[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="295" caption="Birds of a feather"][/caption]

If you are excited about the direction the Orioles are headed this season, then it is important you know a bit of the history that led them to this point. I am not talking about how the team was built, but what it finally means to use phrases like “Orioles Magic” and “The Oriole Way” in reference to the 2012 team. Unorthodox as the Birds have been at times this season, they are 66-56 and currently tied with the Tamp Bay Rays for the first A.L wild card. However, to get to this part and understand how difficult it has been to be an O’s fan for the past 15 seasons, it is important to reexamine the past  and possibly compare and contrast this team to the one that became a semi dynasty back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Not that anyone within the organization is listening, but please, this O’s fan begs many of you to remember what George Santayana wrote in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1.  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

For The Baltimore Orioles, that may not be a bad thing. Remembering how a once proud organization became a near dynasty and then a disgrace on and off the field may help shed some light to the young core of players what it means to be an Oriole. I can almost see the light towers and blue box seats as the Birds get set to contend for a playoff berth as September approaches.

Thanks in large part to owner Peter Angelos, and 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Orioles have become one of the laughing stocks Major League Baseball has had to endure since the late 1990’s. Organizations have gone up the standings, fallen back, and then rose back to the top again as the Orioles remained an A.L. East cellar dweller for the better part of a decade and a half.

A once prideful fan base hung on as long as it could but ultimately allowed Red Sox and Yankees fans to fill Camden Yards as if the place were located on either 4 Yawkey Way or in the Bronx during the losing years.

Funny thing is and despite what many of you think, Peter Angelos has not ruined his franchise on purpose. The proof of that statement rests with current O’s manager Buck Showalter, who is miraculously now just three wins shy (169-172) of having a .500 record since he first took over as bench boss 106 games into the 2010 season.

Angelos is guilty of many things during his reign of futility sitting high atop the warehouse. It began with the forced resignation of then A.L Manager of the year and former O’s second baseman Davey Johnson following a trip to the A.L Championship series. Johnson fined then star second baseman Roberto Alomar for a violation of team rules and directed Alomar to pay the monies to Johnson’s wife’s charity. That was the straw that broke the camels back in an otherwise very strained relationship between Angelos and Johnson.

Angelos has a knack for finding good to great baseball minds, the problem is, Angelos cannot keep the good minds and their asses planted in the big chair for very long. They usually stay long enough to prevent the total collapse of the club but ultimately, are either forced out, or leave because they have had enough of Angelos’ meddling.

From 1954, the time the Orioles arrived from St. Louis, until 1995 (41-years), the Orioles had just seven executives in charge of making on the field decisions. Since 1995, two years after Angelos and friends bought the club, and including the hiring of Dan Duquette this past November, that number is also seven. Half of the franchises general managers have come during the 19 years that Angelos has owned the team. Great front office names such as Gillick, Wren, and MacPhail have come and gone, and all have failed, sort of. I would say they were not allowed to do their jobs as they saw fit or finish what they started but the bottom line is, all left with the O’s no better than they found them.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="290" caption="DAN DUQUETTE"][/caption]

It is important to note that Andy MacPhail, who was a second generation O’s executive from 2007-2011, left the Orioles in a better situation than when he took over and if the Birds seize a playoff spot this October, his name will be heard on the telecasts as an architect of this team.

In 2009, Sports Illustrated voted Angelos as the worst owner in baseball. The article, which appeared during a May 2009 issue, stated that Angelos since taking over in 1993, “killed trades proposed by his GMs and stripped down one of baseball's proudest franchises”.

That’s right, one of baseball’s proudest franchises, it wasn’t always this way in Baltimore. Angelos has in essence killed what used to be called the Oriole Way. From 1968–1985, the Orioles had 18 consecutive winning seasons and were the winingest team in all of Major League Baseball. Thanks in part to Cal Ripken Sr. , the Oriole way was developed as players were groomed within the organization.

