Yes, I’m a bit late on this. So be it. Earl Weaver passed away this past weekend and I wanted to let it sit for a couple of days while I composed my thoughts. I might deserve to have some dirt kicked on my shins for that but I’ll happily take it.
My coming of age as an Orioles fan took place in a post-Earl era but his legacy always loomed large. I was fortunate to grow up with the Ripkens and on some level I always understood that they were playing on ground laid by Weaver. When through years of struggle we would point to the fact that this was once a great team and could once be great again, we were pointing in the direction of Earl Weaver.
I don’t think this is a point that can be overplayed. Earl brought this city twelve 90+ win seasons, four American League pennants, and one World Series. Not every team has a figure like Weaver in its history. Everyone who does rightly treasures him.
That’d be enough by itself, but he also brought us something more. Personality. He wasn’t a Baltimore guy by birth but damn if he wasn’t a hell of a great figurehead for this city. Feisty, headstrong, always playing with an edge whether or not he had the natural advantage. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Losing him closes a chapter in Orioles and Baltimore history. I’m glad he lived long enough to finally see another winning season.
Whenever we lose someone of great accomplishment I of course feel some sadness for those directly affected. I also feel a keen sense of wonder about what more we’re losing besides just the man (or woman).
In Earl’s case, I think about all that baseball. What would it have been like to pick his brain? Not just on home runs and defensive positioning but on everything he saw? I can’t even fathom the stories, most of which (and this is just the nature of things) never went public.
So it goes. Every once in a great while an Earl Weaver comes along, and every once in awhile we lose him. There’s no other way.
I can imagine that this loss hurts quite a bit for those who lived and breathed the Weaver era up on 33rd, sipping a beer and straining their eyes to catch a glimpse of him catching a smoke in the dugout. Or cheering wildly when he flipped his cap and went to town on an umpire. That couldn’t have been anything but good times.
Here’s to Earl, and here’s to everything he did for the O’s. A true one-of-a-kind, which is about the best thing I think you can say about anybody after they’re gone.
There may be no purely logical way to account for it, but I’ve learned in my years as a sports fan that momentum is real. Not quantifiable and definitely not infallible, but real nonetheless. Indeed, momentum — or “getting hot” or “going on a run” — is often what it takes to take a good team and make it great. Once underway it often turns that suddenly great team into a champion.
Based on what we saw last weekend in the NFL playoffs, I think the Ravens and 49ers both fit the bill. I’m betting we see them both in the Super Bowl.
The Ravens in particular have taken on the look of a team for which everything is falling into place. They struggled at the right time (losing 3 of 4 in December) and made a bold, controversial move that paid off (firing Cam Cameron). The Ray Lewis effect can’t be denied, and Joe Flacco is looking like the guy every Ravens fan hopes he can be.
As for the 49ers, they struck gold with Colin Kaepernick and appear (though I haven’t watched them all that much) to be a fairly complete team. They’re #1 in total offense and #4 in total defense for the postseason, #11 in offense (much of it pre-Kaepernick) and #3 in defense for the regular season. I can’t put much past them after what they did to Green Bay.
It’s no small thing that both teams have to win on the road this weekend but it happens all the time. I like the Falcons but they barely managed to contain Russell Wilson and their defense ranks dead last for the postseason and 24th for the regular season. As for the Patriots, the Ravens beat them once this year and should have beaten them in the playoffs last year. This group knows they can win.
Add it all up and it’s an easy call. I expect close games but I’m pretty sure that once the dust settles we’ll be looking at one hell of a story with the Harbaugh brothers meeting to decide it all.
One last note: oddsmakers have the Ravens as 9.5 point underdogs. I’d take that bet.
By now most of you know that I’m not a Ravens fan. The simple version of that is that when I came here as a kid in 1988 there was no football in Baltimore. I rooted for the team I grew up with, the Steelers, and the team that was local, the Redskins. To this day those are my teams, in that order (although I’ve also developed a genuine fondness for the Bills). I don’t have native love for the Ravens and never will.
