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Some of These Orioles Might Be All-Time Greats

Adam JonesSo I wrote up my weekly guest post for MASN and I talked about how cool it is that the Orioles have improved so much that a national vote is poised to land them four starters in the All-Star game. From there I got to thinking about how long it’s been since we had four players truly worthy — at the same time — of this honor. To find a team in Baltimore like that you’d have to go back before my time and, I suspect, before yours as well.

Here’s where that gets really crazy. It’s one thing to have a handful of good players in any given moment. We’ve got that, and it’s cool. But we might have something even more. We might have a solid group of guys who will eventually deserve a spot among the all time team greats.

Of guys who played solidly within the Losing Era I can only think of two, outside of Cal (who belongs to an earlier era), who deserve a spot on that list. There’s Mike Mussina, who while I can’t forgive him for bolting to the Yankees did nonetheless author quite a legacy here. Then there’s Brian Roberts, who is as hard-luck a player as I can ever remember but who should not be punished for this fact. He was very, very good while things were very, very bad.

That’s two guys in 14 years. You could make a case for Melvin Mora, Mike Bordick, and Miguel Tejada but I really don’t think they fit. Good players, all, but not all-time team greats. Ditto Jeff Conine and BJ Surhoff. Same again for Sidney Ponson and Erik Bedard. Only Mussina and Roberts really got to that upper tier, unless I’m totally blanking on another name.

Now, though, we have at least three guys in Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters who — depending on how things play out — should settle in that top level. If Chris Davis and Manny Machado stick around and stay strong there’s reason to believe they, too, could get there. There’s also a case for Jim Johnson and, well, why not consider the possibility that Gausman and/or Bundy could be Mussina-level pitchers?

That’s three and potentially eight players who could all claim a spot in Orioles lore among the greats. This after a decade-plus run with one guy who left and one guy who carried the torch solo for what felt like forever.

Hell, you could even decide to count Markakis as a Losing Era player and it still doesn’t change the dynamic much. We’re witnessing quite a renaissance here.

Maybe winning is coloring my perception some but I don’t think so. We never had a Davis or Machado during the Losing Era. We never had a dynamic, engaging, world-class outfielder like Jones. We thought we had some guys, sure, but we were grasping at straws. This group is different.

On one hand, this admittedly serves as a stark reminder of just how bad the Bad Years were. On the other, well, ain’t the beer cold? Finally.

New World, Same World

movementI used to have a lot of friends who loved moving. That meant travel for some and outright relocation for others. These were (are) folks for whom movement was a horizon to chase. For whom change itself was a comfort.

I tend to be more of a “stick around and see” type, and I recall countless conversations where my position ended up settling on one variation or another of: you can go, and you can enjoy going, but everything you carry inside will follow you. You can’t outrun your demons anymore than you can outrun your angels. Movement is fine, but you’re just tweaking in the margins.

I said this — and would say it again today or tomorrow — not as an argument for staying or going. Either choice is fine. Rather, I said (and say) it as a reminder of the need to remember that the north star doesn’t hang in the sky. It lives in us.

What we’re talking about here is progress. Not in the “bad to good” sense but in the strict sense of the word itself: one thing to another. “Forward or onward movement toward a destination,” to borrow from one dictionary. “Forward,” of course, being the only direction in which we’re really capable of moving.

Sports is a proxy. There’s nothing happening on any given field that we can perceive and process without the bias of our own lives hanging in the background. If we’re angry, sports will fuel our anger. If we’re happy, we’ll find that. If we’re feeling frustrated or oppressed we’ll find outlets and corollaries. If we’re feeling vivacious and optimistic? Also covered. Winning and losing have little bearing.

These thoughts hung in my cortex as I watched the Orioles over the weekend and realized that Red Sox fans no longer own Camden Yards. Times truly have changed.

I vividly recall — and I’m probably repeating myself — a game at the Yard probably 12 years ago. O’s-Sox. Early in the season. Sox were winning as I sat in left field next to some Boston fans. They were as cool as can be, and I remember telling them that it was OK they were here because they were better than Yankees fans. This was, of course, before Boston really got good.

There are some who chase circumstances and there are some who chase something more.

Those Boston folks I interacted with back in the day probably stayed cool throughout the winning and are probably cool now. They probably aren’t the same fans who filled our stadium with bad behavior in what I’ll call the Youkilis era of Red Sox baseball. Meaning, the “obnoxious winners” era.

