Baltimore Orioles: Why is Houston’s sign stealing a big deal?

Have the Baltimore Orioles ever directly been hurt by Houston’s alleged sign-stealing? Odds are that they have. In 2016 they were 1-6 against Houston, 1-5 in 2017, and 1-6 again in 2018. There’s your answer as to why it’s such a big deal.

Mind you, save for 2018 the aforementioned seasons were during good times for the Orioles franchise. Yet they just couldn’t get over the hump against a Houston Astros team which now appears might have had an unfair advantage. A big time unfair advantage.

I said this the other day, but had the 2016 Orioles not been at a disadvantage against this Houston team, perhaps they host the 2016 Wild Card Game. And who knows how things play out. It sounds like a petty point, but…is it really?

Baseball needs to find a way to clean this up. The people who precipitated this need to be held accountable. Because otherwise the sport turns into he who’s willing to stoop the lowest to cheat, wins. Nobody wants that.

Again, this is a pretty big deal. And the argument is akin to the analytics vs. feel for the game discussion. My personal opinion is that baseball should not and cannot belong to computer nerds. People behind a screen thinking they know better than the powers that be.

And this is similar. If we’re going to allow teams to find inventive manners to cheat, we might as well just resign ourselves to the fact that whomever has the best equipment and the most inventive ideas is going to win. It’ll no longer be about who has better talent and out-thinks their opponent the best. And again, nobody wants that.

Baltimore Orioles: Delmarva named MiLB Team of the Year

Baltimore Orioles’ Class A affiliate Delmarva Shorebirds, led by manager Kyle Moore were named the MiLB Team of the Year for 2019 earlier this week. That’s one heck of an honor for a team that’s part of an organization that’s rebuilding, such as the Orioles. Moore on this past season:

I think it was just how hard the guys played and how we stuck with it, even after the All-Star break — it was such a young group of guys,. I think with a group in their first year of pro ball, the staff did a great job keeping these guys going all year because we started off hot. But the Washington Nationals will tell you it’s not how you start, and we ended up finishing good, too. We went through July and August and the kids got better.

Quote courtesy of Andrew Battifarano,

Delmarva won 65.2% of their games, and they did it with pitching. Excellent pitching, incidentally. Orioles’ fans like to say that they’d like to know when they’ll start to see the fruits of labor regarding the rebuild. If that’s any indication, it’s coming.

As has been stated ad hoc on this column, the Orioles’ system was ranked in the 20’s in 2018 by Baseball America. In 2019 they were ranked 8th. The Delmarva Shorebirds are a prime example of how the organization is up and coming. Congratulations to everyone involved in that stellar operation in Salisbury, and we hope for their sake that this trend continues.

Baltimore Orioles: Should snitches get stiches?

The Baltimore Orioles are watching, along with the rest of baseball, as the Houston Astros become engrossed in a cheating scandal. I touched on this yesterday, as former Astro Mike Fiers has told The Athletic that Houston (his now former team) used electronic devices to steal signs:

I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing. Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down. It’s [B.S.] on that end. It’s ruining jobs for younger guys. The guys who know are more prepared. But most people don’t. That’s why I told my team. We had a lot of young guys with Detroit [in 2018] trying to make a name and establish themselves. I wanted to help them out and say, ‘Hey, this stuff really does go on. Just be prepared.’

Quote courtesy of Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic

However is there another angle to this that we aren’t seeing? Let me preface this by saying that using electronic devices to steal signs is against the rules. Explicitly. There’s no way around that. It’s indisputable.

However first off, Fiers was on the team when this was going on, and one way or the other he won a World Series as a result. What he said about young guys getting beaten around and getting sent down is a very fair point. However if he cared that much about them and/or about cleaning up the game, would he not have come out while it was going on and said it was wrong? As in, while it was directly benefiting him and his career?

Furthermore, I do firmly believe that there are some things which should stay in a clubhouse. That should be an unwritten code among players and coaches. So…did Fiers violate that unwritten code?

Maybe, maybe not. If you read Ken Rosenthal’s article and others on the topic, they all seem to indicate that Fiers was telling his new and current teammates about this – in the form of a warning. That in and of itself I don’t think violates any unwritten rule. I think that things as such get told all the time. When I played for these guys they used to do this – so be on the lookout.

When it turns into a problem is when it gets released into the public realm. Based on how the firsthand account of these stories are being worded, I suspect that someone to whom Fiers told this story leaked it. I don’t know for sure who that would be, however that’s how it comes across.

This doesn’t absolve Fiers of blame. As I said, he apparently didn’t have enough of a problem with this practice while it benefited him to say anything. But suddenly when they didn’t sign his paychecks anymore, he did have an issue with it.

This is a bit of a Catch-22 overall. Change never happens if whistleblowers aren’t out there. That’s probably a fact. However some things should stay in the clubhouse. Time will tell what punitive measures are taken against Houston.

Baltimore Orioles: Sign-stealing saga continues

The Baltimore Orioles have long struggled at Minute Maid Park in Houston. It was almost uncanny; for some time it’s almost been that no matter how good an Oriole pitcher was looking, Houston would always find a way to get to him. However now we have to wonder if that was more that the Orioles weren’t that good, or if Houston was getting help.

Houston has long been known as an organization that steals signs. We all heard the story during the post season of how they would bang on the top of the dugout or on a trashcan in the dugout to relay signs and signals to their hitters. But now…it seems that the story is gaining legs.

Former Houston Astro Mike Fiers has recently come forward and admitted that the team was using cameras in the outfield to steal signs. Those cameras would beam the signs to the dugout in real time, and then the smack on the dugout or trash can would relay the pitch to the hitter. Seems like there was always more than meets the eye.

Incidentally, this isn’t a foray into the typical unwritten codes argument. Stealing signs is against those unwritten codes. But it’s not against the rules. Using an electronic device to steal signs IS against the rules. There’s cheating, and then there’s cheating. This is a pretty big one.

Fiers specifically said that this would occur when he played in Houston in 2017. And as you’ll recall, Houston won the World Series that year. So…where does that leave us? MLB has said that they’re going to conduct an investigation. For the record, the Houston Astros said they support that effort.

How long had this been going on? Because as I said, the Orioles always seemed to struggle in that park. Had they not been at an apparent disadvantage, perhaps some of those years would have resulted in more wins. Yes, that sounds subjective. And it is. But consider this; had the 2016 Orioles had even one more victory, they would have finished statistically ahead of Toronto. That means they would have hosted the American League Wild Card Game. The O’s went 1-6 against Houston that year. As I said, consider that.

If you look at cheaters in the NCAA, teams literally are made to vacate victories. I don’t see MLB making Houston do that. Odds are they’ll end up getting fined or have to forfeit draft picks. But forcing them to vacate wins and vacate their World Series would certainly send a message.

Baltimore Orioles’ John Means finishes second for AL Rookie of the Year

John Means of the Baltimore Orioles finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Means had an impressive resume of course, but it wasn’t enough to get him past Houston’s Yordan Alvarez. The Orioles’ Rodrigo Lopez was also the runner up in 2002. The last Oriole to win the award was Greg Olson in 1989.

However just being one of the top three finishers is a feat for Means. And for the Orioles. The fact that an Oriole finished that high should tell us something about the direction of the rebuild. When you combine that with the fact that the Orioles’ minor league system went from being ranked in the 20’s to being top ten in one year, needless to say it bodes well for the future.

I’m sure that both Means and the organization would have loved to have gotten the award. Means certainly had the pedigree in terms of his numbers to win it. But again, even being in the running was pretty special. And combining that with his ASG selection says that the Orioles have a budding star on their hands.

Baltimore Orioles: Happy Veterans Day!

The Baltimore Orioles join the rest of baseball and the sports world in recognizing Veterans Day today. As do I. Thank you to all of our brave veterans and active service members. It’s cliche`, however we wouldn’t be able to watch baseball or any other sport.

America is truly a special place. And that’s due to our military and thus to our veterans. If you see one today, thank them.

Baltimore Orioles: Changes in store at the yard?

Interesting article in The Baltimore Sun this week regarding the home of the Baltimore Orioles (article here). The Orioles’ lease expires after the 2021 season, and as the article states it’s during lease renegotiations that teams often broach the topic of facility upgrades. And it sounds like that’s just what the O’s are doing.

I’ll be honest; I can’t see many upgrades that are necessary to what I tell people is the best facility for sports in the country. I’ve heard people suggest that the concourse should be opened up and so forth, which appears to be a feature in some of the more recent stadiums. However another topic (according to the article) appears to be removing seats. It’s unclear if the idea of removing seats goes hand-in-hand with opening the concourse.

I suppose that opening the concourse might not be a horrible thing. However I’d hate for there to be any more major cosmetic changes than that. Camden Yards has always been about the old world charm of baseball. The game is presented in an old fashioned manner, down to the venue itself.

I wouldn’t want Camden Yards to become a place where people “come to gather.” One criticism I have of more modern ballparks is that I feel the attitude is “you can watch the game if you wish, but there are also all of these other features about our park and places you can hang out.” Fans should come to the ballpark and hang out in the stands while watching the game. Maybe that sounds old school to some, but that’a baseball at Camden Yards.

Baltimore Orioles: Does style of play matter?

As we know, the Baltimore Orioles play in a market that’s saturated with teams from pretty much every sport. That includes various universities, such as Coppin State, Towson, and of course the University of Maryland. I read message boards from time to time, and I was on one the other day in which someone was vilifying Maryland fans for not showing up to the team’s first game earlier this week. Now in principle I kind of agree – but one of the responses stuck out at me.

Maryland’s outlook this season is excellent. They’re ranked very high, so it would have stood to reason that perhaps fans would have turned out. However one fan responded that lots of fans don’t like Turgeon’s style of play (referring of course to head coach Mark Turgeon). Now I’ll be honest; I much preferred Gary Williams’ style. However that’s not the issue at hand.

Is that now really a thing in a sense? Do fans opt not to come to games or follow their favorite teams because they don’t like the style of play? Apparently so.

I think something like this is much more predominant in sports such as basketball, football, or hockey. Baseball is baseball no matter how you spin it. Now having said that, some teams are station-to-station, some are slugging teams, etc. I suppose that someone could not like a certain style of play and similarly not come out to the park.

However this is concerning to me. I’ve always maintained that sports isn’t entertainment – per se. Movies are entertainment. Broadway plays are entertainment. Television shows are entertainment. Sports? Sports are just sports.