I will admit to celebrating quite a bit when they won their Super Bowl twelve years ago. It was good for the city and so, for a time, I wanted to embrace them. Such desires were retired permanently when they unceremoniously dismissed Trent Dilfer. I didn’t like the way they handled that and I didn’t like Brian Billick. Any chance I had of becoming a fan — which was admittedly slight from the beginning — ended there.
Still, I don’t wish the team ill will. I’m not a John Harbaugh fan (I’ve been known to call him a “blockhead”) and I think Ravens fans overrate Joe Flacco‘s talents, but overall I try to be fair.
All of which informs this: I’ve had a complicated relationship with Ray Lewis.
To even the most casual observer of the NFL and football as a whole it is impossible to not notice that Lewis is a transformational figure. An all-time great who essentially redefined the middle linebacker position for his era. Indeed, linebacking in the NFL can be broken into “pre-Ray Lewis” and “post-Ray Lewis” blocks the same way that receiving can with pre- and post-Jerry Rice. Every generation gets a handful of guys who define greatness for their time. Ray Lewis is one of them.
All that and yet…I don’t feel as though I can fully embrace the man.
It’s hard to say why, exactly. It’s definitely not because of his much-publicized run-in with the law. A murder charge is no joke but I don’t think any of us have ever known — or will know — what role Lewis truly played in that affair. Being present when some bad shit goes down isn’t the same thing as delivering a fatal blow. I’m not excusing him and I’m not damning him. I’m simply saying I don’t know enough, and if I don’t know enough then I shouldn’t pass judgment.
No, I think my struggle with Lewis has more to do with a deep-seated wonder about his true self.
The man can talk, and the man can motivate. Part of me feels like he does it too well. So well that at times I felt like he all too easily — perhaps willingly — became a caricature.
Take any good salesman or religious evangelist. The best of them can seem to make magic. To not only transform one thing into another but to also make you believe that you can do the same and are somehow flawed if don’t close the deal, right here and now. The motivation, of course, has less to do with the benefit that accrues to you when you believe than it does with making the man doing the talking richer for having made you believe.
Which means you have to wonder, “what’s his real agenda?”
Maybe Ray Lewis never had any agenda. Maybe he’s pure of heart and I’m just thinking too much. But, again, I don’t know enough. If I don’t know enough then I shouldn’t pass judgment.
What I do know is that I saw a lot of Ray Lewis over the years and much of what I saw impressed me. Much of what I saw also led me to skepticism. I can’t say for sure that I believe the Ray Lewis we see being rightly being lionized for his work on the football field is the full picture of Ray Lewis the man.
In a lot of ways it doesn’t matter. If the question is one of how we remember his contributions to football then the answer is, again, “all-time great.” It can mostly stop there. I am, however, quite curious to see what the next chapter of his life holds.
He’s still a fairly young man. He’s past his prime for athletics but just entering it for manhood. How he faces that challenge has all the potential in the world to be far more fascinating than anything he did on the field, and it matters more for him than most athletes because of the bar he himself set. He said he was more, or at least acted like it. Is he?
Here’s to him for all the joy he brought Baltimore football fans, and here’s to what I have a hunch will be a fascinating Act Two.
I’ve kind of been hanging back, which I know is obvious based on the lack of posts. It’s not been through apathy, but rather curiosity. I’ve been waiting to see, through the Winter Meetings and the nascent trade market, how the Orioles‘ offseason would shape up. So far, there hasn’t been much to talk about.
The loss of Mark Reynolds kind of bothered me but if I’m being honest it’s not a huge hit. I liked the guy a great deal but it’s not like he was a superstar. I feel like he and Chris Davis are pretty much the same player and we only really needed one of them.
With that said, the one major development we’ve seen has been a subtraction. Additions, to the extent that they’ve taken place, have been minimal.
So, panic! Right? After all, we can’t expect this team to get all the same breaks they got last year and if they don’t make some major additions then of course they’re bound to regress. Maybe.
Clearly, the Orioles roster as it’s constituted right now in December is not what we think it could be. But that doesn’t mean we should be frustrated.
