One year ago today, Orioles owner Peter Angelos hired longtime baseball man Andy McPhail to run the team as the President of Baseball Operations. The changes over the last 52 weeks have been evident, both on and off the field.
Sure, it’s easy to get excited by the fact that the summer solstice is upon us and the club is still actually above .500 if not directly in the AL East race, but the signs that the franchise might finally be pointed in the right direction are self-evident.
1. The players are having fun again. Gone are the days of the brooding Sidney Ponsons and cranky Miguel Tejadas. In are the bleach blonde hair and retro “Orioles Magic” videos of Kevin Millar. Fun on the field equals fun in the stands, even on the nights when they lose.
2. Youth has been served. By dealing malcontents like Tejada and pitcher Erik Bedard, McPhail served notice that being a good person and teammate might be as valuable in the clubhouse as a good ERA or OBP. Enter Luke Scott and Adam Jones, who have quickly become fan favorites. One look at the brims of the squad’s caps when George Sherrill enters a game in the ninth inning would tell you that it’s still a boys’ game. Even Aubrey Huff has relented and apologized after calling Baltimore a “horses**t” town on a national radio show last November. He’s even gotten a couple of big hits.
3. Giving the fans a better experience. From 1979 nostalgia nights to 25th Anniversary swag from the 1983 championship team to sending players out into the community to sign autographs, the team has used its “Orioles Reach” program to make some positive vibes throughout the area.
4. The manager appears as though he is in charge. As silly as it sounds, even Dave Trembley acknowledged this clear problem during a pre-game press conference on Tuesday when he said: “I figured, they’ve got nothing to lose because the way they’ve been doing it around here for 10 years didn’t work. It was going nowhere. They say timing in life is everything. I think the timing was right to come in here and say: ‘Enough is enough. It ain’t working, the way you guys have been doing it. The inmates are no longer running the asylum.”
5. They have a chance to win every night. Aside from all of the “cosmetic” differences to the team, when you go to an Orioles game or turn on the television in the 7th inning on any random night, you feel like they’re not out of it. And night after night they have found miraculous ways to win close games. Of their 36 wins entering last night’s game with Houston, an unprecedented 21 of them have been “comeback” wins, nothing short of astonishing.
6. Brian Roberts is still an Oriole. The Cubs wanted him badly. They didn’t get him. Yet…
7. Embracing the Ravens. So far, John Harbaugh, Steve McNair, Jon Ogden and Willis McGahee have thrown out first pitches. That’s four more than appeared in the first decade of the Ravens’ existence in Baltimore.
8. So monumental has the shift in the team’s “fan friendly” philosophy that it even appears that they’re going to put the word “Baltimore” back on their road jerseys next year.
So, in the spirit of my fandom and passion for the Orioles, here are a few more “requests” for making the club better over the next 365 days.
1. End the silly war with the local media and stop attempting to ban free speech. When my press pass appears at the front door – and I had one from 1986 until 2006, when they banned me for telling the truth– is when I’ll finally believe that the franchise has “changed its ways.” (I’m not holding my breath!)
2. Stop fudging the attendance numbers. We’re not stupid. If there are only 12,000 people in the stadium don’t announce the crowd at 21,000. It’s insulting.
3. Attempt to market the team in the offseason. Make some players come to Baltimore for a week and sign some autographs, do some media and show up at some Ravens games to return the favor.
4. Get more starting pitching. (At least Steve Tranchsel is gone!)
5. Find a true cleanup hitter. This might be predicated on McPhail spending some of the millions of dollars Angelos is raking in via MASN’s quiet money machine.
There are plenty of litle “nit picky” things that I still kinda hate about my Orioles experience:
* That goofy Gwen Stefani song being played when they score runs at home.
* Buck Martinez doing color commentary (just a personal preference)
* The radio broadcasts are just horrible, unlistenable for three hours by anyone who wants to be entertained
* Those Disneyland commercials with obvious paid actors “acting” like they’re Orioles fans (a total embarrassment)
* “This is Birdland” is the worst promotion they’ve ever done (but giving out orange shirts like they’re water is a VERY good idea for their marketing efforts)
And then there are the “little” things that they’re doing right:
* I can go to games every night and bring my entire kitchen with me and not pay them for the right to eat or drink in the ballpark (one of the vendors told me last night that because it’s a “publicly financed” building there’s nothing Angelos can do about people bring food in). I don’t know what to believe, but I do know that I can bring food and unopened drinks into the park and that’s a very nice thing.
* At least with me, the ushers haven’t been as big of a pain in the ass as in the past. No one has hassled me this year, and I’ve been to about 10 home games.
* Anytime Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne call a game I literally PLAN to stay home to watch the game. It’s that good!
* The music at the games has gotten markedly better in general. People love the shell game and the kiss cam. Especially this week, people appear to be really enjoying their Orioles experience more than in the past.
* In closing, I looked around the upper deck last night in the sixth inning and it was full, vibrant and people were having a good time. They’re into the games, cheering at the right time, doing impromptu “O-R-I-O-L-E-S” cheers for no good reason — basically, all of the stuff you’d want to do at an Orioles game.
Happy Anniversary, Andy McPhail.
It looks like you’re well on your way to fixing the Orioles.