Enjoy the World Series, everybody!

My favorite World Series are obviously the ones that involved My Orioles, especially the victorious ones in 1966, 1970 & 1983. Beyond that, I also get a kick out of the ones won by teams doing it for the first time. After giving the Yankees what they deserve, the Texas Rangers now have a chance to achieve this…and I’ll be rooting for them. Between the Phillies and Giants, it doesn’t matter who they’ll face. You’ve just got to love a team that humbles Evil Inc.

My main concern now is the television ratings. With the Rangers now representing the American League in the Fall Classic instead of the Yankees, low viewership will reflect negatively on the general public. Can you say The Dumbing of America? Aren’t you sick & tired of seeing Evil Inc. in the World Series every year? If the viewing numbers are low this year, Major League Baseball has no one to blame but itself. Its suicidal marketing practices which favor only a select few franchises like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Cardinals while leaving most of the others like the Rangers and White Sox out in the cold is the primary reason. Guilty, guilty, guilty are ESPN, FOX and TBS. Have you ever seen their schedule of telecasts? Ironically in its National Football League coverage, ESPN does a great job in promoting all the ballclubs in that circuit. The perfect example was the Tennessee Titans @ Jacksonville Jaguars contest last Monday night.

I didn’t watch last year’s Fall Classic because I refused to patronize a rigged product. Even though FOX always does a horrible job with its baseball telecasts, I will be watching this time around. Stay loose and have fun, gentlemen. Claws & Antlers are a stroke of genius. There’s a chant I used when rooting for my favorite National Hockey League team, and for the next two weeks I get to transfer it over to baseball: LET’S GO RANGERS!

Enjoy the World Series, everybody!

So, how was Showalter?

The Baltimore Orioles’ 2010 season came to an end yesterday in a 4-2 defeat to the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards. This took nothing away from the ecstasy of watching the upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. It’s always great to be a Baltimore Ravens fan!

As for the Orioles, one question needs to be asked: How did Buck Showalter do? Since his debut with the ballclub on August 3, the Baltimores went 34-23, which actually was the best record in the American League East during the last two months of the campaign. 17-11 in August, 17-13 in September/October. A season sweep of the Angels (6-0). Winning four of seven from the White Sox. Holding their own within the division (5-4 v. the Rays, 3-3 v. the Red Sox, Yankees & Blue Jays each).

Sure you can throw around superlatives to praise the results, but you’d end up looking like the idiots who cover Major League Baseball for ESPN. Truth be told, the Orioles did drop two of three at home in August to the lowly Seattle Mariners who are still trying to atone for choking in the 2001 ALCS. Then there’s Rogers Centre where they lost all nine games. Didn’t matter if the manager was Trembley, Samuel or Showalter. They got swept for the season in Toronto by a Blue Jays team with a roster that makes me want to puke. In other words, losing to a collection of ballplayers who save their best performances for against the Orioles and no one else.

Let’s just say that Showalter did a good job and leave it at that. The best thing about the last two months was exposing all of the team’s deficiencies. Now the organization has a much clearer picture on who should report to Sarasota next February and who deserves to be faxed to Borneo immediately. Now the real job begins!

Annus horribilis…again

My Orioles were the first team eliminated from 2010 playoff contention as a result of the Rays’ 5-3 victory over the Red Sox yesterday evening. Five nights earlier, its thirteenth consecutive losing campaign was cemented in a 7-5 loss to the White Sox. It’s depressing to know that this all happened before Labor Day…and that the US Open tennis championships haven’t quite started yet. Even Crystal Palace Baltimore, which has dropped 13 of 25 matches, is still mathematically alive in its quest to make the USSF D-2 playoffs. So eight of twelve teams qualify for the postseason in that league. Big deal!

The reason I haven’t written an entry in 4 1/2 months is because this baseball season has been frustrating enough for me to insert arguably the world’s most repulsive phrase in the title above. You can thank the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II for making the combination of those two Latin words vomit-inducing. A lesson I’ve learned in the past is that the more tantrums one has, the greater he/she will be ignored. So instead of walking into the hurricane, I waited until the storm subsided.