But more and more, sports aren’t just sports. Sports is being lumped in as entertainment as time is going on. And that’s a huge problem from where I stand. Because if a movie (which is entertainment) isn’t entertaining, you can just turn it off. If a show you’re attending isn’t as good as you thought it would be, you can leave. Or you can not go at all. Is that what we want sports to turn into?

What I’m saying is that the sports world needs to find ways to differentiate itself from entertainment. Because otherwise we’re going to see more and more of that – the style of play isn’t entertaining enough for me, so I’m not paying attention. And that would be a bad thing for all sports. Sports isn’t entertainment; it’s a game.

Baltimore Orioles: What new promotions could the Orioles offer?

The Baltimore Orioles and the rest of Major League Baseball have the best promotions and giveaways in professional sports. Hands-down. Granted baseball plays more home games than any other sport, however they’ve always had the best in the way of giveaways, be it t-shirts, caps, bobble heads, etc. And of course the new thing is the garden gnome’s.

Giveaway nights/days are always big draws at the box office. And while teams want to give off the impression that the giveaways are a way to thank their customers for their business, let’s face it in reality it’s about getting derriere’s in the seats. Giveaways and promotions do just that.

Having said all of this, what new things could the Orioles look to do in 202 and onward? The idea of letting people bring two kids to the game free starting a couple of years back was genius. Now I”ll be the first one to tell you that I don’t feel that enough fans are taking advantage of that, but the fact is that it’s out there. But is there anything earth-shattering like that which could be done?

Honestly, I’m not sure that there is. However there’s one area in which the Orioles might fall a little short in terms of the gameday experience. And that would be concessions. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re in any part of the seating bowl, the quality and selection of food at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is excellent. However a lot of teams across sports are now offering minor discounts on non-alcoholic food and beverage items during the game (for season ticket holders). And when I say “minor discounts,” I mean generally between $1-$2 off.

Furthermore, lots of teams across sports also offer “happy hours” at their games. In fact, the Orioles used to do this; back when what’s now the Leinenkugel Louge on the lower level first base concourse was the “Natty Boh Bar,” they offered a happy hour. From the time the ballpark opened until the end of the first inning National Bohemian Beer was $5/cup. Why not bring that idea back? And it doesn’t have to be throughout the entire ballpark – pick one bar or concession stand and offer the happy hour there.

The drawback to that idea is that the Orioles already offer 12 oz Bud/Miller/Coors for $6.50. Furthermore fans can already bring their own food into the ballpark at will. So is offering a happy hour or discounted food for season ticket holders going to bring more people to games? Probably not.

But what it will do is enhance the gameday experience for the fans that are already coming. And that’s the whole idea. The more you enhance that experience, the more enjoyable it is, and the more people out to games you’ll get. And that’s the whole name of the game.

Baltimore Orioles: Stadium dimensions hurt Birds’ chances at signing pitching

The Baltimore Orioles Opened Oriole Park at Camden Yards in April of 1992, and defeated the Cleveland Indians 2-0 in a pitcher’s duel. Think about that for a moment; a pitcher’s duel. At hitter-friendly Camden Yards, the dimensions of which allegedly were crafted to Cal Ripken Jr.’s spray charts. A pitcher’s duel.

They’ve happened, but we haven’t seen too many other games quite like that one in the ballpark’s history. However I recall Chuck Thompson saying that afternoon that it appeared Camden Yards might favor pitchers. As great as Chuck Thompson was, he was obviously dead wrong about that. Granted, we have the benefit of 27 years of history in the park which he didn’t have that day.

Nevertheless, as we know Camden Yards favors hitters. Big time. And for an Orioles’ team which is trying to improve it’s pitching, that’s a huge problem.

We see the same “phenomenon” in Denver, but probably more exaggerated. Nevertheless, free agent pitchers always think twice about coming to Baltimore. There may be other reasons for that as well, however one of the big reasons is the dimensions of the park. Plenty of pitchers have come to the Orioles, had their numbers take a nosedive, and then gone onto bigger and better things. Wade Miley, for instance – who went onto contend with Houston.

And there’s no real remedy for this, other than the Orioles having to resign themselves to the realization that they’re going to have to overpay in order to get a legitimate arm on the free agent market. Everyone has a price. However the Orioles should also be looking out for pitchers who are looking to strike guys out. This as opposed to guys who make the majority of their outs by putting the ball in play. Strike outs remedy everything.

Baltimore Orioles: Can’t touch Chris Davis when it comes to charity

Chris Davis has become a favorite target among some Baltimore Orioles fans. It’s fair to criticize his performance on the field, and Davis himself would be the first one to tell you that. However there’s one area in which Davis stands above just about anyone else.

It was announced yesterday that Chris and his wife Jill were donating $3 million to the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. The gift is the largest that’s been received by the hospital by a Baltimore sports figure. The hospital intends to use the money to building state-of-the-art facilities that will help to treat children. Davis in a news release:

This is a cause that is close to our hearts. Everyone at the hospital has inspired our family — from the patients and families who show such courage in the face of overwhelming challenges, to the medical professionals and caregivers who dedicate their careers to saving and improving lives.

Quote courtesy of Nathan Ruiz, Baltimore Sun

Davis has consistently worked tirelessly in the Baltimore community since arriving here during the 2011 season. He’s always willing to lend his time and name to anything being done by Orioles Advocates, which is the charity wing of the team. He’s never been anything less than an outstanding example of being a part of a community.

So while it’s fair to question Davis’ grit on the field, he’s always a guy who’s given back. That should mean something to Orioles fans. And the fact is that it isn’t something we hear about enough.

John Means was also announced as a finalist for the American League rookie of the year. It’s an honor that’s well-deserved by Means. Time will tell if he wins.

Baltimore Orioles: Does the Chris Davis deal make the O’s gun shy?

Most people would agree that the Baltimore Orioles stepped in it with the contract they gave to Chris Davis. Let me say up front that I agreed with the Davis deal at the time. With the seasons he had been having, they had to bring him back. Sure there were a few muted voices who said it was a bad idea and that his numbers would taper off, but I thought it was something they had to do – at the time. And they were loudly applauded for keeping him.

That’s something that a lot of people conveniently forget about some of the contracts the Birds have given out – the Davis’ Jimenez’s, etc. of the world. These were deals that the national media lauded when they happened. But nobody’s about to say that now. Hindsight’s always 20/20.

Having said that, there can be no doubt that the Davis contract hasn’t exactly worked out as the Orioles wanted. But as we enter the off season with the World Series being over, does that contract hamper the Birds? And I say that from the sense that it makes me wonder if perhaps ownership might be wary of giving out big deals due to the Davis situation.

And I think that if Peter Angelos were still in charge of the team, that might be the case. While on paper he’s still the owner, Peter’s sons John and Lou appear to be running the show now. Will they be different in this sense than their father?

The answer really lies with GM Mike Elias. He’s the man that John and Lou Angelos have taxed with rebuilding the Orioles into a winner. While owenership obviously needs to sign off on big ticket items, we have to trust that the Angelos sons will defer to Elias. If a deal comes along, hopefully they trust that what Elias is doing is for the best interests of the team – as opposed to stepping in and meddling.

Baltimore Orioles: Should the O’s go after Steven Strasburg?

At some point in this rebuilding process the Baltimore Orioles are going to have to make a splash in free agency. Whether that’s a bat or an arm remains to be seen. However if you look down the pike at the World Series Champion Washington Nationals, it seems that the emphasis should be on pitching.

And it just so happens that the World Series MVP, Steven Strasburg, just opted out of his contract. Admittedly the optics aren’t great; Strasburg opted out only hours before the team’s championship parade. So technically he attended that parade as a free agent. However contractually that couldn’t be helped.

Is it ridiculous to think that the Orioles might consider making a major splash this offseason and go after a stud pitcher like Strasburg? Let’s back up for a moment; would a pitcher of Strasburg’s pedigree even consider signing with the Orioles, no matter what the terms of the deal were? Why would a World Series MVP sign with a franchise that’s nowhere near being ready to compete for a title?

Ask former National Jayson Werth. He signed with Washington for seven years in 2011. I thought the exact same thing at the time; why would someone like that (who had won a World Series and could have his pick on where to go) sign with a team like that? First off Washington overpaid him – in theory. But…did they?

Werth was a veteran and he made the guys around him better. Odds are Washington doesn’t win the title without Werth (now retired) having been there. So in that sense, did they really overpay?

I suspect that Strasburg opted out of his contract, and will sign a bigger one with Washington. However the Orioles would have to overpay well above what Washington overpaid for Werth. Both in terms of years and dollars.

I’d put the odds of the Orioles going after Strasburg at about 5%. The odds of him signing here even lower. But at some point the Orioles will need to go after a big ticket item on the free agent market. And personally I think pitching is a great place to start.

Baltimore Orioles: Is Buck Showalter heading home?

Former Baltimore Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter was under consideration for several managerial jobs. He actually interviewed with Philadelphia, but was also being considered for the NY Mets and possibly even the Anaheim Angels. To this point, no soap in terms of finding a team.

Technically the Pittsburgh Pirates’ job is still open. However oddly enough, Dan Duquette is also under consideration for the GM job there. Duquette and Showalter reportedly didn’t always see eye-to-eye in Baltimore. So odds are if Duquette ends up being the guy they hire, I wouldn’t look for Buck to get the job in Pittsburgh – who incidentally appears to be going about their managerial search the right way in that they’re looking for a General Manager first.

So what does that mean for Buck? It probably means that he won’t be managing in 2020, as of right now. All of the aforementioned teams have hired someone or are on the verge of doing so. Thus I suspect that Buck Showalter, who brought the Orioles out of the depths of the doldrums, is heading home.

I have to say that I’m surprised. While there was certainly interest by several teams, I would have thought that a manager such as Buck Showalter would have been one of the first hired. So what exactly worked against him?

Odds are we’ll never know. However Showalter does have the reputation of doing things his own way. I always recall the story of when he managed the Arizona Diamondbacks and raised a hullabaloo about the fact that the red on the carpet in the home clubhouse didn’t precisely match the red on the jerseys. Buck’s a perfectionist; to a fault, as many might point out. To the point that he almost becomes a burden.

And it wouldn’t shock me to hear at some point that part of what moved the Orioles to move on from him was that type of attention to detail. And I say that with admiration – because I’m the exact same way. And I’ve seen it in my own life; I’m told that I get a little too in your face when it comes to attention to detail. And sometimes that drives people away. So while it sounds like I’m calling Showalter out, I’m actually not. Because I have a similar worldview in that regard.