The Oriole way was an organizational ethic, which Senior best described by always preaching, “Perfect practice makes perfect!”  The Oriole Way was a belief that hard work on and off the field, as well as professionalism, and a strong understanding of fundamentals were the keys to success at the major league level. It was based on the belief that if every coach, at every level, taught the game the same way, the organization could produce “replacement parts” that could be substituted seamlessly into the big league club with little or no adjustment.

Starting in the early to mid-sixties, the Orioles farm system produced a number of high-quality players and coaches that laid the foundation for two decades of on-field success. If this sounds familiar to the youngsters, it should because the comparisons between the early clubs and this one can rightfully be made.

Along the way, several managers and coaches instilled their work ethic into the Oriole Way, making it as powerful then as Moneyball and Sabermetrics are now. Pitching coach and future manager Ray Miller preached, “Work fast, change speeds and throw strikes”. The Earl of Baltimore, Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver believed in,  “Pitching, defense and three-run homers.”

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="265" caption="BROOKS AND FRANK LEAD THE ORIOLE WAY"][/caption]

All helped create an atmosphere that allowed the Birds to win seven seven Divisional Championships (1969–1971, 1973–1974, 1979 and 1983), six A.L. pennants (1966, 1969–1971, 1979 and 1983), and three World Championships (1966, 1970 and 1983). Starting with legendary third baseman Brooks Robinson in 1964, five Most Valuable Player awards were awarded to four Baltimore players. Following Brooks in 64, Frank Robinson won his in 1966 after he won the Triple Crown, as Frank batted 316, with 49 HR, and 122 RBI’s. Known now for his barbecue in left center field at Camden Yards, Boog Powell won one in 1970, and then Cal Ripken Jr. won two of the games highest individual honor. His first was in 1983, the year the O’s won their last World Series, and then again in 1991.

Starting with Mike Cuellar in 1969, the Orioles won six CY Young awards during the next 11 seasons. O’s Hall of Famer and longtime ace Jim Palmer won three (73, 75, 76) during a four year stretch. Palmer won just seven games in 1974, as the A’s Vida Blue captured the award. The Orioles would again claim pitching’s top honor in back-to-back season as Mike Flannigan won it in 1979 and Steve Stone in 1980.

Those not old enough remember and think that the 1993 Braves staff of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery, which won 75 games is the best of all time, is mistaken. The 1971 Birds sported four, 20-game winners. Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Jim Palmer all won 20 and lefty, Dave McNally, won 21. The 1971 O’s pitching staff is the only in MLB history with four 20-game winners.

Orioles Magic was born in 1979 and along with the Oriole way, provided many memorable evenings on 33rd St., which was the location of old Memorial Stadium. During the Angelos years, fans have become alienated and felt distanced from the team they used to love and want to love again. In fact, several seasons back Nestor Aparicio, owner of staged a walkout during an Orioles game in which fans donned tee-shirts begging Angelos to sell the team.

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In terms of on field major league sports success, the youth of Baltimore sports knows only of Ray Lewis, and the purple and black, not the orange and black. Sure, they know Cal Ripken, but do they know his father and what his father meant to Baltimore and the Orioles.

Welcome to the pressure the 2012 Baltimore Orioles never knew existed.

Not only do they have the chance to become the first winning team since before the calendar turned to the 21st century, but they carry an aging 40-50 something year old fan base on their backs whose looking for one more quality run to call their own. Kind of like what the Yankees just did for the past 15 years. They carry the pressure of providing Generation X an opportunity to say, “See I told you so, the Orioles would be good again”.

The year did not start promising for the Orioles and their fans. The season wasn’t two months over when they became a laughing stock after hiring former Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette to become President of baseball operations. Duquette replaced Andy MacPhail who plowed the ground and planted the seeds for this team’s success.