Under Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel, the batters were either clueless, had their own agendas or both. The only ones who were the exception and really knew how to use the bat were Nicky Markakis & Gunner Scott. Then there were the mental mistakes on the basepaths and on defense. The pitching staff was mishandled, too. By removing pitchers prematurely, both Trembley & Samuel showed no confidence in them. The bullpen was also overworked. More times than not, too many relievers were used per game. They were typecast as situational pitchers, allowed to face only one batter on average. This is no way to run a baseball club!

Since the hiring of Buck Showalter, the Orioles have begun to perform better. They just clinched their first winning month since going 15-12 in June 2008. Batters are advancing & driving in runners. Fielders are positioned properly on the field. Baserunning blunders have been reduced. Pitchers are put in situations to succeed. It’s also nice to know that Showalter isn’t afraid to fax anyone to Borneo if he saw something disagreeable.

Now the real challenge is September/October. The Orioles haven’t closed out a season with a winning month since going 19-13 in 2004. Since then, it was 12-18 in 2005, 10-19 in 2006 & 2007, 5-20 in 2008 and 10-20 last year. “Ooh, we can’t win in September/October because we’re up against playoff contenders.” I’m not going to take this anymore! The Orioles should now be playing the role of spoiler!

Among the opponents left on the schedule, the Orioles have fared respectably against only the Red Sox (6-6). They’ve gone 0-3, 3-9 and 2-10 versus the Tigers, Rays and Yankees, respectively. And then, there are the Blue Jays. The Orioles have failed to beat the Torontos in twelve tries. Will they ever vanquish The Bad Birds this year?…And will Peter Angelos slash ticket & concession prices when the Rays, Blue Jays and Tigers come to Camden Yards?

 

Palace State of Mind

This Friday, April 16, the Orioles will play the second of a four-game weekend series at Oakland. Back in Charm City earlier that same evening, Crystal Palace Baltimore will open its 2010 regular season at UMBC Stadium versus FC Tampa Bay Rowdies.

What is Crystal Palace Baltimore, you may ask? It’s a franchise in the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Division 2 Professional League, one level below Major League Soccer. It’s entering its fourth year of playing a full schedule. A member of the United Soccer Leagues Second Division the last three seasons, it qualified for the playoffs in 2008. Further information can be found at http://www.palacebaltimore.com/index.html .

Before you scoff at all this soccer information on a baseball blog, I’m going to present a simple history lesson. The Orioles’ most successful owner and the greatest in professional sports history was Jerold Hoffberger. Fifty days after his Orioles won its first World Series championship in 1966, he purchased a National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) franchise originally intended for Washington DC and christened them the Baltimore Bays. The team colors of red & gold were borrowed from the National Brewing Company, Hoffberger’s primary investment. Home matches in its first two seasons were played at Memorial Stadium, with the pitch running from the right-field foul line towards the left-field fence without touching the pitcher’s mound. Portable mounds didn’t become reality until years later.

The four other ballparks shared by Major League Baseball (MLB) & NPSL clubs were Atlanta Stadium (Braves & Chiefs), Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees & Generals), Forbes Field (Pittsburgh Pirates & Phantoms) and Busch Memorial Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals & Stars). The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Athletics & Clippers) joined the ranks in 1968. The Atlanta Braves’ ownership group also controlled the Chiefs. The St. Louis Stars’ owner Robert Hermann Sr. was the son-in-law of the Cardinals’ Gussie Busch.

The NPSL directly competed against another brand-new circuit named the United Soccer Association (USA) in 1967. Six stadiums were shared by MLB & USA teams: Comiskey Park (Chicago White Sox & Mustangs), Cleveland Stadium (Indians & Stokers), Tiger Stadium (Detroit Tigers & Cougars), Astrodome (Houston Astros & Stars), Yankee Stadium (Yankees & Skyliners) and DC Stadium (Washington Senators & Whips). Yes, the Yankees shared its stadium with two soccer teams in 1967! In the case of Chicago, Cleveland & Houston, the two teams sharing one venue had the same owners.