Another knock on Buck is that he doesn’t really buy into any of the new-age analytics, which caused the majority of his downfall in Baltimore. However I would also say this; look at what happened to Houston the other night. They picked a heck of a time to have their computer analytics fail them – in game seven of the World Series. So while old school, can we really say that the game’s passed Buck by? Apparently many GM’s and owners feel that it has. But again, when you put all of your faith in computers as opposed to people…sometimes that’s going to happen.

I do think that if he wants to do so, Buck will manage again. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him called in as an interim manager when and if a team dismisses their manager early in the season. But for now, while not set in stone, it appears that he’s staying home.

Baltimore Orioles: Does Washington’s success hurt the O’s?

The Baltimore Orioles now find themselves in a situation in which several other teams have been – sharing a regional area or a market with the World Series Champions. The Washington Nationals defied all odds in winning the World Series, to their credit. But where does that leave the O’s?

First off as I alluded above, the Orioles aren’t the only team to whom this has ever happened. Both NY teams, both LA teams, both Chicago teams, and the two Bay Area teams have all dealt with this. As did incidentally…the Washington Senators. When the Orioles won their first World Series in 1966, here were the Senators right down the pike having to share their area with the World Series winners.

The question a lot of Orioles fans are asking is whether or not Washington being the world champs will negatively effect the Orioles. And my response to that question is and always has been the same (back when this scenario was only “in theory): unequivocally, the Orioles’ fan base will not be affected. Some people disagree, and that’s fine. But I just don’t see it happening.

And I say that on two fronts. First off is a semi-emotional one. Little Johnny from Dundalk isn’t going to grow up with a Washington Nationals pennant on his wall. Sure, anything’s possible. However regardless of geographic location, most people want to raise their kids to root for the same teams for whom they root. So if you’re from an Oriole family, odds are you’ll remain as such.

But does that argument apply to areas not quite as defined as BALTIMORE or WASHINGTON as Dundalk? In places such as Laurel, Davidsonville, Frederick, etc, you might have kids with Oriole fan parents who might rather pull for the world champs. But whether that lasts forever is another story. But regardless of who’s good and who isn’t, you aren’t going to have people in the Orioles’ primary area converting. Just like had the O’s won the World Series odds are people in Fairfax, VA wouldn’t become Orioles fans. (Or perhaps return to Orioles’ fandom is the better term.)

That’s the semi-emotional argument. The second one is purely logical. I mentioned teams above who have dealt with what now faces the Orioles. Did the NY Mets gain a better stronghold as opposed to the NY Yankees after 1969 or ’86? How about the Los Angeles teams? Most recently, did ChiSox fans become Cubs fans? Or vice-versa when the Sox won the World Series?

A friend of mine is a Chicago Cubs fan. I asked him about this when the ChiSox won the fall classic, and his response was over my dead body (would he ever root for the Sox). He’s always seen the Cubs as “Chicago’s team,” whereas the Sox were just another run-of-the-mill American League team. That may be a bit narcissistic, but that’s his view and I think it’s shared by a lot of people in the Cubs’ fan base.

There was a portion of the Orioles’ fan base that did pull for Washington – in this World Series. But will they remain on the bandwagon and abandon their childhood team? That I think is doubtful. And I say that based on the fact that other fan bases that have been through this didn’t seem to waver. But time will tell.

Baltimore Orioles: World Series vindicates old school baseball

The Baltimore Orioles hired GM Mike Elias from the Houston Astros, who of course just lost the World Series to the Washington Nationals. However Orioles fans should be encouraged given that Elias brought a lot of people over from Houston, and appears to be setting up the Orioles’ culture in the same manner.

However there’s also a cautionary tale in this. Part of what Elias is all about is bringing analytics to the Orioles. But Houston showed last night that it can’t all be about analytics. You still have to have a feel for the game itself, which is played by human beings.

With Houston leading 2-1 in the seventh inning, manager A.J. Hinch lifted started Zach Greinke, who’s pitch count was in the 80’s. That seemed odd to me given that Greinke had only just given up his second hit of the game. He seemed to be in a zone.

Hinch probably should have gone to Gerrit Cole, however instead opted to use reliever Will Harris – who allowed the base runner to steal second, and then surrendered a homer to Howie Kendrick. That gave Washington a 3-2 lead, which they never relinquished, winning their first World Series.

Why leave a Cy Young candidate in the bullpen? Furthermore, with first base open, why pitch to Kendrick? The hitter behind Kendrick was Astrubal Cabrera, who’s a switch hitter. Whether or not that was the most favorable matchup or not, with one out if you can set up a ground ball double-play you can get out of the inning. Why do these things? Then it hit me: computer analytics.

I’m not suggesting that analytics have no place in baseball. Because I don’t feel that way. And for the record, I don’t think that A.J. Hinch should lose his job for this. But allowing a computer program to decide the best course of action based on probability of success might well work in a lot of situations. But again, we’re talking about human beings here. Things don’t always work out the way the computer says they will.

As egregious as pulling Greinke and not going to Cole was, the act of leaving first base open to pitch to Kendrick is the worst decision in my view. You have an avenue by which you can get out of the inning. Use it.

So the hope is that Orioles’ manager Brandon Hyde watches that and that it helps to reiterate the fact that you have to keep your feel for the game. Because if you don’t, you might find yourself allowing the computer to think you out of a game. Unfortunately for A.J. Cole, it happened to him at the worst possible time.

Baltimore Orioles: MLB steps in it during their own moment

The Baltimore Orioles have seen their share of bad calls, both over the years and in 2019. We’ve also seen our share of that in the ongoing World Series, last night being no exception. I’m not going to explain what happened in the seventh inning, because I’m going to assume that most fans saw it or are aware of it at this point. If you aren’t, google it – you’ll find it!

Here’s my take; if you really want to go by the letter of the rule, the base runner’s foot was inside the first base line. So again by the true letter of the rule perhaps it was correct. However it was really borderline in the sense that it was close. Does MLB really want to make that close of a call in an elimination game in THE WORLD SERIES?

To make matters worse, it appeared that the umpires went to review the situation via instant replay. This on a play that isn’t reviewable to begin with. However according to the umpiring crew, they were never reviewing the play. They were looking for a rules clarification. Yet, once they got off the radios one of them signaled OUT.

And that might be the most incriminating part of this. If the play was never under review why would they need to reaffirm the call? End of the day, I think home plate umpire Sam Holbrooke knew that he made a mistake. And at the end of the day, it wasn’t one that could be covered up.

The Houston pitcher retired the first batter after this fiasco. He then proceeded to surrender a two-run homer. Pitchers are conditioned to be in the moment among other things. So when delays happen, it does affect them. That four to five minute delay in essence froze the Houston pitcher. Thus both teams should have a beef with the situation.

If I were either manager in tonight’s game seven, I’d make it clear in no uncertain terms that my expectation is that nothing shady will be occurring on behalf of the umpires in the game. And if it does, I’ll be pulling my team off the field. If that sounds draconian, keep in mind that you’d be daring MLB to declare a World Series Champion by forfeit. And it would serve them right.

Baltimore Orioles: Shake up start times?

Two years ago the Baltimore Orioles made a minor switch to their traditional start times, and changed Sunday games to 1 PM (instead of 1:30 PM) starts. It’s unclear why this switch was made, however I thought it was a good one. It gets people home earlier, among other things.

However should the Orioles consider changing start times more across the board moving forward? In effect, Monday-Saturday games start at 7 PM, and then the aforementioned Sunday afternoon starts. There are exceptions, as some Saturday games start at 4 PM due to national television, and on occasion the Birds will have a weekday matinee.

And let’s start there; the Orioles aren’t one of the teams who play a lot of day games during the week. Usually if the team is heading out to the west coast they’ll schedule a getaway day matinee or something along those lines. But it happens once or twice a season. The Orioles conclude home series midweek on April 1st, 15th, 30th, May 13th, June 11th, July 1st, 22nd, August 6th, and September 24th. July 1st against the Yankees is followed by a road game in Oakland the following day – I would expect that to be an afternoon game. But might they consider having a few others?

Teams have presumably done studies showing what game time maximizes potential attendance. However especially once schools let out, I think they would have a unique chance to schedule a few day games so as to perhaps get kids more involved. And the same might be true on Saturdays. I admittedly am not a fan of the 4 PM games when national television dictates that start time. So maybe perhaps do the Orioles consider making their Saturday start times 1 PM along with Sundays?

I suspect that Saturday nights are big revenue-generators in terms of the box office as well as concessions. But again, I think that you have a better shot at getting more kids in the stands. Why is that an issue? Because you’re paying your future forward. You want lifelong fans and customers coming out of attendance. The more often you make it easier for kids to come to the park, the more lifelong fans you’ll create moving forward.

Baltimore Orioles: Say no to robot umps

The Baltimore Orioles have seen their share of bad calls over the years. And the fact of the matter is that we all know balls and strikes are one of the toughest things to call in sports. As a home plate umpire, you have to keep your strike zone consistent for nine innings. The good ones make it look easy. The subpar ones struggle. And we all know who they are.

Anyone who watched last night’s World Series game knows that the Washington Nationals have a serious beef with the strike zone. While that wasn’t why they lost, it is incredibly frustrating when you can’t buy a call. Thus today we’re hearing a lot about robot umpires taking over balls and strikes.

Unfortunately for purists such as myself, that’s something which is probably coming. But I hope that ends up not being the case. Yes folks, there is and should always be a human element to the game. But there’s another reason as well.

MLB and all professional sports are about to jump into bed with the gaming industry. Legalized sports gambling is becoming a thing. While there will still be a home plate umpire to make safe/out calls and to operate the machines, the balls and strikes will be called by computers. In this age where sports gambling is becoming a thing, do we not think there’s a chance that people could abuse the system and find a way to hack into the systems?

In terms of fixing results, when there’s a will there’s a way. As long as someone stands to make or lose a lot of money, there’ll always be someone out there willing to cheat. And with the know-how to do so. And yes, robot umpires take away from the tradition and the human element of the game. That’s not something that should ever change.

Baltimore Orioles: President Trump to attend Fall Classic

When the Baltimore Orioles were in the World Series in 1979, President Jimmy Carter came to Memorial Stadium and threw out the first pitch in game one. Numerous other Presidents have thrown out first pitches at the Fall Classic, including Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. President Donald Trump will not be throwing out the first pitch at tonight’s World Series game in Washington – to my knowledge. But he will be attending the game.

