“Free The Birds” – It was 3 years ago today…

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I was planning to do a three-year examination of the impact of Free The Birds today. I was going to hash out all of the issues – past, present and future – and reiterate my goals with our dormant movement to make the Orioles come to grips with the reality of their fledgling and all-but-evaporated fan base.

Our goal has never wavered: we want the team fixed and we want not only a winning product ON the field, but an ownership group committed to the fans and the community OFF the field.

But, quite frankly, in the midst of all of the excitement over the Ravens in San Diego and the sheer volume of work I do on a daily basis, I really don’t want to waste any more time with the Orioles this September. I have other more interesting things to write about with the purple birds starting the season 2-0 and doing what the baseball team can only dream about in 2009 — inspiring the sports fans in the Land of Pleasant Living to dream about a championship and a community galvanized.

But, really, isn’t that the biggest problem? No one seems to give a damn about the Orioles anymore. Just like in 2006, I seem to be the only one in the local media who really cares that the team gets better or agonizes over or criticizes the continuing ineptitude of the current ownership group.

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It’s been three years since Free The Birds. My No. 1 complaint then was that the team has been relegated to absolute insignificance and that has hardly changed over the past 1000-plus days.

Just come on downtown on any home game night that doesn’t include the color “red” or pinstripes. The Orioles have single-handedly made Baltimore a sick, sick city on summer nights by making the city empty for long stretches.

Everyone still sees this wounded creature that most power brokers, advertisers and phony politicians still don’t want to take on with criticism, advice or even sheer acknowledgment.

It’s the gigantic orange elephant in the middle of the city that no one sees – that empty, beautiful stadium that was funded by the tax dollars of you and me and our parents.

The Orioles still have a major, major credibility problem – not to mention a “losing” problem — in Baltimore and that won’t change as long as they continue to pull their almost-daily stunts with their promotions, public relations and marketing efforts.

The dollar ticket “bait and switch” was pulled on me and more than 1,000 of our listeners two weeks ago.

Here’s what has NOT changed since Sept. 21, 2006:

  1. The team still loses and doesn’t compete. They’ve won 60 games this year. They still haven’t played a meaningful baseball game since October 1997.
  2. The team still restricts free access and questioning from legitimate media members. Over the past 36 months, the team has managed to employ the likes of Scott Garceau, Bruce Cunningham and Mark Viviano – the “big three” TV stars of the last century — and put them to work as “orange servants” who can never, ever criticize the team while polishing the stars of others in the “baseball inner circle” who haven’t managed to sell a ticket while snowballing the public with the notion that the team is somehow “improving” during the Andy MacPhail era. Improvement happens with wins and losses. So far, I don’t see “improvement” as much as I see “potential” — two completely different criteria.
  3. The team is still Siberia for any potential free agent of value and will again be this offseason. See: Texeira, Mark.
  4. The stadium is still empty and the team still continually lies about the attendance numbers every single night in an effort to snowball local advertisers into believing their message is actually being seen/heard by more than 2 million people.
  5. The team still acts vindictively and with mean-spiritedness in all endeavors that don’t include someone kissing their ass, writing them a check and/or lying for them simultaneously. See our failed “See The Birds” campaign two weeks ago that was designed to fill the upper deck, make them money and support one of their player’s charitable causes and instead ended with a bunch of lawyers sending a kid from Dundalk a bunch of nasty legal “cease and desist” orders. (Funny that they sent me a C&D and the ONLY ones who would’ve made any money on the event was them! And, those tickets NEVER sold. The upper deck remained empty on that Tuesday night.)
  6. The owner still does not show his face, take a question or interact with anyone in the community who could actually support the team or change the club’s shoddy reputation in dealing with the media, public and local business leaders.

To be fair, here’s what HAS changed since Sept. 21, 2006:

  1. Andy MacPhail – just with his presence and the way his co-workers in the media polish his star – has changed some of the aura of ineptitude by making a few great deals that dumped salary and added youth.
  2. Tampa Bay made the World Series, which buys the Orioles several years of pocketing money while the theory that the team will eventually win with youth plays out with a “real life” example of a franchise mired in the mud made good for one glorious summer of 2008. (In my opinion, this was the worst thing for any fan of the Orioles, this Tampa phenomenon that seems like betting a long shot that somehow came home).
  3. The New York Yankees haven’t won, either. But that could be changing this Fall. Stay tuned. But the more the Yankees want to win and the more money their stadium and TV network and empire throws off, the more chances they have to buy more pennants. That is, when they’re not writing welfare checks to the likes of the Orioles, who can’t connect with and cultivate their own fan base and community.
  4. Young players have created a bit of patience and a “wait and see” attitude amongst most skeptical fans, who like me, just want to see the team be relevant again.
  5. While banning free speech from the likes of WNST.net, the Orioles have put the MASN propaganda and money-printing machine in motion with the likes of Jim Hunter and Tom Davis making excuses for an ownership group that has played last-place baseball for a dozen years by bringing on a willing accomplice in Bob Phillips and CBS Radio with the likes of Anita Marks – who has never purchased an Orioles ticket in her life – fronting for the likes of Aubrey Huff, who called Baltimore a “horses**t” town” and still played almost two more years of baseball here while collecting more than $20 million Baltimorean dollars.