You can’t outrun your demons, you can’t outrun your angels. This doesn’t mean you can’t change, it simply means that you carry what you carry at any given moment. Nothing from the outside changes that.

So, listen, don’t chase circumstances. It’s a fool’s game. Chase the core instead. It’s the only way to come out ahead when playing the long game. Which is, after all, the only game.

Losing Wasn’t More Fun, But It Was a Little Easier

old school baltimore orioles happy bird logoI was thinking about the ‘ol Loss Column today, and the fact that I have been so lax in posting, and I found myself asking a question: were things better when the Orioles sucked?

Not the baseball, of course. And not the culture surrounding it here in Baltimore. But talking about both definitely seemed a little easier.

It’s a strange situation here as I marvel at how the O’s have turned a corner. I still have to check myself sometimes and remember that they made the fucking playoffs last year. Won their way in fair and square. But, see, this site was born of losing. It’s right there in the title. It was a response to the fact that, at the time, not a lot of people were talking about the Orioles. When they were talking they were mainly complaining. I did my share of that at first but as the site matured it took on an identity of its own as an antidote to all of the whining and snark you could find everywhere else. It was a lovely niche.

So if I’m being honest now, and I have to be, I wonder if that niche still exists.

One of the barometers of a post here has always been that I didn’t want to just offer what you could already get somewhere else. That’s a lot harder to do now that they’re winning. I mean, do you need me to tell you what an amazing year Chris Davis is having? How awesome it is to have Manny Machado in black & orange? I doubt it.

It is this dynamic — more so than my new (well, not really “new” anymore) job or my general busy-ness — that frustrates me. What can I add?

If the tone of this post comes across with a ring of resignation I don’t mean it to. I’m not giving up, at least not yet. But I am wondering how to reconfigure things.

Any ideas?

In the meantime, how about Chris Ray reinventing himself as a brewmaster?

You Knew a Slump Was Coming, Right?

Orioles_Luke_Scott_Rays_LossThere I went in my last guest post for MASN talking about how the Orioles were officially a good team. Then there they went, rattling off five losses in a row and falling into a tie for third place (or fourth if you’re a pessimist) with the Rays. Bummer.

Honestly, though, you knew this was coming. Or, at least, you should have.

A five-game losing streak is one of those things that’s going to happen in a baseball season. Even to the best teams. It might even reach six or seven games. Baseball’s like that. Actually, everything’s like that.

One of the weirdest things about sports fans is how hard it seems for most of them to accept losing. Slumps, in sports as in any endeavor, are part of the package. There’s quite literally no getting away from that. And yet I know that if I tune into today’s chatter on the local sports talk airwaves I’ll hear Chicken Little after Chicken Little, bemoaning what could have been if the team had only upgraded the rotation or bought another bat. As if such moves would have stopped every losing streak at four.

The long game is the hardest to play and the hardest to win. Not because it’s inherently more difficult, but because so few have the patience to play it.

(photo via Flickr user Keith Allison)

Thoughts on Change

as_the_earth_turnsFair warning: this post isn’t about baseball, or really even sports. Not unless you squint. What can I say? The O’s are on the west coast.

So, instead, this is a post about change.

The reason things have been quieter around here for the past year and a half or so is the immense amount of change I’ve been experiencing. New job, new responsibilities, new opportunities, new house (bought rather than rented for the first time), a handful of losses and wins.

The quieter scene here at TLC is itself a change. After 6+ years this site occupies a different spot relative to my overall list of priorities. Not better or worse, just different. Some of that is intentional, some of it less so. All completely acceptable as a good outcome. Hell, I never thought this site would last 6 years to begin with so the fact that it’s still here and I still want to write for it is a nice thing.

Sometimes I find it hard to trace the paths. Change is one of those things that weighs a ton on a conceptual level but is much harder to pin down in real terms. You need more than just moments themnselves to understand their scope — you need to see where everything settles. Once you do you’re faced with a range of successes, surprises, and (inevitably) disappointments. Many of which you probably didn’t notice right away, and each of which is good in its own way. Even (and sometimes especially) the disappointments.

Humans have an uneasy relationship with change. Not knowing what’s coming next is uncomfortable. This is why we get trapped in jobs or relationships or homes or cycles we don’t enjoy. Knowing what to expect offers great comfort, even if we don’t precisely like it.