The President announced that if the series required a game five he would attend – and here we are! While I’m not going to get into political debates here, whether you support his policies or not we’re all aware of the controversy surrounding President Trump. I recognize that he’s not just some run-of-the-mill President. Whether I support him or not is irrelevant. But I support him attending the game.

No sport has a relationship with the White House like baseball. Mainly that’s due to Presidential First Pitches. However Presidents have always taken an active role in America’s pastime. And I think the fact that the World Series is in our nation’s capital tonight almost mandates the presence of the sitting President. Again folks, this isn’t about politics. This is an act by the President very much rooted in tradition. As Americans, we should be all about that.

President Trump will become only the second President to watch a World Series game in our nation’s Capitol. President Calvin Coolidge attended World Series’ games in three different years at Griffith Stadium, original home of the Washington Senators. This happened most recently in 1925. My late grandfather, Dr. Anthony Launi (who later played semi-pro and had a tryout with the Senators), was three years old! So it’s been a long time since a sitting President has seen a World Series game in the seat of the nation’s power. My hope is that the Nationals and Astros put on a good show this evening for the Commander-In-Chief.

Baltimore Orioles’ minor league affiliates at risk?

The Baltimore Orioles are lucky in that with the exception of the Gulf Coast Orioles, all of their minor league affiliates are semi-local. The Frederick Keys, Bowie Baysox, Delmarva Shorebirds, Aberdeen Ironbirds, and Norfolk Tides are accessible by car from Baltimore. However there are rumblings that MLB might be proposing a new Professional Baseball Agreement for 2021, which would eliminate up to 42 minor league franchises.

On top of the four Orioles’ affiliates, Maryland has five minor league baseball franchises (affiliated with a big league team, that is) – the fifth being the Hagerstown Suns, the Washington Nationals’ low-A affiliate. According to an article written by Nathan Ruiz this week in the Baltimore Sun, Bowie and Aberdeen were well positioned to keep their team affiliation. However Frederick, Delmarva, and Hagerstown (which again is Washington’s affiliate) could be at risk.

In essence, those three teams could be among the 42 teams which COULD be slated for becoming unaffiliated. Mr. Ruiz’s article also went to great lengths to say that the process is only beginning, and that nothing was definitive as of yet. This process is just beginning. As written directly in Mr. Ruiz’s article:

The league also believes the proposal would allow for a better overall geographic layout for minor league baseball, generally eliminating lengthy bus rides and undesirable hotel stays for players while putting top affiliates closer to their parent clubs. The decrease in teams and players would also allow the major league teams to better compensate the minor leaguers.

Although the locations of Frederick, Delmarva and Hagerstown are favorable, MLB desires improvements to their facilities, per an MLB source.

Courtesy of Nathan Ruiz, Baltimore Sun

It’s unclear what the intended improvements to these stadiums would be. In my view both Delmarva and Frederick have beautiful parks. I’ve admittedly never been to the ballpark in Hagerstown, however I do know that it’s older. However in terms of fan amenities, site lines, food options, etc, Frederick and Delmarva are great places to watch a baseball game.

Regardless of anything, I am in favor of every team having a setup like the Orioles – with all of their affiliates being semi-local. Washington’s triple-A team is in Fresno, CA. That’s too far. However there’s another impact that this proposal could have, and one that’s a bit more sinister in a sense – an economic impact.

A state such as Maryland which has a big league team in the state, another which is technically out of state (but only about five miles from the state line – give or take), and yet another about an hour north of the state line may not feel a major negative economic impact if they lose three minor league franchise. At the state level, that is…

…but what about at the local level? I’ve had and still have various aunt’s and uncle’s who have lived in and around Frederick, and I know it’s a great place to live and a great place to raise a family. I also know that the Keys are a huge part of living there. The local community supports the Keys, and they support the local community. What would happen if the Keys suddenly ceased to be what they are?

And you could ask the same of Salisbury (Delmarva) and Hagerstown. Salisbury I think would be okay given the fact that Ocean City is so close. But you get my point in writing this…would these communities not suffer en masse in some manner if they ceased to have viable minor league teams? Because I know Frederick would given how embedded the Keys are in that community.

So…is it really fair to contract three minor league franchises from one state? That’s part of the problem when it comes to the business of sports. Especially at the minor league level, these sports are a public trust. And when the needs of the business start to outweigh the needs of the public, these things can clash. However if three of it’s five minor league franchises ceased to be affiliated with a big league team, make no mistake that the state of Maryland would feel an impact.

Baltimore Orioles: Benefit in hiring a novice?

Baltimore Orioles fans will see the Chicago Cubs and their new manager, David Ross, in April next year at Camden Yards. (The Orioles will also head to Chicago and play two games later in the season at Wrigley Field.) Yesterday I made my view known that while Ross is a good baseball guy, he shouldn’t be given a job as a manager. Plenty of good candidates have put in their time in the minors and are deserving of an opportunity, and instead Chicago picked someone who had never coached at any level.

While this tactic worked for the New York Yankees and Aaron Boone, it’s also worth mentioning that Boone inherited a championship-caliber roster. I not only think that it’s unfair to gift a position as such to someone with no experience, but it’s also a bad idea. Chicago fans should be prepared to witness a manager who’s never coached before. My prediction is that it’ll show on the field.

But is there a method to this madness? Is there an advantage to hiring someone like this, who has no professional coaching experience? Again, I say that there isn’t. But I’m just asking for the sake of asking.

I can’t imagine what that advantage could possibly be. Unless you want to argue that a guy hasn’t had the “norms” of the game cloud his vision for what his team could be – or something to that effect. What possible advantage could come from having an inexperienced hand at the top?

Baltimore Orioles: Youth movement is now the no experience movement

Last year the Baltimore Orioles tapped former Chicago Cubs’ assistant Brandon Hyde to be their new manager. Whatever you think of year one, Hyde is firmly planted as the Orioles’ skipper now. And he had experience in the sense that he had coached for some time at the big league level, and even managed at the minor league level.

This was the equivalent of an NFL team hiring an Offensive or Defensive Coordinator as their new head coach. It’s giving an opportunity to a young guy who’s worked his way up the food chain in the coaching fraternity, and who’s deserving of his first opportunity to be the head guy in the dugout. This is part of the food chain in the coaching ranks in any sport.

However news broke yesterday that the Chicago Cubs were planning on hiring former catcher David Ross as their next manager. (Expect a formal announcement sometime after the conclusion of the World Series.) This follows in the footsteps of the New York Yankees, who following the 2017 season hired Aaron Boone, who had never coached a day in his life following his big league career. The same is true of Ross. Both men worked for ESPN between the ends of their careers, and the beginning of their managerial careers.

I see this as a disturbing trend in baseball. Obviously Boone’s hiring worked out well for New York. Boone was also gifted with a championship-caliber team, but I digress. Both Boone and Ross are good baseball men. They’ve been involved in the game their entire lives, and odds are they know what they’re doing – to a degree. Or as much as a novice could know.

But whether they know what they’re doing or not, there’s a difference between knowing the sport and knowing how to manage. It takes a lot of charisma, and it takes knowing how to position a lot of moving parts. I would never say that I could walk into a dugout and know how to manage a big league game simply because I know a thing or two about baseball. Why, you ask? Because I would never walk into an office building and say that I know how to be the CEO of that company. In my world, you have to grow into the role.

Yet it appears that the new and fashionable thing is to give the reins over to someone who’s literally never coached in his life. That’s a scary proposition in my view. In my opinion it’s saying one of two things. Either the position of manager really isn’t that important, or that anyone can do it. Again, scary proposition.

Manager or Head Coach isn’t important in some sports. I would argue that in the NBA Head Coaches are simply figureheads. It means marginally more in the NHL, but nowhere near as much as it means in the NFL, college sports, or MLB. Are we really willing to start turning these jobs over to inexperienced people en masse?

Incidentally, this isn’t an indictment on David Ross (or Aaron Boone) in terms of being a baseball guy. The instincts and savoir faire of the game is certainly there. It’s just a matter of experience and having been in certain situations. Or seeing other people in certain situations from the perspective of a base coach or bench coach, and seeing how they handled it. That’s all part of managing.

I feel badly for people such as Ryne Sandberg. He gave his entire life as a player to the Chicago Cubs’ organization. After his playing days he started working his way up the coaching ranks – again in the Cubs’ organization. He coached at various levels, rode buses, stayed in garbage motels – the whole deal in the minors. In hopes of becoming a manager someday.

When the Cubs had that position open, they went in another direction. Sandberg later got an opportunity to manage the Philadelphia Phillies, but was fired a few years ago. It has to be a bitter pill to swallow to see someone who’s never coached at any level waltz in and get the gig, whereas you put in your time and appears will not be getting the opportunity that you felt was due to you at one point.

And that right there is becoming one of the problems in our society. When people are denied positions that they deserve or have worked to obtain, only to have a novice waltz in and take it…needless to say there’s just something intrinsically unfair about that. And it happens in almost every Fortune 500 corporation in America.

Baltimore Orioles: Help vote the Oriole Bird into the Mascot Hall of Fame!

It came to my attention last week that the Baltimore Orioles’ mascot, The Oriole Bird, is a finalist for the Mascot Hall of Fame. In fact, it came to my attention last week that there even was a Mascot Hall of Fame. Fans can vote for up to four finalists through October 26th by clicking here.

The Mascot Hall of Fame is located in Whiting, IN. In looking through the web page, there are already some fascinating characters in the hall. Well-known mascots such as Mr. Met, The Phillie Phanatic, Brutus (from THE Ohio State University) are already there. However there are others which have me scratching my head.

With all due respect to the University of Delaware, how is “YouDee” the Fighting Blue Hen already a hall of famer but the Oriole Bird is not?! Same with the University of Nebraska’s “Lil’ Red.” Not to mention Utah’s “Jazz Bear.”

All mascots are fun, and they all have their quirks. In the early days of the Orioles/Nationals head-to-head games each team would bring it’s mascot to the opposing ballpark. While many people would argue that allowing the opposing team to bring it’s mascot to your ballpark makes it more “friendly” than a rivalry, I always thought that was a cool thing for the fans. Regardless of which team for which you were rooting, everyone loves mascots.

