For the third consecutive season, we are proud to introduce the Deadspin Baseball Season Previews. Yes, baseball is awfully close now; heck, they're playing real games in Japan tomorrow.
Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Baltimore Orioles. Your author is Tom Scocca.
Tom Scocca is a writer for The New York Observer and is currently writing a book about the 2008 China Olympics. His words are after the jump.
Remember those inspirational 2007 Colorado Rockies? How they plodded through the summer around .500, then pulled together to put on a thrilling 14-1 finishing kick, sending them sprinting to the pennant?
Well, the Baltimore Orioles do that every year. Only backwards. Beyond plain categories of optimism and pessimism live those of us who see a sparkling half-glass of water and know for sure that the Orioles are eventually going to take a crap in it.
People who don't pay attention to the O's — and why would you? — might look at the uninterrupted decade of lousy finishes (nine in fourth place, one in third) and assume the team has been steadily, hopelessly terrible. The truth is far more humiliating: The Orioles are quitters. Year after year, there comes a moment at which the Birds look up and down the standings, scan the clubhouse and collectively decide that whatever combination of talent, enthusiasm, and guts it takes to get through 162 games, they don't have it. So they stop trying.
Pick a season.
July 18, 2005: After a surprising run in first place for most of May and June, the Orioles are still hanging on in second, only half a game out. Over their next 15 games, they go 1-14, then toss in stretches of 2-11, 1-10, and 1-11 the rest of the way for good measure.
August 23, 2002: The Orioles reach .500, at 63-63. They then go into a 1-18 freefall, after which they close out the season with a separate 12-game losing streak.
Managers and lineups change, but the O's can always be counted on to put the dog in Dog Days: 0-12...0-8...0-9...2-18. Last year was a two-for-one special. They struck earlier than usual, opening June with a 2-14 swan dive, which served to get manager Sam Perlozzo fired. Two months of adequate baseball followed, and the front office announced that Perlozzo's interim replacement, Dave Trembley, would manage the team in 2008. The team immediately went out and submitted to one of the worst beatings in baseball history, a 30-3 clubbing by the Rangers — the first game of a 3-18 skid.
But this year is different. This year, under the leadership of Peter Angelos' general-manager-type-executive-of-the-moment Andy MacPhail, the whole franchise has decided to quit before the season started.
Officially, the name for this is "rebuilding." Here's how it works. Let's say your team has two All-Stars in the middle of the infield, a budding young star in right field, and the most gifted starting pitcher fans have seen in a generation. But the rest of your lineup, particularly the power spots, is clogged with aging veterans who were never any good to begin with, and your bullpen is infested with washouts and arsonists. Hypothetically speaking.
So the way you rebuild the team is: You get rid of three of the four guys who are any good. It's a measure of how emotionally and psychologically damaged the fan base is that people are declaring themselves to be happy about this.
Sending shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Astros was at least a defensible move — even a bit of a thrilling one, given that MacPhail somehow managed to move Tejada hours before the Mitchell Report was due to drop. Tejada was the best hitter in the Orioles lineup, but it was hard to shake the feeling that his MVP slugging skills and joie de vivre were both sagging under the twin crackdowns on steroids and greenies. And Luke Scott, who arrived in the grab bag the Astros sent to Baltimore, may finally force the Orioles to stop giving people like Jay Payton hundreds of at-bats at positions like left field.
But MacPhail's ongoing effort to sell off leadoff man and second baseman Brian Roberts is churn for the sake of churning. No one else on the team is a second baseman, and no one else can hit leadoff.
And then there's Erik Bedard. The Bedard trade was almost universally hailed, and why not? In return, the Orioles got the most dominant strikeout pitcher in the league, entering his prime — a big-game pitcher who can match zeros with anyone, the kind of talent the late-Torre-era Yankees died away because their money couldn't buy.
Oh, wait, that's what the Orioles gave up. In return, they got a minor-league outfielder.
I know I know I know, Adam Jones is a guaranteed superstar. He hit .246 in Seattle last year, but that's because he was only 15 years old and his legs were tired from riding his bicycle to the ballpark every day. Now that he's got his driver's license, everybody says they can pencil him in to hit .350 with 40 home runs. Put him together with Nick Markakis and you've got a pair of young outfield talents like nobody's seen since — well, technically, since any two of the last five 21-year-old superstars that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have put out there. Or whatever that team is called. The last-place team.
Nonetheless! Andy MacPhail is the savior. It's a funny sort of housecleaning that leaves Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar at DH and first base, but that's the kind of unhealthy obsession with the present that the Orioles are trying to get beyond. McPhail is about the future. He is going to trade and trade and build the 2010 Orioles into a dynasty to rival those world-champion Cubs teams he built in Chicago.