Just one away from the inevitable, and I wish it bothered me more. The Orioles’ record stands at a shockingly awful 44-81, a record that one can lose in the trees when you are tracking this team game-by-game. With one more loss, Baltimore will clinch what fans knew they would clinch back on April 30th– their 13th consecutive losing season. Now I am not sure if it is my job to put a positive spin on this or to rage against the dying of the light, but it feels odd to think about this team as one big season when there have been three managers, ups and downs of O’s prospects, and an organizational message that was at first lost then modified to give fans hope. This 13th season is unlike any of the others, and whether that is a sign of things to come may be a good thing- or something a bit more ominous.
I won’t bother you with yet another recap of this lost season, except to say that the Trembley-Samuel phase was in many ways a continuation of past trends- a one-time interim manager was let go for another interim manager, and the rudderless ship was even more lost. “The Plan” or whatever they are calling it in the Warehouse was under such fire that I wasn’t sure MacPhail would make it after the season. The fans who did hold fast to MacPhail did so more out of a lack of alternatives rather than an allegiance to a plan that had the same results as previous years, except instead of aging has-beens there were prospects and possible busts on the field. The averages and ERAs looked the same, even if the age on the birth certificate was of the younger variety. Still, they said, if the alternative is to go out and throw exorbitant amounts of money at free agents or trade away said prospects for a two-year rental player, they might as well try to develop their prospects. The fans who ditched “The Plan” had their own case, seeing year after year of prospects being hyped up only to fail miserably in the majors. 12 years of dashed hopes has a nasty way of setting a trend. After all, they said, if relying on prospects to save the organization had failed for the last dozen years, why keep doing it? The definition of insanity is after all repeating the same task over and over and expecting a different result.
Stage 1: Trembley trying to continue the hopes to finish at .500, epic failure
Stage 2: Samuel takes over, MacPhail makes a number of small and inconsequential moves trying to stop the bleeding.
Buck Showalter’s arrival, though absurdly late by my estimation (we all knew he was the guy weeks before they wound up signing him), seems to have turned things around slightly. While he hasn’t kept up on his 9-1 start, he is still over .500 since he came to the club, which is impressive given that the Orioles have the toughest second-half schedule of any team in the majors. Players continue to talk about his expectation of accountability and how they are playing harder and more disciplined, which is odd when you ask yourself what they were doing under Samuel, a noted disciplinarian. Whether it’s his experience in the majors, his winning pedigree, or his demanding style, the Orioles have improved across the board under his leadership.
Will it continue? Accountability and a fire to work hard often wanes over time, and Showalter’s next challenge will be to keep his team focused after the novelty of having a new manager to stay has worn off a bit.
As for The Plan, it is still in limbo until the likes of Matusz, Wieters, Arrieta, Jones, Bell, and the other MacPhail products start to perform on a regular basis. There won’t be any resolution to the continuing alienation of fans to the front office until the wins come. It won’t matter if they follow the fans who want to hold fast to The Plan or the ones who want to go in a different direction. If this team has a good 2011, everyone will be on the same side.
As #13 stares the Orioles in the face, the organization may be at a bigger crossroads than it has faced in a decade. O’s fans should hope that in this case, 13 isn’t so unlucky.