But some mascots stand above the rest. Admittedly, I’ll say that the Phanatic is probably the best known and most celebrated mascot. But I would submit that the Oriole Bird is in the tier of mascots (along with the Phanatic and Mr. Met) that are best known across sports. So again…how can mascots such as YouDee already be in the mascot hall, while the Oriole Bird is scraping to get in?!

So go out and vote, folks! You can vote once a day until 10/26. As I said, you can vote four finalists. For what it’s worth, the four finalists that I’m supporting are: The Oriole Bird, “Youppi!” (Montreal Canadiens), “Globie” (Harlem Globetrotters), and “Bernie Brewer” (Milwaukee Brewers). Fans can also follow the Oriole Bird on twitter by clicking here.

Baltimore Orioles: Former Bird Gerardo Parra spearheads Washington’s title hopes

The Baltimore Orioles acquired Gerardo Parra at the trade deadline in 2015 from Milwaukee. The hope was that he would provide an additional bat in the lineup as the Orioles contended for the American League East pennant. Unfortunately for the O’s, Parra only hit .237 for the Orioles for the remainder of the year, with five home runs.

Parra’s numbers prior to coming to the Orioles were better. They were also better after he left Baltimore – which was the following season when he signed with Colorado. He ended up with the Washington Nationals in the middle of this season, and has helped to propel them into the Fall Classic.

Parra changed his at-bat song to “Baby Shark” earlier this year, and it caught on in the clubhouse and amongst the fans. Everyone knows the story by now. While Parra’s numbers in Baltimore could have been better (or more on par with the rest of his career at least), he is a former Oriole. And the only former Oriole in the World Series at that.

Anyone who noticed Washington’s rise in the standings had to notice Parra’s part in it. His Baby Shark routine acted as a spark – for both his teammates and the team’s fans. I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of grown men prancing around to Baby Shark, however you’d be hard pressed to argue it didn’t have an affect. Time will tell if it carries Parra’s current team to a world title.

Baltimore Orioles: Could Anthony Rendon come to Birdland?

As we know, 2019 was all about finding out what the Baltimore Orioles had, and learning a few hard lessons. The 2019 Orioles exceeded expectations as set forth on this column when they won more games than the 2018 team. So more is expected next season.

The World Series-bound Washington Nationals are right down the pike, and they enter the fall classic with pieces of their future still in doubt. Mainly, third baseman Anthony Rendon is a free agent after the season. Could the Orioles be in play for Rendon, and would he be willing to come here?

First off, Rendon’s a stud. He’s a career .290 hitter who smacked 34 home runs this year. He’s also well worth the price of admission as a third baseman, and he’s a team leader. Any team would be lucky to have him.

My prediction is that he remains in Washington. He seems very happy there, and by various accounts the franchise has attempted to sign him long term. Yet he’s neglected to accept a deal, presumably because the Nationals haven’t quite reached the number that he and agent Scott Boras want. But make no mistake that Washington is the front runner for Rendon’s services past this season, as well they should be.

However…what if the unthinkable were to occur? What if Washington were to not come up to Rendon’s number? Could he be in play – for the Orioles?

It would stand to reason that a team such as the Orioles would have to blow Rendon away with an offer for him to even consider them. He’s tasting a World Series right now (or he’s about to do so). He’s going to want to go to a contender; obviously a contender who’s capable of paying him his due.

However IF the opportunity to sign a player of his caliber were to come along, I’d say that it’s one that the Orioles should consider. Those same Washington Nationals did something like that when they signed Jayson Werth in 2011. Did they overpay? By all accounts, yes. But Werth helped to put the franchise on the map, and onto a trek that’s now landed them in the World Series in 2019.

That isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, mind you. Washington was a better team in 2011 than the Orioles are now. But you get the point. Werth at the time was a guy who had been a winner in Philadelphia, and who knew how to win. He also provided veteran leadership to a young crop of players.

Again, would Rendon come here? Probably not…at least without a contract with terms well over and above what other teams are offering. But that might be something for the Orioles to consider. You put someone like him in the order with the likes of a Mancini, and that might accelerate your rebuilding process just a bit.

Baltimore Orioles looking to end FanFest?

The news came out yesterday that the Baltimore Orioles we’re considering putting an end to their annual FanFest celebration. It’s usually held towards the end of January at the Baltimore Convention Center, and by my account it’s always been a beloved event by fans. Last year the Orioles said that approximately 8K people came through the turnstiles. There have been years where there’ve been more, and years where there’ve been less.

I think this is a very bad idea. I tell people all the time that FanFest is all of the excitement and amenities of an actual Orioles’ game, without the game. It’s always been a great event for families and kids, and I fail to see the logic in ending it.

Word is that GM Mike Elias and the Front Office is considering another way to engage fans during the off season. So I would reserve rendering final judgement on this until the formally announce that FanFest is officially ending, and then announce what replaces it. However in general, I think that playing with fan outreach events like this is playing with fire.

FanFest is a very old event. It dates back a long way, and it’s something that’s very traditional in Baltimore. Lots of other teams do similar events as well. So ending it would be cutting deep in terms of what’s important to this fanbase. But time will tell what happens. I seriously doubt that they’ll just end it and have nothing to replace it.

Baltimore Orioles: Looking at free agent pitchers

Yesterday I asked whether or not the Baltimore Orioles should consider signing a free agent pitcher. My deduction was that it was something they should consider. And here’s another point to that ends; the Orioles played musical pitchers all season last year. Wouldn’t it suit them better to have at least one or two guys who they know will be mainstays in the rotation?

So today I wanted to throw some names out there. While it’s attractive to look towards the Strasburg’s and Odorizzi’s of the world, do we really think that’s feasible? Those are pitchers who will look for big money deals with longevity. The Orioles probably aren’t in a position to hand out a contract of that nature to a pitcher right now.

But there are more veteran pitchers out there who might come cheaper and for shorter contracts. The Orioles obviously traded Andrew Cashner to Boston last year – might both sides consider a reunion? Whether or not the Orioles would want that is another story. Cashner’s ERA ballooned when he went to Boston last year. Whereas with the Orioles he had a .383 ERA, with Boston that went up to .620. But he would be an option if he were willing to sign a team-friendly contract.

And there are other guys out there, such as perhaps Marco Estrada, or Gio Gonzalez. Ultimately the goal wouldn’t be to sign a pitcher who would be a big name so as to put people in the seats. While that would be a great addition, it isn’t the idea behind getting someone on the free agent market.

The goal would be to get an innings eater, and someone who could anchor the Orioles’ rotation and help some of the younger guys along. They did this in 2010 when they signed veteran Kevin Millwood to the staff. And he served his purpose very well. That’s the type of move the Orioles might consider making in the form of a Gio Gonzalez (among others).

And there are other names out there as well. Clay Buchholz, who could be an option. Again, the idea isn’t to get someone who might be an automatic ace. The Orioles are trying to grow their own ace in a sense. But someone to eat innings and to help show some of the younger guys the ways and means of being a big league pitcher. Someone who can perhaps be an extension of the manager and pitching coach on the field. Guys who are willing to do that are the types of guys you need when you’re building a team from the ground up as the Orioles are.

Baltimore Orioles: Should the Birds go after a free agent pitcher?

There are lots of pitchers who will be on the open market in 2019, in theory all pitchers that could be available for the Baltimore Orioles. The question is whether or not the Birds would be in a position to sign a free agent pitcher. Would it make sense?

Tough to say. This isn’t so much about who they might look to sign or who might be available and in play. It’s more about whether or not they should delve into signing one.

First off we need to look at who the Orioles already have that might be penciled into the rotation. I would say that Dylan Bundy, John Means, and Alex Cobb are in line to be starters going into spring training. That’s right, Alex Cobb…remember him? He’s still under contract with the Orioles until 2022. Unless he retires or is traded, expect him to be in the starting rotation. (Although keep in mind that he’s also coming off of season-ending surgery in 2019.)

I think there’s also a legitimate chance that Asher Wojciechowski will get a shot to compete for a starting job also. If his second half from this year continues into spring training, he’ll be in line as a starter. But is there anyone else on the roster who jumps out as a potential starter?

To me, the closest other person on the roster now might be David Hess. He’s started before, obviously. But it’ll take a great spring for him to earn his way onto the roster. So with all of this in mind, there could very well be space for the Orioles to get themselves a free agent pitcher going into the season…

…but who? That’s another discussion for another day.

Baltimore Orioles: Revisiting the sign stealing issue

The Baltimore Orioles should probably consider themselves lucky that they aren’t mired in some of the recent sign stealing controversies of late. And once again this issue is coming up and involving the Houston Astros, who according to George King‘s article in the NY Post, are once again resorting to various tactics in terms of stealing signs. And apparently using a whistle to do so.

According to the article, the New York Yankees are frosted at what they interpreted as sign stealing in the form of a whistle. According to some players, sometimes they also do things such as bang pipes. Apparently much of this starts in the bullpen. The article also points out that Houston had a league-best 60-21 record at home this year.

As I’ve said in the past, we’re kidding ourselves if we think this type of thing isn’t going on in almost every big league game. Playoffs, regular season – heck, probably even in spring training. This is now the second team in a short period of time that’s accused Houston of stealing signs. Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire.

I’ve also said in the past that foreign devices cannot be used to steal signs in games (that’s actually in the rule book). And quite frankly, that leads to the part of this which quite frankly ticks me off the most. By using a whistle, banging on pipes, etc, they’re actually outsmarting the system in a sense. They aren’t using an electronic means to steal signs – as the ChiSox did years ago with lights on the scoreboard. In accordance with the rules, what they’re doing is legal.

But as readers know, I’m old school. I believe in the unwritten codes of the game. Now to their credit, New York is handling the situation in the proper manner by changing up their signs. According to the aforementioned article they even relay signs with nobody on base so as to make it tougher for Houston to steal the signs. But I’m not going to lie…if I were in charge someone would be wearing a pitch at some point.

Baltimore Orioles: Bucking the trend in Philly?

Former Baltimore Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter interviewed with the Philadelphia Phillies for their managerial opening on Monday. Philadelphia also reportedly interviewed Dusty Baker. The meetings took place in New York.

Both men are qualified. And the Philadelphia Phillies would be lucky to have either one manning their dugout. However in reviewing my twitter feed over the past few days, I’ve noticed something – about Orioles’ fans. A lot of them seem to be taking a jilted at the altar view towards the idea of Buck returning to the dugout. Mainly because at one point while in Baltimore he said that the Orioles would be his final managing job.