You want to know why every 20-year old kid with swagger and a guitar and a way with words doesn’t become George Jones (RIP)? Why every workshop hacker doesn’t start the next Apple? Why every Piano Man isn’t Billy Joel?

Talent and luck, sure, but there’s also a heavy dose of inertia. Staying in place because the leap is too much to bear. It’s the devil you know.

But here’s the thing: you don’t actually know that devil at all. Not by a damn sight. Change is coming one way or another and the puncher’s chance lies in figuring out how maybe you can get out ahead of it a little bit. Making some of those leaps before the leaps make you. Or at least learning how to land better.

We are, always, actors and passengers. When a given moment falls fully on one side or the other of that spectrum we do OK. The problem is that life is lived in the overlap, where we’re both in control and not in control. Where we have choices to make but can’t be certain of what the outcome will be or even where those choices will ultimately fall on what we’ll finally, in hindsight, recognize as a continuum.

Why post this? Because based on my own recent experience I can say that I wasn’t really prepared. Which means that maybe one or two of you reading this aren’t prepared. Now, then, is your moment. Think about the fact that at any moment, change is coming. Go ahead and start to get comfortable with it. Because if you do that, and if you get comfortable enough, you might just enjoy it.

Who’s Minding the Store?

Ordinarily I don’t believe in apologizing for not posting much, or even mentioning it. I make an exception here though because things have been quieter than normal at a time when they probably ought not be quiet. This space isn’t destined to return to the days of posts nearly every day, but two weeks is too long. So, mea culpa. There’s been a lot going on.

What I have managed to do, though, is get my first two posts up for MASN.

The first, from last week, can be found here:

What the Orioles need to do this year is show stability. They need to show that they can play well over the course of a full season, which means competing consistently and weathering the adversity of injuries and slumps. Basically, they need to look good.

Given the run of bad baseball that preceded last season, stability in itself will count as meaningful, and important, improvement. Regardless of the win total.

If we’re taking predictions, though, I’m on the hook for 87-75. What about you?

The second, from earlier this week, is here:

Baseball is no different from anything else in that absence of fear amplifies enjoyment, and vice versa. If we’re not afraid that these guys are secretly no good, then we’re going to accept failure for what it is – part of the game. If, on the other hand, we’re waiting for another shoe to drop, we’re probably not going to truly believe in the successes and probably not going to truly enjoy them. We’re going to see every shortcoming as a harbinger of doom, every error as the tip of an iceberg.

The game being as long-form and as complicated as it is, pretty much everything comes with a “Yes, but …” You can frame that any way you’d like.

The short version of both of those together is that what I’m looking for from the Orioles this year is stability, and I expect to find it. They’re not exactly on a tear here to begin the season but I’m not particularly worried. As long as they don’t start losing series after series and digging themselves a hole I think they’re going to be right there at the end.

But, you know, it’s early. That cuts both ways.

Either way I know this: it’s going to be a fun season. I just have a hunch about that.

Orioles: When Baseball Season Arrives

New (2011) Orioles Cartoon Bird LogoI’ve remarked before, elsewhere and I think here, that time doesn’t fly. It accelerates. So much so that if you stop to think about it you’ll probably end up in a bad place. Ten years ago doesn’t seem that long. A few weeks or months sometimes feel like days. If you don’t know what I mean, you will.

Thankfully, there’s an antidote. Not to the disappearance of time — nobody loosens that grip — but to the acute feeling of it. That antidote is awareness. It’s remembering to pump the brakes. It’s listening to an old record (even digitally). It’s skipping the Keurig and making a decent cup of coffee. It’s letting go of the bullshit someone’s trying to lay on you. It’s cooking, not just heating, dinner. It’s recognizing the good things and letting them in.

Baseball is, for me, one of those good things. And I’m stoked it’s back.

Not only is it back, but for the first time since I was still in my teens it’s back with the Orioles on the plus side. Winning team. Playoff team. What could be better than that for a long-suffering fanbase? Maybe a World Series. Baby steps.

I didn’t have much to say this spring for a variety of reasons. Busy-ness, sure, but also because there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. This was a workmanlike spring for the O’s and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. They went down to Florida and got ready for the season. Nice, tidy, and simple.

What’s more, I like this team. I like the pitching depth, I like the fact that they returned a playoff team mostly intact, and I like that they don’t have any issues hanging over their heads. As far as I can tell this looks like a group that’s aligned to a purpose and ready to get to work. Like it should be.

