Calling the Pen: When the Orioles had their way -
Calling the Pen

Calling the Pen: When the Orioles had their way

When I was developing an interest in baseball, the Orioles were developing the best team in the sport. Steve Barber caught my attention in 1963. He was a left-hander, which I always thought was more stylish, and he became the Orioles’ first 20-game winner that season. In 1964, third baseman Brooks Robinson was the Most Valuable Player, leading the American League with 118 RBIs while collecting one of his 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. In 1965, the Orioles won 94 games, but the Twins of Oliva and Killebrew were the best team in the American League. Finally, in 1966, Frank Robinson arrived as an “old 30” and led the Orioles to their first World Series title by winning the Triple Crown.

Other teams were envious of the Oriole Way. They had talent throughout their system, holding back gifted players such as Don Baylor and Bobby Grich, and played in three more World Series, winning one, in the next five years. Oriole Magic wouldn’t arrive until 1979, and their third World Series championship would come in 1983.

Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.

My grandfather, my mom and the Orioles were primarily responsible for my love of baseball. I took their success for granted, just as I thought the Colts would always belong to Baltimore. Seasons change. The Orioles of today feel like the day we move the clocks back and darkness falls at 5 o’clock. We are in a season of darkness.

Orioles general manager Mike Elias calls what is happening a rebuild, a restocking of talent throughout the system. It reminds me of the home restoration shows when something neglected and ugly is turned into something beautiful and lasting. We see the before-and-after shots to reinforce the transformation. We are sometimes as stunned as the homeowners with the finished product, even though we see the rebuild taking place a little at a time.

Maybe we’d feel better about what the Orioles are doing if Chip and Joanna were involved. Maybe you have to hit bottom before you see the dark knight rise.

After Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay, Orioles analyst and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said about the rebuild, “We never thought it would be this bad …” It was the Orioles’ 14th consecutive loss, the second time this season they had lost 14 in a row. On Thursday afternoon, they extended their latest losing streak to 15, six shy of the 21 in a row they lost to start the 1988 season. They have the worst record in baseball at 38-82 and will lose more than 100 games for the third time in four years, with the pandemic-shortened 2020 season not counting.

There are promising players in the farm system, led by top prospect Adley Rutschman. What the Orioles were doing before Elias arrived wasn’t working; the Orioles needed a new foundation. Baseball America ranked the Orioles’ farm system second this week, the highest it’s ever been. Matt Blood, the director of player development, said the Orioles were pleased by that ranking but that there was a still a lot of work to be done. In other words, this is not the time to celebrate.

It’s difficult for Oriole fans to know how to feel. Certainly embarrassed by what’s happening at the major league level. And probably encouraged by what’s happening at the minor league level. But possibly losing faith overall. And interest.

Sports is entertainment. When the Rays’ Brett Phillips talked about his inside-the-park home run against the Orioles on Monday night, he was the embodiment of joy and enthusiasm. He said how much fun baseball is, and you could tell he meant it.

The Orioles have had their moments this year, mostly because of those whose last name begins with M. John Means pitched a no-hitter on May 5th. Trey Mancini finished second in the Home Run Derby contest and lifted those battling cancer. Cedric Mullins started in center field the next night in the All-Star Game and has been the team’s best player. Ryan Mountcastle shook off a bad start and has 20 home runs.

But the losing and, in particular, the lack of competency and competitiveness have made the Orioles painful to watch. Passion has been replaced by apathy among a number of fans, and that will require a rebuild of its own.

Every other team in the American League  East is above .500. Toronto, which is in fourth, is 10 1/2 games behind first-place Tampa Bay. The Orioles are 36 games back in the toughest division in baseball. Each of the teams in front of them — Tampa Bay, New York, Boston and Toronto — added talent before the trade deadline. When the Orioles were playing the Red Sox over the weekend, their fans already were anticipating the next series with the Yankees. No one takes the Orioles seriously these days.

That wasn’t the case when they first got my attention. In April of 1968, I listened to a transistor radio, while working on my grandfather’s lawn, as Tom Phoebus, a Mount St. Joe grad, no-hit the Red Sox. That was the year Detroit’s Denny McLain recorded 31 of the Tigers’ 103 victories, and the Orioles finished second despite winning 91 games.

Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.



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