First off, people change. When he said that he may well have meant it. To his credit, Buck’s never been the type of guy to give lip service. He wouldn’t have said that just to endear himself to fans. But that isn’t to suggest that his view on the matter couldn’t have changed between then and now. I suspect that if he had his way he would still be managing the Orioles, perhaps also acting as the GM. But that’s not something that’s on the table for him.

So he has two choices: either stay out of baseball, or try to get back in. It appears that he’s taking the latter route. Whether it’s in Philadelphia or elsewhere, I personally believe that Buck Showalter will be managing in 2020. And to be honest, Philadelphia should have a certain appeal to him…

…their GM is Andy MacPhail He of course was the GM who hired Buck in Baltimore. Numerous other former members of the Orioles’ front office and scouting department have also migrated north to Philadelphia. So Showalter would find a group with which he was familiar if he were offered the job, and if he took it.

He would also find a city with many quirks – much like Baltimore. Buck always said I get Baltimore during his time here. Philadelphia is similar in that the city has it’s ebbs and flows, and the people are passionate about their city and their region.

One challenge would be that Showalter famously does things his own way. At almost every turn of the way, teams eventually soured on that way of doing things. So…were the Orioles any different? I would say yes. Showalter wasn’t fired; his contract expired. And if a franchise is ever in a spot to go in a different direction, it would have been the Orioles at that point of time. So I’m not sure that the Orioles actually soured on Buck as much as they opted to go in another direction. Either way he ceased to be here.

However again, Orioles fans shouldn’t feel jilted if he goes to another team. My hope would be that they’d be happy for him. Anyone who observed the dynamic Showalter had with the city, the fans, and the players while he was in Baltimore is going to know that Baltimore will always be special to Buck. And needless to say, he’ll always be special to the fans of Baltimore.

Baltimore Orioles: Sympathy for St. Louis fans

The Baltimore Orioles felt that they had a legit shot at a World Series title in 2014. After Delmon Young‘s bases-clearing double to in effect win game two of the ALDS and an anti-climactic win in game three to close out Detroit, they had momentum. Then they ran into a buzz saw in Kansas City.

In the Kansas City Royals, they found not only an opponent who equaled their belief in themselves, but one who wanted to do everything in it’s power to squash their opponent. As Buck Showalter would often say, some days you’re the windshield and some days you’re the bug.

In watching this year’s NLCS, I see some similarities. St. Louis won a big game five in Atlanta to get to that stage. A game in which they put up ten runs in the first inning to win. They felt they had momentum, and they believed. Now they’ve run into the Washington Nationals.

Now this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison by any means. First off, the 2014 Orioles were a power-hitting team, and Kansas City won games on broken bat and bloop singles. In this case it’s Washington who’s more of the power-hitting team. However they’re also the team who’s seemingly got more pep than a high school cheerleading squad. That’s part of what carried Kansas City in 2014 and 2015.

So I suppose what I’m saying is that Orioles fans know what St. Louis fans are doing through right about now. I remember getting read to cover Game Four of that ALCS with Kansas City up three games to zero. My attitude was almost is there really a point to playing this game? Obviously that’s probably a bad attitude to have, but you get the point.

There is one other area in which these situations differ. Kansas City made sure that the Orioles knew they were going down, and they made sure that the Orioles saw their celebrations. Down the stretch there were numerous gestures made towards the Orioles from the Kansas City dugout in those games. I’ve seen nothing that indicates Washington’s team has guys capable of that sort of disrespect.

However the point is that Orioles fans probably get St. Louis fans in this instance. Of course you want to believe it’s possible that you can come back and so forth. However in the back of your mind you know it’s all but a done deal. And ultimately if St. Louis is able to pull off what the 2014 Orioles couldn’t (and win a game in the series), it’ll feel almost like a one-day stay of execution.

Baltimore Orioles: Deterioration of officiating

The Baltimore Orioles have had their share of mishaps involving umpires. All you need to do is look back to the 1996 ALCS against New York to know that. But even since then there’s been controversy in games – no different from any other team in any other sport.

If you’re a consumer of sports across-the-board as I am, you know that officiating seems to have deteriorated in all sports. I maintain that the worst is still college basketball. Anytime Coach A or Program A gets obvious preferential treatment over Coach or Program B, that’s a huge problem. But obviously on a daily basis we see #umpshow from any given fan base. It’s turned into a real problem.

Some people are starting to say that NFL games are becoming unwatchable. And you might have similar sentiments in baseball when an umpire decides to make himself the main attraction. In yesterday’s Dallas Cowboys vs. NY Jets game there were six consecutive plays on which officials threw flags. And they occurred at the end of the games. You know, when it’s thought that the refs aren’t going to call ticky-tack things.

And that right there might be one of the keys in terms of the crisis we see in sports when it comes to officials. There’s a total lack of situational awareness on the part of referees or umpires. If you’re an umpire it should be understood that you’re a “baseball guy.” Same is true with refs in football or basketball – you’re a “football/basketball guy.” That means it should stand to reason that you know the game and you understand how things ebb and flow in the game.

The majority of games across sports seem to come down to the wire nowadays. And that’s a good thing. However it also puts a larger emphasis on officials because they know in the backs of their heads that calls they make at key moments could affect the outcome of the game. If it’s blatant, absolutely it should be called. But if it’s borderline, is it really worth erring on the side of calling holding in an NFL game in the latter moments of the fourth quarter? Or a balk against a big league pitcher in the eighth or ninth inning?

Now one thing that we hear a lot in baseball is that if it’s a strike in the first inning it should be a strike in the ninth. And that should go without saying. But I’m not necessarily talking about balls and strikes. I’m talking of less tangible things such as holding or yes even balks. Ticky-tack things which can in fact turn games.

Under no circumstances am I suggesting that sports are fixed. I just think that certain people get more leeway to complain in some circles, and while others don’t. So what’s the solution? Beats the heck out of me!

Baltimore Orioles: Opioid epidemic hits MLB

The Baltimore Orioles and the rest of MLB were shocked and devastated earlier this season when Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Tyler Skaggs turned up dead in his Dallas-area hotel room. The entire league justifiably seemed to take pause to honor and remember Skaggs. These sports are all brotherhoods, and players stand by one another.

We’re now hearing that an Angels’ PR employee had been supplying Skaggs with various opioid drugs for a few years, and had even been using the drugs with Skaggs. Just as a reminder, opioids are a narcotic. Short of heroin or crack cocaine, we’re talking the worst of the worst when it comes to drugs.

President Donald Trump has spoken on numerous occasions about wanting to combat the opioid epidemic that’s facing our country. In fact, it’s been slowing creeping up on us for 30 years or so. Whatever else you may think about President Trump (positive or negative), you should be behind that initiative. Again whatever else your view is of him, keep in mind that he had a brother who died as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. He’s in a position to know the endgame for people mixed up with opioids.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that this was going on. Opioids has seemingly touched every other aspect of our society, so why shouldn’t it hit MLB also? But I suppose I would say that it shocked me to an extent. But it shouldn’t have; athletes have access to drugs such as pain killers that the general public does not.

The issue for the Angels and for MLB is that a team employee was supplying the opioids. Now while Skaggs was paying for the medication, that could leave the team and/or the league open to lawsuits. Possibly as harsh as wrongful death litigation.

Orioles’ GM Mike Elias and his counterpartsall need to grab the bull by the horn on this. They need to ensure that nothing of this nature is occurring throughout their organizations. Because if there are, jobs, money, and even freedom from jail could be at stake.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters finally in the LCS

The Baltimore Orioles drafted catcher Matt Wieters. They developed him as a homegrown player, and he made his MLB debut in 2009. He left the Orioles after the 2016 season, which of course culminated with the Orioles falling in the Wild Card Game.

However he was a member of the 2012 team which went to the ALDS. He was also a member of the 2014 team which went to the ALCS. However Wieters’ season was cut short due to having to undergo Tommy John’s surgery. After leaving the O’s Wieters spent two seasons as a member of the Washington Nationals, and this year signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.

And Wieters has now finally made it to the LCS round as a result. St. Louis is playing Washington in the National League Championship series (which Washington now leads 1-0). Wieters has primarily been a backup this year, but he’s on the roster.

It’s always good to see a former Oriole having success. Wieters was never the same after the aforementioned surgery, but he’s still a solid major league catcher. And I suspect he’s thrilled to finally have the opportunity to compete for a championship given that he had to watch it from afar the last time around.

Baltimore Orioles: How rampant is sign stealing?

Baltimore Orioles fans want to believe that their guys don’t steal signs. And in fact, the Orioles have rarely been mentioned as a team that engages in that sort of thing. This as opposed to other teams such as the ChiSox, who used lights on the scoreboard to relay signs to hitters. Or the famed “man in white” in Toronto who would supposedly tip pitches.

Last night via twitter, former MLB pitcher Seth McClung delved into sign stealing while watching the ALDS between Tampa and Houston:

For the record, if in fact a camera was in use to steal signs, that’s blatantly against MLB rules. We have no way of knowing if signs were truly being stolen or not. However as a former big league pitcher, McClung’s in a position to know what he’s talking about.

Unfortunately I think there’s more sign stealing that goes on in baseball than what people want to believe. It is against the unwritten codes of the game, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think it doesn’t go on. And in every major league game, on both sides.

I’ll take it a step further; I would bet guys are even trying to steal signs in spring training. You play like you practice. If you can steal signs in spring games you aren’t doing it because you so direly want to win that game. You’re doing it so that when and if you face that team in the regular season you know what to look for.

I’d like to believe that if I were a big league player or coach I wouldn’t do that. However I’d also suggest that there’s a vast difference between a runner at second tipping off the hitter on pitches, and what McClung is alleging above. Using a foreign device to tip pitches is particularly wrong. However in today’s world if you get away with it that means it didn’t happen.

Baltimore Orioles: Is MLB trolling the O’s?

Yesterday was a day of infamy in the history of the Baltimore Orioles. On October 9, 1996 Derek Jeter hit what went down as a homer in game one of the ALCS. According to the box score, that is. As all Orioles fans know, it was only a home run because a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall and took the ball out of the reach of Orioles’ right fielder Tony Tarasco.

For the record, modern instant replay would have overturned that very quickly. It wasn’t even a close call. It’s a moment that lives on, as I said in infamy. While Orioles fans have never forgotten, they yesterday received a stark reminder of it in the form of a tweet from MLB:

People often tease Baltimore because there’s a school of thought out there which says that the city has an inferiority complex. Well things such as this could be one of the reasons why. This didn’t have to happen.