Even though the USA was officially sanctioned by the USSF, the NPSL had the national television contract with CBS, which also owned the Yankees at the time. The latter, which acquired players individually from around the world, played its first season in 1967. Originally intending to begin in 1968, the former moved up its schedule a year and imported entire teams using different names. For example, Cagliari Calcio (Italy) became the Chicago Mustangs for that summer.

The NPSL & USA merged in 1968 to form the North American Soccer League, which eventually expired after the 1984 season. Hoffberger’s Bays lasted only three years, losing money in each of them. Its best campaign was the first one in 1967, when it finished four standings points ahead of the Philadelphia Spartans to win the Eastern Division. After a 1-0 home victory in the first leg of the two-match championship series against the Oakland Clippers, the Bays lost the second game 4-1 and the goal aggregate 4-2.

I’ve been balancing my interests in soccer & baseball since I was a youngster in the 1970s. My appreciation for the former came from my father, the latter from my eldest brother and my love for the Orioles was self-developed. It’s going to be a fun summer with the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup fast approaching. Obviously I’ll be rooting for Our Yanks in the tournament. Hopefully Crystal Palace Baltimore will perform extremely well in both the USSF D-2 and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition. Don’t worry, folks. I’ll always follow the Orioles no matter how painful the seasons get.

Go Orioles! Go Palace! Go U.S.A.!

 

Farewell, Crazy Horse

There are three images that are guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of diehard Orioles fans like me. One is the congregation of jubilant Orioles in the middle of the Veterans Stadium diamond in 1983. Another is Brooks Robinson leaping into the air towards Dave McNally & Andy Etchebarren in 1966. And then there’s Brooksie again, embracing Mike Cuellar in 1970. Cuellar, whose best years of his career were spent with The Good Guys, died last Friday of stomach cancer at age 72 in Orlando, FL.

Even though I was too young to have watched him perform in his prime, I still cherish his great achievements that helped the Orioles capture five American League East titles, three consecutive pennants and the 1970 World Series Championship. Winning at least twenty games in 1969 (23), 1970 (24), 1971 (20) and 1974 (22). Sharing the AL Cy Young Award with Denny McLain in 1969. Hitting a grand slam in Game 1 of the 1970 ALCS. Pitching a complete-game victory to clinch the Fall Classic twelve days later. Being a part of the last rotation to feature four starters with at least twenty wins each in 1971. These are the ones with which everyone is familiar.

My curiosity and Retrosheet led me to a few which never get mentioned. The closest he ever came to a no-hitter was a 2-0 home win over the Twins on August 10, 1969. The only hit he surrendered was a leadoff single to Cesar Tovar in the ninth. Cuellar went 3-for-4 (two singles & a two-run homer) in a 6-5 triumph at Detroit on July 11, 1970. He pitched twelve innings without issuing a walk in a complete-game 4-3 victory at Milwaukee on June 25, 1973. He exceeded nine innings fourteen other times in his career. Puts the current hurlers to shame, n’est-ce pas?

Robert Whiting devoted fifteen pages of his 1977 book The Chrysanthemum and the Bat to the Orioles’ post-World Series tour of Japan in 1971. They ended up winning twelve, losing only two, with four ties. Their record against the vaunted Yomiuri Giants was 8-0-3. Cuellar won at least two of those contests. In the second match, he yielded five hits in an 8-2 victory over the Giants. He threw a four-hitter in a 4-1 triumph over the Japan All-Stars in the fifth game. The Japanese players were left thoroughly amazed when he was picking off runners at will and by his repertoire of pitches which included the breaking ball, change-up, curve, knuckler & screwball. The book had a black-&-white photograph showing Cuellar’s delivery and the screwball he threw in multiple exposure and Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima swinging & missing at the bottom in single exposure. One of my favorite pictures.

