesota. Scerorer is the nephew of Orioles broadcaster Ben McDonald. Wells, who had Tommy John surgery in May 2019, is 6 feet 8.

They were drafted as depth for the rotation and face long odds to make the Opening Day roster. Last year, the team drafted another pair of right-handers, Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, who were returned to their teams before spring training ended.

The right-handers the Orioles lost were Zach Pop and Gray Fenter. Pop, who also had Tommy John surgery in May 2019, went to Arizona, which picked sixth, one slot behind the Orioles, and they quickly flipped him to Miami for a player to be named later.

Fenter has had arm issues of his own, and the 24-year-old, who has been in the Orioles’ organization since 2015, gets a shot with the Chicago Cubs.

Pop was thought to be the next player the Orioles would have protected from the Rule 5 draft when they added six to their 40-man roster on November 20th. Fenter’s selection was a surprise. He didn’t pitch this year and was exposed to the Rule 5 draft last year and not taken.

Remembering Phil Linz: Phil Linz, a Baltimore native who was a utility infielder with the New York Yankees in the 1960s, died Wednesday in Virginia at 81.

Linz was the Ryan Flaherty of his team, a useful infielder, and played in two World Series, hitting a home run against Bob Gibson in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1964 World Series.

In the 1990s, Linz, who became famous for playing a harmonica on the Yankees’ team bus after the Chicago White Sox swept a four-game series, worked with my late mother in the insurance business in New York.

To the best of my knowledge, Linz was the only major leaguer my mother ever met. Once, she told me I had to come to her office, which I had never done because she wanted me to meet her co-worker.

Linz often told clients his harmonica story. He was fined $250, he told me, by manager Yogi Berra but more than recouped it by endorsing Hohner harmonicas for $10,000. His annual salary at the time was $14,000.

A graduate of Baltimore’s Calvert Hall College, Linz was offered $2,200 to sign with the Orioles but took $4,000 from the Yankees instead.

I told the story in the eulogy for my mother at her funeral in January 2018. I don’t know that any of my relatives knew who Linz was, but my mother did.

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