First off, why would MLB be so ready to celebrate a moment which is based on a call that they got wrong? I mean this seriously – is there anyone out there who thought this was the appropriate call? Secondly, why was NBC’s Jim Gray on the scene interviewing the kid, thus raising him up as a cult hero, only minutes after the incident happened?

Similarly, why exactly did George Steinbrenner give the kid tickets to Game Two in a suite? There’s not one person who saw that play that didn’t think it was fan interference. That moment changed the course of both franchises involved for the next 15 years or so. And you can imagine who got the short end.

You can’t change history. This moment happened, and it’s set in stone. But what exactly does tweeting it out in a celebratory manner achieve for MLB? The Jeffrey Maier incident is memorable for all of the wrong reasons. Sure if you’re a Yankees fan perhaps you take the well nobody really got a great look at the play attitude. But again ask yourself, if that play happened today in the exact same manner, would replay not overturn it?

One more thing on this; the umpire on the spot who made the call that day was Rich Garcia. Obviously neither he nor the rest of the crew had the benefit of instant replay as umpires do today. After the game he saw a television replay of the home run, and immediately said that he had blown the call. He publicly admitted it in the news media.

It has to make Rich Garcia cringe everytime this replay is shown. However very little blame should fall on him in this. Sure he made the bad call, but keep in mind that these plays happen very quickly, and it’s easy to not see something along those lines. However to his credit, he admitted the mistake (much like umpire Jim Joyce, who a few years ago cost someone a perfect game with a bad call at first base).

To my knowledge, he’s the only person affiliated with MLB who’s every admitted that the call was incorrect. And he’s certainly not tweeting the play out to celebrate it on it’s anniversary. Rich Garcia is a stand-up guy. Can the powers that be in the league today say the same?

Baltimore Orioles: Should Buck Showalter return to baseball?

It’s been just over a year since we came to find out that Buck Showalter would not be returning to the Baltimore Orioles. Just a point of semantics, Showalter wasn’t fired. His contract was up, and the Orioles decided to move on. There is a difference.

Respected Orioles’ beat writer Rich Dubroff of wrote this piece this morning surrounding Showalter and the various job openings around the league. First off, I agree with Dubroff’s main theme in that baseball is a better game with Buck Showalter in it. And by in it, I mean in the dugout managing. As you may remember Showalter did some in-studio work for the YES Network on New York Yankees games in the second half of the season. But I’m talking in the dugout – baseball’s a better game with Buck in the dugout.

There are a wide array of jobs open as Dubroff lays out in his article. He seems to believe that Philadelphia’s job may be in play, which is of course possible. It would be interesting to see how Buck would fit into that environment. With a rabid fan base and a tough media; how would his “Buckisms” faire?

Obviously the Chicago Cubs would be a job he might consider, if only for the fact that it might offer him the best chance at winning a World Series. What would really be interesting is if he ended up signing with a team who comes through Oriole Park at Camden Yards next year – which Chicago does. I suspect that Orioles fans would love the opportunity to have Buck come back into Camden Yards as a visitor.

I think it boils down to what Buck wants to do. He became a grandfather for the first time in 2017, and my personal opinion is that something along those lines is probably a game changer. Once you’re into “the grind” of grandparenting, maybe some of the other things in your life aren’t quite as important. However if Buck wants to manager again, I suspect that there would be no shortage of teams who would be interested.

Baltimore Orioles: How will spring training 2020 be different from 2019?

Next year’s spring training should have a slightly different vibe for the Baltimore Orioles. 2019 was all about finding out what the Orioles had. Next season will be different.

In some instances the Orioles now know what they have. This past season brought a new manager in Brandon Hyde, and a slew of new players. Nobody really knew what to expect of anyone – including the fans. This time around we’ll have a better idea. We know the ebbs and flows of how Hyde manages a game. We know who the leaders are.

The question will be will this team be able to take a greater step next year. They took a good step this past year by winning more games than they did in 2018. But they need to build on that in 2020. And that process starts in spring training.

Actually it starts before spring training. Hyde told each player what he needed to continually work on in the off season. Regardless of what that was for each individual player, the message was loud and clear. You shouldn’t begin working on these things in the Florida Grapefruit League. That process needs to begin in the off season.

In effect, if your assignment was to cut down on your swing, that should be perfected by the time you report to camp. That right there should tell folks that the Orioles intend to be more competitive in 2020. That doesn’t mean that the playoff race is a reasonable goal, because it isn’t. But they intend to be more competitive. And that starts in spring training.

Baltimore Orioles: The passing of Andy Etchebarren

Another Baltimore Orioles’ legend passed away over the weekend. Former catcher Andy Etchebarren, passed away on Saturday evening. Etchebarren was drafted by the Orioles, and made his debut in 1962. He played 15 full major league seasons, 12 of which were with the Orioles.

Etchebarren was only a career .235 hitter, but keep in mind as I said that he was a catcher. 1975 was one of his best year at the plate, a season in which he hit .280. Defensively he fielded at a career .987 clip behind the dish. Not too shabby.

Etchebarren loved being an Oriole, and he was a part of two World Series championship teams. He was often overshadowed in a sense because he played with Frank, Brooks, Palmer, et al. But make no mistake that he was a huge part of all of those great Orioles teams. And he’ll be missed.

Baltimore Orioles: Tips happen

Over the course of the 2019 season I often questioned whether Baltimore Orioles’ pitchers were tipping their pitches. In fact, at times during various seasons I’ve thought that. Obviously it wouldn’t have been happening purposely or consciously, but it could have happened over the course of time. Perhaps various pitchers in various games.

After defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday and evening the ALDS at 1-1, Washington third baseman Anthony Rendon at the very least insinuated that LAD starter Clayton Kerrhaw was tipping his pitches. There’s some discrepancy as to whether or not it was actually Kershaw tipping pitches or another pitcher. But that’s irrelevant to the purpose of this discussion in a sense.

The point is that teams do very much have to be careful. Because opponents are always watching. If in fact you do something which indicates what you’re going to throw, opposing teams are going to find it.

Many might suggest that it’s immoral in relation to the rules of baseball to look and see if someone’s tipping their pitches. I would disagree – and nobody cares about the unwritten codes of the game like I do. Stealing signs – THAT’S against the unwritten rules. But there’s nothing wrong with studying your opponents to see if they’re doing something to tip their pitches.

This just means that players need to study themselves. And coaches need to study their players. Because if things are going on which indicate what’s coming, someone’s going to find it.

Baltimore Orioles part ways with Josh Wasdin

The Baltimore Orioles made one further change to their coaching staff yesterday. Bullpen coach Josh Wasdin was informed that he would not be retained for 2020. Wasdin has been working on a one-year contract.

The rhyme or reason behind the changes that have been made to the coaching staff are unclear. But the fact is that the Orioles are making them. They’ll begin interviewing for replacements next week.

Baltimore Orioles: Coaching changes

The Baltimore Orioles will not re retaining first base coach Arnie Beyeler or hitting coach Howie Clark next year. Both coaches were working on one-year deals, which expire at the end of October. These moves were announced yesterday, however more are expected.

It’s unknown whether these are mutual decisions or if the Orioles just wanted to move on. Whether or not the positions are filled immediately or after the World Series also remains unknown. However both positions will probably be filled sooner rather than later. More as it comes.

Baltimore Orioles: Too many statistics is hurting the game

While recently they’ve embraced analytics more, the Baltimore Orioles are a fairly traditional team. You hit the ball, you run to first base, etc. That’s how the game has always been played – until now. Recently there’s been a push to embrace every available stat and every available trend to use it to one’s advantage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But purists aren’t fans.

During a twitter exchange with a fan once I was told that purists are ruining baseball. That somehow doesn’t exactly make much sense given that purists do things the way they’ve always been done. It’s the new age analytical thinking which is in fact new. These people’s idea is that the new age thinking is keeping younger viewers into the sport.

ESPN encompassed this last night in their coverage of the AL Wild Card Game. They had a traditional broadcast, which is where I found myself watching. on ESPN2 they also had a Statcast Broadcast with three different announcers. Those who care about things such as launch angle and exit velo were presumably watching there.

Unequivocally, no it’s not purists such as I who are hurting baseball. In my view it’s the over-abundance of stats such as what I wrote above. There are some teams who go way over-and-above what’s necessary. If there’s a stat which says that a specific batter hits at a steeper launch angle against a specific pitcher while he’s wearing a pink tutu on the mound, teams would consider bringing him in wearing just that. (Steeper launch angle meaning that the ball would have a better shot at being caught in the outfield as opposed to a home run.)

I suppose my point is that you can’t leave these things up to stats – totally. Stats and trends are important for sure, and they don’t lie. But they also remove the human element from the game. They remove the manager or players having a feel for what’s going on. And there’s no substitute for that.

This is spreading to other sports as well. When I heard that John Harbaugh of the Ravens was going for two-point conversions because the analytics said that was better, I hit the roof. Again, there’s no substitute for a coach or athlete having a feel for the game. As a purist, that’s not something that we should let die.

Baltimore Orioles parting ways with Brady Anderson

Former Baltimore Orioles’ star Brady Anderson is now former Baltimore Orioles’ front office employee Brady Anderson. (But he’s still obviously former Orioles’ star Brady Anderson – you get the idea.) Multiple outlets have reported that the club and Anderson are parting ways.

Anderson of course was very active in baseball operations under former VP Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter. Once that regime was gone, Anderson’s role became a bit less defined – in effect once VP Mike Elias took over. Anderson apparently was on a leave of absence dealing with family issues for much of this season. With that said, it sounds as if this is a mutual decision.

Elias has now turned over pretty much the entire front office. Many fans will see that as a good thing, and many will raise their eyebrows. However the Angelos family gave Elias the power to mold the organization in the manner he wished. And he’s doing just that. More as it comes.

Baltimore Orioles: We go beyond the end of the line!

Today’s the day after for the Baltimore Orioles. The team returned to Baltimore last night after the season finale in Boston, and today guys will report to Camden Yards to clean out their lockers for the winter. While 2019 is over and done, it’ll be a busy day at the yard. And always with an eye on the future.