When the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) first went on the air a few years ago, some of its first programs included Orioles Classics featuring each of the five games of the 1970 World Series. Games 1 through 4 were black-&-white kinescopes. Game 5 was the original NBC telecast in color. That was the one with Cuellar at the pinnacle of his career. I’m glad that I got to record it.

A sobering thought is that several Orioles from the classic era have left the realm of the living. Dave McNally, Mark Belanger, Curt Blefary, Woodie Held, Charlie Lau, Pat Dobson, Steve Barber, Moe Drabowsky, Hank Bauer, Jim Hardin, George Bamberger, Cal Ripken Sr. and Todd Cruz, to name a few. Curt Motton passed away recently in late-January. And now Mike Cuellar. It’s a sure sign that we’re all getting older.

Farewell, Crazy Horse. You’re one of the greatest, and you’ll always be an Oriole.

“I don’t know, Charlie Brown.”

Two consecutive last-place finishes in the American League East. Regression from 68-93 to 64-98. The worst team in the league. The third-worst team in the majors. Twelve straight losing seasons. Twelve straight stinkin’, forgettable seasons!

The Orioles play in the last of the 2010 season openers Tuesday night at Tampa Bay. Its 25-man roster was finalized on Saturday. Here’s my take on it (everyday starters in CAPS).

Starting Pitchers (in rotation order): Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergeson, David Hernandez – I am optimistic about the back three of the rotation. Bergeson needs to stay healthy; after a line drive to the shin ended his season prematurely last July 30, he nearly got maimed by his own ballclub trying to film one of its television commercials in early-December. The only starter that frustrates the crap out of me is “Bug” Guthrie. His inactivity during last year’s World Baseball Classic turned him into a pitching eunuch, and his addiction to giving up walks continued into this spring. I call him “Bug” because he’s a dead ringer for Lux’s boyfriend in The CW series Life Unexpected. Strangely the character’s name is Bobby Guthrie! Having Millwood & Guthrie atop the rotation does take some of the pressure off the three youngsters. Opening the season on Tuesday as opposed to Monday also helps.

Bullpen: Matt Albers, Jason Berken, Mark Hendrickson, Cla Meredith, Will Ohman, Jim Johnson (setup), Mike Gonzalez (closer) – THOU SHALL NOT WALK BATTERS! During the last twelve campaigns, the bullpen has helped opposing teams form moving conga lines around the basepaths. Unfortunately this year’s first version looks like mystery meat; we just don’t know what we’re getting. JJ returns to setup duty after failing miserably as a closer. Will “Damien the” Ohman gives me the creeps. If there’s one thing I’m sick & tired of is seeing the Orioles persist in picking up Cubs rejects.

Catchers: MATT WIETERS, Craig Tatum – I’m loving what I’m seeing here. Wieters still needs to work on preventing wild pitches & passed balls from getting by him. Tatum is an upgrade from Chad Moeller, who was absolutely incapable of throwing out opposing baserunners.

Outfielders: FELIX PIE, ADAM JONES, NICK MARKAKIS, Nolan Reimold, Luke Scott – Jones needs to stay healthy. Other than that, he & Markakis are a good foundation for the outfield. Reimold’s left Achilles tendon problems helped Pie earn his starting spot after the latter batted .342 with a .419 on-base percentage this spring. If Pie is to stay in the lineup, he cannot afford to revert to boneheaded defensive blunders and recklessly undisciplined swinging at the plate. I still much prefer Reimold. I love it when he plays in a rage. A streaky bat prevents “Gunner” Scott from being a starter, but he hasn’t embarrassed himself. A good player off the bench.