Duquette was not the first, second or third choice of Peter Angelos to run the club. In fact, he was not the fifth or sixth choice. Duquette only got the job after those Angelos considered candidates bowed out or took other jobs. Some of the candidates turned down the O’s owner and stayed put within their organizations or took baseball jobs of less importance elsewhere.  Baseball anaylsts laughed and chuckled at the Orioles once again and Red Sox fans taunted O’s fans on message boards for the hiring of Duquette. Oh by the way Sox fans, whose laughing last in 2012 so far?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Champions again in 83"][/caption]

Like MacPhail before him, Duquette would also be the second member of his family to work for the Orioles. Dan’s cousin Jim, was co-general manager of the Orioles with Mike Flannigan in 2005.

Duquette was out of baseball since 2002 when he was with the Red Sox. In some circles, Duquette is widely considered one of the architects of the 2004 Boston team that won their first World Series title in 86 years.  Angelos wants a winner, he needs a winner. While it is highly unlikely that Angelos will experience the reversal of fortune with the fans and local media that former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner did from his first Series title to his teams last while he was the owner, Angelos can go out on a high note by allowing the baseball people to do their jobs. This team does not require much to take that next step. However, it still need some parts that if Angelos were to intervene, we could be looking at another rebuild and a very large missed opportunity.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="336" caption="Cal and Eddie continue the Oriole Way"][/caption]

This core of this team is his best shot. While this year’s Orioles are not the dynasty of the late 60’s and early 70’s just yet, they have potential. This team is being built similarly to the teams back then. In fact, one could argue that it is being built just as the Yankees of the late 90’s were constructed. Many will never get past the stereotype that the Yankees always buy championships, but the Yankees of the late 90’s were built from within. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettite, all staples that anchored those championship squads, were drafted or signed  by the Yankees as amateur free agents, and came up through the farm system. Yes, the Yankees complimented those players with a few high priced free agents (Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, and Tino Martinez); quality free agents would not have gone to NY if the Yankees were not capable of winning a title. Contrary to popular belief, stars like to win championships as well as make money.

If the Orioles can manage to win a wild card, or at worst finish with an 81-81 record, high priced free agents will once again consider Camden Yards as a potential destination to call home. Angelos will spend the money if the time is right. He has proved that in the past. Remember Albert Belle? Angelos is a smart businessman. When he lost the fight to keep the Nationals out of D.C, he built the network (MASN) that telecasts their games.

Angelos knows that championships can not be bought. He tried to do that in the past as well. He knows that dynasties are groomed. If he didn’t know it when he bought the Birds, he sure as hell knows it now. Most organizations experience the height of success when their homegrown talent matures, and plays together at the professional level with a good mix of veteran acquisitions.

These Orioles are on a path to clear-cut success. You can see it in the numbers and the way they are winning games this year.  Before you can win consistently, you must first learn how to win and how to handle the success that comes with it. The numbers also indicate the baby Birds are doing just that.

Last season the Orioles were 33-47 following the Fourth of July and appeared to be heading in a backwards direction once again following a loss to the Twins in Minnesota back on July 17. However, since their loss on that night, which dropped their record to 46-44, the Orioles are 20-12 (one win behind Tampa Bay for most wins in AL since then).

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="336" caption="O's being built in same mold?"][/caption]

While the bullpen and pitching staff fell apart last season, the O’s have the second-best relievers ERA (2.67) and the fourth-best team ERA (3.80) during that 32-game span. The Orioles were 22-22 in one run games last season but this season are 23-6 (.793).

After claiming 16 series wins in 2011, the Orioles claimed their 22nd series win of 2012 on Sunday. The last time the Orioles won 22 series in one year was 1998, when they won 23 series.