Rumor has it that manager Brandon Hyde met with each player over the course of the final two or three weeks or so. Each player’s future was discussed, and Hyde went over what each player had done well this year – and how each player is expected to improve going into spring training. And the point was driven home that the expectation was that said improvements and adjustments were expected to have been begun going into spring training. They weren’t to begin in spring training, but they were to have been worked on throughout the off season.

So it’ll be interesting how things look once we get to spring games next year. And we will get there – if you can believe that, here on the first full day of the off season. Time will in fact pass!

In the mean time however, the season never really ends here at Birdland Crush. We’ll have daily coverage of any Orioles’ news, including opinions and analysis. In the immediate future, I always take a couple of days to “digest” the season in it’s entirety. But sometime towards the end of this week I’ll provide a season recap. We’ll also look at the MLB playoffs as they go along, perhaps chronicling the progress of former Orioles, or players with ties to the Orioles.

Off seasons tend to drag on in baseball; they can be trying. But before we know it, Orioles’ FanFest will be upon us, and pitchers and catchers report two weeks after the Super Bowl. And then we begin anew. But in the interim, it never stops here at Birdland Crush!

Baltimore Orioles: Played until the end of the line

Chandler Shepherd started the season finale at Fenway Park for the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon. The Birds were going with a bullpen game, however Shepherd went five innings. Shpeherd’s line: 5.0 IP, 3 R (2 earned) 1 BB, 6 K.

The Orioles took the lead in the third with RBI-singles by Hanser Alberto and Austin Hays, and a fielder’s choice-RBI by Trey Mancini. Even on the last day, they were still fighting. And they led 3-0.

However while I’m sure they were ready for the season to end as well, Boston wasn’t going quietly into the night. They put two across in the last of the third, and tied the game at three on Vasquez’s RBI-single in the sixth. One inning later Bogaerts’ RBI-single gave Boston a 4-3 lead.

But again, the Orioles fight until the end. Jonathan Villar, who played in all 162 games this year, smacked an RBI-single which tied the game at four in the eighth inning. But in the bottom of that inning it appeared that Boston was going to take the lead back. Bradley Jr. sent a towering fly ball to right field towards the corner of the Orioles’ visitors bullpen at Fenway Park…

…it was a home run. It was flat out a home run. Until it wasn’t. Until Stevie Wilkerson leapt at the wall, brought the ball back into the field of play, and spun around the wall and back onto his feet. He flat out robbed Bradley of a two-run homer.

However it would be and RBI-single by Devers in the last of the ninth that would walk Boston off as winners, ending the season for both teams. The Orioles finished the year at 54-108. As I’ve said however, that shows progress. Maybe seven games better than last year in the win column isn’t a heck of a lot of progress to some people. But it’s progress. And that’s what this season was supposed to be all about.

Going back to that Wilkerson catch for a moment, I can’t stress enough how amazing of a play it was. But it goes deeper than that. It symbolizes that this team never quit. It would have been easy enough to have let that ball go over the wall. The game probably would have been over earlier, and nobody would have thought Wilkerson or the O’s any worse for doing it.

But the fact that Wilkerson spent so much effort in making that play, in effect a play that was meaningless in the grand scheme of things, speaks to his character. And it speaks to the character of this organization, which obviously teaches it’s players to always play hard. And they typified that attitude until the last out on the last day, and until the end of the line. Up until the end.

Just for laughs…the Orioles’ next game will be Florida Grapefruit League Opening Day on Saturday, February 23, 2020 against Atlanta at CoolToday Park. Starters for both teams are still to be determined. (As soon as I’m able to get information about potential starters I’ll pass that along!) Game time is set for just after 1 PM.

And THAT, folks, is the end of the line!

Baltimore Orioles: Final game of this decade

Today the Baltimore Orioles close not only the 2019 season, but also a decade that will forever be special in Birdland. The next time the Birds take the field it will be 2020, and thus a new decade. (The Roaring 20’s?!) So today ends the 2010’s.

And what a memorable decade this was. First off, the Orioles and the rest of the league all play at 3 PM EST this afternoon. The league took note of the closing act of 2011, in which the Orioles savagely beat Boston in walk off fashion, and five minutes later Tampa did the same to NY – the combination of the two acts sending Tampa to the post season and sending Boston home. So at some point the league decided to have the last day feature games at the same time so as to potentially have something along those lines occur again.

Obviously the success of this past decade can be traced back and attributed to Buck Showalter. His leadership propelled the likes of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and others to greatness. Some of you reading this will point out that the O’s never won a World Series in this timeframe, and that’a undebatable. However after 14 consecutive losing seasons and multiple embarrassments in that span, are you really going to let the lack of a World Series define that era?

The 2012 Orioles shocked the world. And it was literally a season-long process – shocking the world, that is. They took the momentum garnered after bouncing Boston from the playoffs in 2011 and paid it forward. There were people who didn’t truly believe in the Orioles having a shot at the post season until they had actually clinched. But they made it, and won the inaugural AL Wild Card Game in Texas.

We all know the rest. Two years later the O’s were AL East Champions, and two years after that they returned to the post season as a wild card team. However all good things must come to an end. And the 2010’s-era Orioles has their fall from grace as well. They were competitive in 2017 until the final month, when they just fell off. Then 2018 obviously was a disaster, causing wholesale changes across the board.

But when fans think back on this decade of Orioles baseball, my hope is that they remember the good times. Because the fact is that they far outweigh the bad. By a long shot. Think back to moments such as this oneDelmon Young‘s bases clearing double in the 2014 ALDS against Detroit.

Incidentally, as a writer I try my best to call things down the middle. Sure I cover the Orioles and thus write from the Orioles’ perspective, but I try not to cheerlead. But watching that clip still sends shivers down my spine (in a manner that only baseball can induce). You can hear the crowd, and hear the announcer straining just to have his voice heard over the fans. And that’s very consistent with my own memories of that moment.

That was not only the loudest I had ever heard Camden Yards, but the loudest I had ever heard any stadium. It was one of those moments that you just won’t ever forget. Nary one person in the park that day didn’t feel that Baltimore was collecting penance in that moment for all of the losing and embarrassments over the years.

It was unforgettable. And personally I think it’s the moment which personifies and symbolizes this decade of Orioles baseball. Again, it’s easy to look at that and say wow look how far they’ve fallen. But the fact is that this was one of the most successful decades in some time for the Orioles. Never forget that.

And yes folks, it closes today. But I think most fans believe that the organization is headed in the right direction. Those days could be returning in the future. Oh and there’s one other thing people should keep in mind when thinking of the 2010’s and Orioles baseball. The price of admission? ONE BUCK.

Baltimore Orioles: John Means closes his season in fashion

John Means was one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season for the Baltimore Orioles. Not that it matters, but he probably goes into spring training next year as the staff ace. That aside, he closed his 2019 season this afternoon with a decent outing against Boston at Fenway Park. Means’ line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K.

The Birds took an almost immediate lead in this one. Jonathan Villar got aboard almost right away with a base hit, and he scored a moment later in a two-run homer by DJ Stewart. And the O’s appeared off to the races…

…save for the fact that Means surrendered a two1run homer to Bogaerts in the last of the first. Immediately following that homer Martinez would give them the lead at 3-2 with a solo shot of his own. But this day belonged to Means and the Orioles, and that brief blip on the radar wasn’t about to stop them.

Sure enough, Richie Martin‘s solo homer in the second tied the game back up at three. One inning later Renato Nunez‘s solo homer gave them the lead back. Incidentally, Richie Martin is another success story of this season. Of course the Orioles got him in last year’s Rule 5 draft. He had to be on the roster all season, and now moving forward he’s a member of the Orioles in full, meaning they can move him up and down the organization. Whether he’s a major leaguer next year or not remains to be seen. But I think he has a bright future at this level.

The O’s blew the lead open in the sixth. Austin Wynns‘ RBI-single extended the lead to 5-3. Martin would smack an RBI-double, making it 6-3. Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini would each add RBI-singles as well, giving the Birds an 8-3 lead.

Boston would put up an additional run, and they threatened in the eighth. They had the bases loaded and one out, but the O’s turned a double-play to end the inning. Trey Mancini would also hit his 35th homer of the season to cap off the Birds’ 9-4 victory.

And that brings us to tomorrow – the end of the line. It’s kind of hard to believe that we’ve been doing this since spring games began – back on February 23rd. But the Orioles have now played 161 regular season games. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for following along to this point…

…and beyond. And yes folks, there is a beyond – Birdland Crush covers the Birds 365 days a year! The world certainly doesn’t end tomorrow. Just the season. The Orioles are already closing 2019 in a positive manner by taking a series from Boston at Fenway Park. Tomorrow they’ll try to make it a sweep.

So for the last time this season…the O’s will close the year tomorrow at Fenway Park. It’ll be a bullpen game for the Orioles and they’re yet to announce a starter, however whomever he is will be opposed by Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez. Game time is set for just after 3 PM.

Baltimore Orioles: Alex Cobb expected a full go in Spring Training

Baltimore Orioles’ GM Mike Elias appeared on WJZ-FM’s Orioles Hot Stove Show late last week. A wide array of topics were covered, including the outlook for Orioles’ starter Alex Cobb. In short, Cobb is expected to be ready to go for spring training.

Cobb of course had hip surgery this past season, which ended his year. Elias on Cobb (quote courtesy of Roch Kubatko, MASNsports):

I think you saw this year how much it hurt us not having him. After we lost him, we were really just scrambling for any semblance of innings, starting pitching, and certainly the vacancy that a veteran like Alex Cobb leaves when he’s hurt, especially with the investment that we have in him, it stings. And so the fact that his (hip) surgery went well.

He had a procedure that kind of shaves off some bone in his hip and it was impinging on soft tissue in his hip. He feels great. It’s a pretty simple procedure. We expect that he’ll be fully healthy in that regard. It’s just going to be a matter of how built up his arm is and how many innings he’s going to be able to provide us. But having him back for a number of reasons will be good.

He had that great first outing against the Yankees at home and I think that’s what he’s capable of when he’s healthy, and hopefully we get that version next year. We expect to.

I would say that if there’s a default guy to be the Opening Day starter, it’s Alex Cobb. I say that based solely on Elias’ comments detailed above. If Cobb can be solid for the Orioles out of the gate, he could easily be a candidate for a trade at the deadline, which could net the O’s a young prospect or two.

But that’s a big IF. Cobb has had his share of injury issues over the years. It’s also contingent on him starting well out out of the gate. Which means that Spring Training will be very important for Cobb. A Spring Training in which he should be a full go.

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