Infielders: GARRETT ATKINS, BRIAN ROBERTS, MIGUEL TEJADA, CESAR IZTURIS, Julio Lugo, Ty Wigginton – Atkins is a good situational hitter who will do well at first. Beyond that, the left & middle sides of the infield are the worst in the majors. Tejada, a B-12 addict with credibility issues, will look like Matthew Perry doing his best impression of Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. Both Roberts & Izturis lost too many games for the Orioles by constantly committing mental mistakes that gave opposing teams extra outs with which to work. Lugo is better than Izturis, so why is he not starting? Robert Andino was designated for assignment on Saturday, but I expect another team to claim him off waivers. When that happens, the mistake is going to come back and bite The Good Guys in the buttocks. Wigginton played second better than Roberts this spring, so why is he not starting? One infield position Wigginton should never play is at first, where he has proven to be utterly useless. Reimold took grounders at first on Sunday; a possible shift to the new position has “success” written all over it…just as long as Pie can do his job properly in left.

Conclusion: Never mind Evil Inc., the Boston Baddies & the Rays. How can the Orioles expect to leap over the Blue Jays in the standings if they can’t beat them? They haven’t had a winning record against “The Bad Birds” since 2004 (11-8). It’s been 40-52 ever since. That’s the first barometer of Orioles progress at which I’ll be looking. Hate to state the obvious, but it’s going to be another long season again. It won’t be long until Trembley is relieved of his duties.

Finally! Real spring training facilities!

Since 1996 the Orioles easily had the worst spring training arrangement in the majors. Because they were located in Fort Lauderdale in the southeasternmost part of the state while most of the other teams in Florida were based on the Gulf of Mexico side and in the central area around Orlando, the O’s were the most isolated. Instead of facing divisional rivals like the Yankees (Tampa), Blue Jays (Dunedin) and Rays (Port Charlotte), they had to settle for the Mets (Port St. Lucie), Nationals (Viera), Marlins and Cardinals (both Jupiter), who were all based on the Atlantic Ocean side.

The Fort Lauderdale Stadium facilities were grossly inadequate. Besides the stadium itself, there were only two full-sized baseball fields instead of the four needed for the major AND minor league teams together. The weight room was actually outdoors covered by a tent. As for the possibility of adding at least another field and other upgrades, the Orioles were at the mercy of the Federal Aviation Administration, who owned the land and the adjacent Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. And we all know that federal bureaucracies act slower than capybaras.

Those inadequacies forced the Orioles to have its minor league camp based at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, clearly on the other side of the state. If they needed a minor leaguer to temporarily fill a spot in an emergency, the player would not be able to arrive in a timely fashion because he was an excruciatingly long bus ride away. Additionally the Twin Lakes clubhouses were dumps.

Despite a little over 2 1/2 decades of sheer managerial ineptitude, the Orioles finally have moved into real spring training facilities. Ed Smith has three full-sized fields and an infield to go along with the main stadium. Despite existing structures that leave a lot to be desired, Twin Lakes has four full-sized fields arranged like a four-leaf clover with an observation tower in the middle. Don’t fret, pumpkins. Both faciliies are expected to get much-needed upgrades. Go to the spring training section of the Orioles website to see what they’re suppose to look like in the near future.

Only a few miles separates the two. From Ed Smith, just go south on Tuttle Avenue, which is named Swift Road south of Bee Ridge Road. Then turn left onto Clark Road, head east to Hummingbird Avenue et voila. Sure beats crossing the entire state.

Another major advantage is that the Orioles now get to play the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays in the spring, not to mention other contenders such as the Phillies and Tigers. Time to revive the Gold Coast Cup competition. What’s the Gold Coast Cup you ask? Back when the Orioles were based in Miami and the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale. both teams faced each other numerous times in the spring, with the side winning the most head-to-head games receiving the trophy. The Gold Coast Cup was actually a humorous statuette of a gorilla with a posture similar to Rodin’s The Thinker, holding a skull like Hamlet in one hand, scratching the top of his head with the other and with a thoroughly perplexed expression on his face. There is a black-&-white photograph of Ralph Houk presenting it to Earl Weaver in the Official 1971 Orioles Yearbook. Definitely the best – and most hilarious – trophy I ever saw.

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