Much to my surprise, Dan Duquette proved last year that he has some idea of what he’s doing. If I’ve got a read on him at all I think it’s that he plays a long game. I think he started last year — and is continuing this year — with a plan to build a team that contends for two, three, five years to come. He’s not going to sacrifice that goal for 2013 alone, just like he didn’t sacrifice that goal for 2012 alone.
We’re all conditioned to look for large moves. We equate those moves with progress. But we need to keep two things in mind:
- The offseason isn’t over. Dollars to doughnuts, Duquette isn’t finished.
- The foundation is fairly strong and there’s no reason to think the team will take a huge step back.
Because the Orioles were so bad for so long I think we’re all predisposed to believe that this past season’s success is a fragile thing. But it isn’t. It happened, and the guys that made it happen are mostly coming back for another run.
So, let’s stay calm. Pitchers and catchers don’t report for over two months. I have a hunch we’ll be excited about what we see when they do.
In Duquette we trust, weirdly.
I got to thinking tonight about Thanksgiving, naturally enough, and about what Baltimore sports fans have to be thankful for circa late-2012.
If there’s been a better year than this I can’t say I lived it.
To see the Orioles break their epic string of losing seasons, and make the playoffs in doing so, ranks as the greatest Bmore sports moment I’ve ever witnessed. I recall the ’96-’97 playoff teams and the Ravens Super Bowl win but, for me, they don’t compare. I think you’d have to go back to the glory days of the Colts or the O’s championship seasons to match what we saw this year and, well, I don’t have those memories. I wasn’t around.
However you rank it, though, this has been a hell of a year. The O’s did what they did, the Ravens are winning. The only black mark is Maryland‘s move to the Big
Ten Fourteen. Which, while it makes financial sense, is nothing more than a reminder that times have changed. The currency of tradition trades at a depressingly low rate.
But then again that, too, is something for which we should be thankful. The braintrust at Maryland showed those of us who prize legacy, history, and steadfastness in the face of difficulty how not to act.
You can always take the money. And maybe sometimes that’s right. Maybe it’s right for Maryland. I’m fairly sure, though, that Wallace Loh et al didn’t care much for anything but the bottom line when making this decision. The fact that the negotiations took place behind closed doors and under non-disclosure agreements pretty much says it all. Take from that what you will. I prefer a more nuanced approach.
But let’s put all that aside. Thanksgiving is a great holiday because it’s a chance to take stock and focus on what’s right. Here’s a toast to all of you in hopes that you get a chance to do that, and that in doing so you find something to love.
I can’t say I intended to take a Loss Column hiatus after the conclusion of the Orioles‘ season. It more or less just happened. I think that, subconsciously, I needed some time to sit with the madness and bliss that was Orioles 2012.
I know for sure that I had no designs on a wrap-up post. I thought about it for maybe a minute before deeming the exercise pointless. As is the case with my overall approach, I cede ground like that to folks who do it better. Nothing I could have said would offer any value beyond the combination of what you already know anyway and what other blogs were/are saying.
So I just kind of took a few weeks off. No strategy, just a break.
This season was a catharsis for me as it was, I suspect, for many of you. We waited so long, and through so many tough years, that it felt otherworldly. Joyous but also hard to process. Real, but…unreal. That sounds odd but I think you know what I mean.
It’s over now. We’re firmly into the start of the Hot Stove season (hello, ridiculous trade) and I think we’ve had sufficient time to let 2012 be 2012. It’s in the books, and the books are closed.
First and foremost (and in keeping with the season) I think we need to take a moment to say thanks. To the Orioles, to Buck Showalter, to Adam Jones et al, and most of all to the Baseball Gods. They gave us something special and we must resolve to always remember it. The biggest mistake we could make would be letting this season become retroactively tainted by anything that came before it or anything that might come next. 2012 in Birdland was amazing. Let’s carry that.