Prediction Time

Here’s the thread where we go on record. For me, it’s pretty simple: 87 wins. I think a very small fall back from last season’s high is somewhat inevitable, but I believe they’ll still be in the mix. I have a hunch they’ll be good enough for another Wild Card, although whether or not they get it could come down to a game here or there. However it plays out I definitely do not expect them to fall back below .500.

The reason is simple. You can win with a handful of stars (A, A+ players) surrounded by a bunch of C, C+ players or you can with with a whole roster of guys who net out around a B. I think the Orioles are the latter, and I think that beyond the raw talent they’ve got something else going for them: it’s a true team. That concept may not mean much when the talent isn’t there but when the talent’s good or good enough, playing well together makes a difference. That’s what I expect to see.

What about you?

I’m looking forward to the season, folks. I hope you are too.

The Baltimore Ravens are Playing With Fire

anquan_boldin“It’s just business.”

I’ve always hated this phrase. It’s bothered me for as long as I can remember knowing what it meant. I think that probably goes back to something basic, if (arguably) a bit naive: I never thought it was cool that screwing someone over could suddenly become OK if it fell under the auspices of “business.” Whatever that means, or meant.

Of course as I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve learned that life comes pre-loaded with some harsh realities, and among these is the occasional need to make tough and/or uncomfortable decisions. I’ve learned, equally, that there’s nothing automatically wrong with this and not much we can do about it anyway. Sometimes “it” really is “just business.”

None of which is to say, however, that there shouldn’t be — that there aren’t — limits.

Back when the Ravens first won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at the helm, then unceremoniously dumped him, I regarded it as a betrayal. That they got their just desserts and then some with the Elvis Grbac debacle did little to sway my feelings. Plenty of folks regard loyalty as a weakness when doing business. I’m not one of them. At the very least I thought Dilfer should have been given a fighter’s chance to keep his job, as he had earned at least that much. He wasn’t much more than an average quarterback, sure, but he did enough to deserve better than he got.

Fast forward to the present offseason and I find myself more than a little bit curious about what’s inside the head of Ozzie Newsome & company as they fashion their roster for 2013 and beyond.

First, they pony up a record extension for Joe Flacco, a quarterback who had an epic postseason but who had been regarded as an iffy bet for most of his career prior to that. He’s been good, sometimes very good, but the sum total of time he’s spent being great amounts to about four games.

Then, they ship Anquan Boldin off to San Francisco for basically nothing. Here’s another player coming off an epic postseason performance, one that in fact had a lot to do with making Joe Flacco look as good as he looked. You can say that without Flacco playing as well as he did the Ravens probably don’t win the Super Bowl. You can say the exact same thing about Boldin.

Remember this with Boldin: we’re not talking about a free agent they didn’t have room to re-sign, and we’re not talking about a role player. That Lombardi trophy has his fingerprints all over it. Hell, forget the postseason for a second. If he doesn’t throw that block on fourth-and-forever against San Diego then who knows what we’re talking about today?

Now, I get it. “Business.” QBs are more highly valued than wide receivers. Boldin is 32 and, as such, exiting the prime years that Flacco is still enjoying at 28. Nobody who understands the NFL — both on the field and in the front office — could possibly argue that Flacco isn’t more valuable than Boldin.

That said, in the NFL it’s well-known that smart teams pay players more for what they’re supposedly going to do than for what they’ve already done. What most people lose in that equation is that the really smart teams also make wise decisions about what their players are doing right now. And, right now, the Ravens are a weaker team without Boldin.

They’re also a team with a mountain of chips in the center of the table on Flacco, a guy they’re paying explicitly for what he’s doing now in addition to what they think he’ll do in the future. A future that includes Tandon Doss where #81 once roamed.

If you’re a Ravens fan you have to hope that Joe Flacco finally worked out the kinks and is ready to become the kind of player who doesn’t need an Anquan Boldin. You have to hope he’s Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning and not simply Matt Schaub or Matt Stafford. All four are good quarterbacks. Only the first two make the players around them better.

I’m not saying Ozzie is wrong. I can’t know that. But what I am saying is that in football, as in life, there’s often more than one way to make a tough decision. I’m not sure Ozzie chose the right one here. I think this just might be a classic case where a little bit more loyalty might have gone a long way. Even if it is “just business.”