And, of course, the MAJOR difference between now and three years ago is the tens of millions of dollars – our sources tell us that the team will net a tidy $30 million profit in 2009 alone — that Peter Angelos and this ownership group are pocketing circa 2009 all while they slash the payroll and promise the few remaining souls who believe their propaganda that by going with cheaper players they’re somehow improving the product. They’re actually collecting even MORE money via revenue sharing because they can’t get anyone in Baltimore to come to the ballpark.

Sure, anyone who has watched the Orioles this year can see potential from Adam Jones to Felix Pie, from Nolan Reimold to Brian Matusz, from Brad Bergesen to Chris Tillman.

No one is knocking these guys or wants bad things for these young people who were drafted into a franchise of ineptitude. Some of these guys will surely thrive as will some of them fail — just like we’ve always seen with baseball prospects.

But we also see the scoreboard and the standings. And we also see the Red Sox and the Yankees not only bring half of their respective states’ population into the Inner Harbor with them, they also kick our ass and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

The team is STILL in danger of losing 100 games and no one is watching or going to the games this September so it’s almost like the season ended sometime around Memorial Day for the 12th consecutive season.

The manager, Dave Trembley, is all-but-lame-duck over the next two weeks and their pending managerial “search” oughta be a doozy. Two summers ago when they tried to get a legitimate manager, Joe Girardi told them ‘no.’ Certainly, MacPhail with the help of his media/co-workers will find a way to spin the job search come Oct. 5 but the notion that Tom Kelly is going to come out of retirement to attempt to win 80 games in the AL East with this moribund franchise seems pretty far-fetched.

I’ll be brief for today. All of you know how I feel.

And, deep down, you know I’m right, even if you “love the Orioles.”

Love them all you want, but don’t be stupid and don’t be fooled by their hypocrisy or empty promises. Hasn’t that been the hallmark of this ownership since the firing of Davey Johnson and Jon Miller and the walkaway of Mike Mussina: “Trust us! We’ll win next year!”

The franchise is still irrelevant. Baltimore is still empty downtown every night. Other than an injection of money from Boston and New York for six series a year, the city is still struggling because of the evil ways that this team has conducted its business dealings with fans who just want to help them, support them and be proud to be Orioles fans.

So, three years later, just what DID Free The Birds accomplish?

Well, it got Andy MacPhail a job in Baltimore…

It got “BALTIMORE” back on the road jerseys…

And it “outed” Angelos’ ways to be mean even more publicly by banning free speech and telling 1,500 real Orioles fans – kids included – that they’re not welcome at Camden Yards.

But, as I promised three years ago, until the ownership changes – or their business and interpersonal relationships improve – they’ll surely remain at the bottom of the AL East in the standings and the bottom of the universe in season ticket sales. (But again, they clearly don’t even want people in the stadium. It’s a minor nuisance to them.)

And, as we promised three years ago, we’re NEVER going away. I’m never going to turn down the heat and stop forcing their greedy hands on accountability and good citizenship — but I’m not expecting that to change, either.

They’re not nice. And, to me, that’s the reason they’ll never win.

Quite frankly – and I tell Andy MacPhail this every time he sees me, swallows hard and tries to run like a coward from me at some “official” and empty Orioles luncheon or function – I pray every day that somehow, someway this group of nasty, mean people DO find lightning in a bottle and field a team that’s better than anything they’re truly worthy of fielding for this city.

And I hope they pack them in when they do — nothing would make me happier!

Here’s the only trouble with that fantasy: I really DO pitch it as a “fantasy” not a reality because I don’t believe good things happen to bad people.

But I hope one day to eat the biggest bowl of Oriole crow ever served up at a playoff game in October.

For the first time in my life, I’d love to be wrong.

Really, really wrong.

But at this point, I’m not really concerned about this October event taking place anytime soon.

But if it does, no one will feel more vindicated or happier than I will.

Spring training is just five months away. I’m sure they’ll be talking about .500 and a wild card berth and their great young pitching down in Sarasota in February.

But, much to my chagrin, The Birds are a long, long way from being “free.”


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