Baltimore Orioles: Alternate realities and junction points

On this day in 1996, the Baltimore Orioles were all but screwed out of a possible game one win in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. We all know the story – a kid named Jeffrey Maier at the very least “assisted” in a Derek Jeter home run in the last of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. The Birds held a slim one-run lead at the time, and they ended up losing in extra innings.

They did come back to win game two however, but dropped the series four games to one. Anytime I talk or write about this I always mention that the umpire who made the call of home run, Rich Garcia, admitted afterwards that he blew it. This was well before instant replay in baseball, and Garcia had to make a snap call on a play that occurred quickly. But to his credit he admitted later that he blew it. Not a lot of umpires are willing to do that.

Had that been called properly, Jeter probably would have been awarded second base. There’s nothing that guarantees he wouldn’t have still come around to score. The O’s still could have lost that game. But all things remaining the same, let’s say they had won that game. Would they have still lost the series?

That team had an excellent shot at a World Series title. Had that happened, would the history of the franchise have been altered? Manager Davey Johnson of course was let go following the equally as successful 1997 season – following a dispute over a charity with owner Peter Angelos. (Technically Johnson resigned, but he did so under pressure and would have been fired.) That set off a chain reaction of events that sent the Orioles into the basement – until 2012.

But again, let’s say the Maier incident was ruled properly. And let’s say that team won the World Series. Would Davey Johnson still have been in the hot water he was in when he was in it? Would he have remained the manager? It’s tough to say. But I do think that the history following that time period would have been different for the Orioles.

Ultimately Angelos would be viewed differently had he won a World Series that year. And maybe the embarrassments during the first decade of the 2000’s wouldn’t have happened. It’s tough to say though. Especially knowing how good Boston and New York were doing those years. But were they truly that great, or was some of their greatness at the expense of a divisional foe who at times seemed to be barely trying?

Speaking of 2012, remember that ALDS – again against New York? First off, the Orioles were just happy to be there. As were the fans. That team gave the city and the fans an amazing ride. And from the perspective of a guy who wrote about it, I’ll never forget it.

But the ALDS was tied at two games each going into game five, again at Yankee Stadium. With New York leading 1-0 in the sixth, Nate McLouth hit a long fly ball towards right with the bases loaded. The ball was ruled foul. And that foul ball ruling was upheld on replay.

I’ll be honest; I think that was the right call – upon replay, that is. The call on the field was a foul ball. And the replay has to be conclusive in order to reverse the call on the field. However I’ve always said (and many agree with me) that there was an ever-so-slight change in the rotation of the ball after it passed the foul pole. (Again…right field at Yankee Stadium!) It was very subtle, but in my view it was there. But was the evidence clear and convincing, and did it rise to the level or overturning the call on the field? Probably not.

But let’s say for a moment that they had done that. The O’s would have led 4-1 going into the latter innings of an elimination game. All other things being equal, the O’s would have won 5-3. And gone onto the ALCS.

Did that team have the skill to win a World Series? Probably not. But they would have gone onto the ALCS, and they would have had a shot from there. And who knows what a deeper playoff run would have meant in terms of free agent signings and so forth.

Obviously I think that the Maier incident affected the trajectory of the franchise more so than did the McLouth situation. But needless to say, had either one of them been handled differently it would have severely altered history. Both are very clear junction points for the franchise.

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