The next thing we need to do is start getting stoked about 2013, which means Hot Stove from now until February-ish. I’m fascinated by the questions of how Dan Duquette will approach both tweaking the Major League roster and whether or not he will be able to duplicate the last offseason’s successes. It’s safe to say we’ll view this Hot Stove with a very different lens from the one we used last year. It’s exciting.
As for The Loss Column, the next few months around here will be a mixed bag. I plan to write on roughly the same two-or-so-posts-per-week schedule that I settled into during the season but I don’t know exactly what I’ll be writing about. Some Ravens for sure but I don’t plan to necessarily cover them game-by-game. Some other sports will no doubt sneak in. I also plan to revive my plan to do more lifestyle/culture posts. Now seems a good time.
So, I hope you stick around. I really don’t have any idea of how many folks read this site these days — especially in the offseason — but, if you’re there, let’s have some fun.
I’ve had a hard time writing this post. I’ve started, then stopped, at least three or four times. A hell of a season came to a close up there in Yankee Stadium last Friday night. There’s a lot to process.
One thing I know we must do, first, is remember.
Back in March these Baltimore Orioles were slated for failure, locally and nationally, by everyone with an opinion. I can’t recall a single prediction of .500 or better and I know nobody was crazy enough to suggest, let alone predict, a playoff appearance.
By way of example, Mr. Ken Rosenthal — as sad a hack as you’ll find working today, but that’s another story — said: …this sorry franchise…is headed for its 15th straight losing season.
(For fun, click that link to see how Rosenthal also predicted that we wouldn’t sign Adam Jones and would, instead, “do nothing.”)
I know nobody has forgotten how bad this team was supposed to be, but I want everyone to remember it with purpose. This team was supposed to be awful. Some folks — it doesn’t matter who — said they’d lose a hundred.
So, take just a moment to remember how things looked and felt in March. Really remember. Because when you do that, you’ll be forced to notice that what these Orioles accomplished in 2012 was so amazing that it is actually beyond impossible. It was so far out back in the spring that nobody even raised the notion for purposes of rejecting it — the fact that it wouldn’t happen was assumed as a given by everyone who talks about this team and baseball at large.
So, yeah, what happened up in New York sucks. The bats went dead at exactly the wrong time and too many guys came up short in key moments. They battled hard and conducted themselves well but the lost opportunities sting. That was a winnable series.
But, honestly, I don’t care.
The theoretical goal for every team, every year, is a championship. But we know baseball and we know that championships don’t just happen like that. For most teams that mountain has to be climbed in increments. Getting there is more of a two, three, four season process.
By that measure, the Orioles skipped a few grades. I think most of us would have been cool with something like 75 wins this year, 80-something next year, and then legitimate hopes of playoff contention in 2014. Instead we got way more than we hoped for.
And it’s glorious. Awesome. Amazing. I can’t wait for February when these guys report for spring training with a fresh taste of success and a hunger to double down on it.
That said, nothing’s guaranteed. So if there’s one way to wrap up the 2012 Orioles it is this: they are no longer a laughingstock. No longer an afterthought, no longer a non-factor. They matter again.
That, my friends, is huge. Soak it up and raise a glass. These guys did it right and none of us will ever forget it.
(photo via Flickr user Keith Allison)
I’m happy to say I was in attendance for Sunday night’s Orioles-Yankees tilt. The timing was bad and the rain delay was worse but I had my tickets (along with semi-frequent commenter sci) and there was no way I was missing the first playoff action at Camden Yards in 15 years.
The atmosphere was amazing for most of the night. I’d estimate the crowd at something along the lines of nine-to-one in favor of O’s fans and that, as you know, is no small feat. Kudos to the Baltimore fans for coming up big. Big enough, in fact, that I won’t waste much time on how Steve and I had the unfortunate luck of being seated just behind the world’s most annoying Yanks fan. Some 22-year old chick who I could swear thought she was auditioning for a guest spot on Jersey Shore. Awful.
Then the result, of course, left much to be desired. But it’s all good. Playoff baseball returned to Camden Yards, and it was amazing.
I have no idea what to expect from the rest of the series. It’s 1-0 Yanks as I type, so we go from there. Go O’s.