Speaking of one-run games, The Orioles have won 12-straight one-run games dating back to June 22, tying their franchise record and are on pace to have the highest winning percentage in major-league history in one-run games. The 1981 Orioles, who were 21-7, currently hold the record (.750) in one-run affairs. The boys are getting it done away from the Yard as well. The Orioles have 34 road wins this year, four more than their total in 2011 (30) and their most since 2007 (also 34). The last time the Orioles won more than 34 road games in a season was 2005 (38). The O’s have 20 road games left this season and their 34 road wins are tied for second-most in the AL (Tampa Bay is 35-27).

Not all is perfect in Birdland this season. The Orioles are a poor fielding team and while they are getting better with runners in scoring position, the bats have struggled mightily this season with chances to plate runs. Two of their top pitching prospects have been disappointing but their strength within the system with young arms such as Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman only add to the excitement for the immediate future. You can finally start to counter the negatives with better positives down at the Yard.

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Speaking of excitement, was anything more exciting than the debut of Manny Machado two weeks ago. A week after being named Eastern League Player of the Week, Machado was named American League Co-Player of the Week with Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez last week. In his first four MLB games, Machado batted .375 (6-16) with a double, a triple, three homers, five runs scored, and seven RBI’s. Orioles Magic can be seen making a return in the distance, especially when you consider a stat like this. The Orioles overcame a 5-0 first-inning deficit last Sunday in Detroit, after also coming from behind from a 5-0 first inning deficit July 31 at New York in an 11-5 win. According to Elias Sports, the Orioles are only the third team in major-league history, and the first in 119 years, with two such road games in one season. Brooklyn did it twice in 1893 and Boston - of the Players League - had two in 1890.

Manager Buck Showlater and GM (that is what we will call him) Dan Duquette have worked their asses off this season. Despite playing just 122 games, the Orioles have made 134 roster moves this year since setting their Opening Day roster (40-man and 25-man roster included). The Birds have optioned 30 players, recalled 26, placed 19 on the 15-day DL, selected the contract of 15, designated 13 for assignment, reinstated nine from the DL, placed nine on the 60-day DL, lost three on waivers, out righted four, traded for four, claimed one on waivers and had one take paternity leave.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="360" caption="THE FUTURE (Jones, Weiters and Markakis)"][/caption]

All of this, the stats, the roster moves, indicates the O’s are becoming a team that is learning how to win on and off the field. Peter Angelos has changed; he has had to if the Birds have made that many moves.  While fans have tempered expectations in the past, it now appears to be OK to get excited.

If the Birds are not in the playoffs this season, they would have to be considered one of favorites in the American League East next season. What is even more important is that Orioles baseball, or the Oriole way is returning. That winning feeling is coming back and instead of expecting to lose, fans are starting to look at the wildcard standing in late August. And not because it is a mathematical possibility.

The last time the Orioles won the wild card was in 1996. Through 122 games, the Birds were 65-56. The following season, the O’s were 13 games better through 122 contests. Manager Buck Showalter is the tenth manager during the Angelos era. Mike Hargrove managed the team for 649 games from 2000-2003, but if you take out Hargrove, the average tenure of an O’s skipper (288 games) is a little less than two full seasons. In Buck Showalter’s second full season as manager, the Orioles are on pace to win 88 games, which would be a 19-game improvement over last year’s 69-93 mark. When Showalter was with Rangers in 2004, also in his second full year, he led them to an 18-game improvement and was named the AL Manager of the Year. In Showalter’s second full year in Arizona (1999), he led a 35-game improvement and a 12-game improvement during his second full year in New York (1993) as well.

The pieces are in place for a quality run in the American League for at least the next six to eight seasons. Angelos and his staff have already locked up Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, so there is no doubt that continuing to re-sign players while adding big time free agents where needed, is a foregone conclusion.

The fact that I can deliver a good news-bad news scenario without any actual bad news in late August sends a few chills down my spine. The good news is O’s fans; the light at the end of the tunnel is in fact a ray of hope and not a freight train looking to plow through another losing Orioles season. While it is great to get excited about what will be at Camden Yards, it is also important to never forget the rich tradition these Orioles are chasing.

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