Over the last decade I’ve covered some of the best Baltimore Orioles’ teams, as well as the worst. For the record, the worst team was probably the 2018 O’s. And that still has me scratching my head, incidentally. But the best? The 2014 AL East Champion Orioles.
About that 2014 team…in my view they were the best in baseball that year. Hands down. Justifiably, that should have been the franchise’s fourth World Series Championship. Not only were they a championship-caliber team, but they handled themselves as true professionals. As only a true Buck Showalter-led team can be.
The O’s of course were tripped up in the ALCS by a Kansas City Royals team that was on a mission. Professionalism was put on the back burner by that group, as their only focus was winning the game. And win they did. Again, I personally believe that the O’s were the best team in baseball that year. Yet a team with swagger, confidence, and joie de vivre defeated this power-hitting team by way of broken bat singles and hunts. The Birds were paper cut to death.
When I watched last night’s Ravens’ playoff game against Tennessee, I had flashbacks to that ALCS. Once again, Baltimore was the better team – on paper. Once again, you had an opponent who came in with a lot of momentum and a lot of swagger. And they somehow defeated a Baltimore team that they shouldn’t have. And if you look at Tennessee’s offensive numbers last night, they kind of paper cut the Ravens to death. (Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 88 yards last night – and two touchdowns.)
So…does swagger outdo skill? If you take the 2014 Orioles (and Royals) and the 2019 Ravens (and Titans), perhaps it does. Heck, look at the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles defeating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Did anyone other than Philadelphia see that coming?
Look at a team near and dear to my heart, the current Maryland Terrapins’ basketball team. This is a team that’s loaded with talent. They were outdone the other night by an Iowa team that had noticeably less talent. But which did have swagger. The same is true of the Terps’ loss earlier in the season against Penn State.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon, incidentally. The 1969 NY Jets famously defeated the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. You see the same thing there. A great team was beaten by a team less-skilled team who simply believed they could shove it down their opponents’ throats.
So if swagger wins games, why isn’t every team full of it? I’m not sure it’s quite that simple. You have to play with swagger and live with it. All of the teams I’ve mentioned totally threw caution to the wind. They so hated the concept of losing, they became unafraid of it. Outwardly that makes little sense, but again consider the 2014 Royals. If you look at the determination they had in their eyes to win, it almost looks like the Orioles were playing not to lose. The same is true of the Titans last night.
This attitude is merciless to opponents. Again, any break the Royals and Titans caught in games, they exploited. And they weren’t shy about tell you. Again, it’s too easy to suggest that anyone who believes he’s going to win and is willing to take risks will do so. But maybe there’s something to be said for confidence. Obviously, however, skill means something also.