Word to O's: Past tense is imperfect

July 28, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" -- George Santayana

"We're going for the wild card!" -- Orioles management

And so it has come to this: The Orioles might need to lose two of three to Texas for their braintrust to come to its senses and deal veterans for prospects.

True to form, they haven't reached a firm decision with just four days remaining until the deadline for completing trades without waivers.

They're nine games under .500 after last night's 8-6 loss to Texas. They're nine games back in the wild-card race. But by golly, they're still talking about contending.

Someone hit rewind.

The Orioles stayed intact last July, then failed in their attempt to become the first team this century to rally from a 15 1/2-game deficit to reach the postseason.

Oh, but this year is different.

How different?

The Orioles' largest wild-card deficit was only 14 1/2 games, so there is historical precedent for what they are trying to accomplish -- the 1914 Miracle Braves rallied from 15 back.

The Miracle O's? Please. Juan Guzman, Will Clark and Arthur Rhodes are the first three players general manager Frank Wren should trade. And the first-year GM shouldn't stop there.

The prospects the Orioles receive might not alter the destiny of the franchise, but what could they hurt? Wren acquired Jason Johnson for Danny Clyburn. If he can obtain one or two players with similar promise, owner Peter Angelos should just say yes.

One media apologist romanticized last season's run for the playoffs as a "midsummer night's dream." But when the fantasy turned to reality, the Orioles were left with only draft picks for free agents Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Eric Davis and Alan Mills.

Spare us the poetry and find us some prospects.

Just for argument's sake, let's ignore the Miracle O's biggest deficiencies -- an inferior bullpen and inferior manager, both of which have contributed mightily to their 10-18 record in one-run games.

Heck, let's assume they can win the wild card, even though they're 1-11 against the team they're chasing, and 12-32 against teams with winning records in the American League.

What then?

The Miracle O's might win one playoff series, but not three of them. Meanwhile, every one of their veterans will be a year older next season. And their farm system will be nearly as thin.

The Orioles refused to get younger in 1996, and it was difficult to argue with the outcome after they managed to reach the postseason for the first time in 13 years.

They were three games under .500 when they made the same decision last season. And they were eight games under Monday when Wren confirmed an organizational "shift" against conceding 1999.

By no means is this is an easy decision. Angelos wants to be fair to his ticket buyers. And professional sports are played to win, especially when you've got an $84 million payroll.

Still, let's look at this objectively.

The Orioles are on an 11-3 run, but to win 88 games -- probably the minimum for a wild card -- they would need to finish 43-20. The Toronto Blue Jays would need to finish 32-27, the Boston Red Sox 34-28.

And it's not as if the Orioles are designed for a late-season sprint.

Left fielder B.J. Surhoff, a week away from his 35th birthday, has started all but two games. Shortstop Mike Bordick, 34, has started all but three. Catcher Charles Johnson is only 27, but he has played in 67 of the last 72 games.

Those three could wear down. Second-year pitcher Sidney Ponson and rookie Johnson could wilt under pennant-race pressure. Mike Timlin has yet to close successfully for a contender.

And didn't Miller avoid getting fired because Angelos considered the season lost, and believed it was pointless to change his manager?

Never mind.

As usual, the Orioles are making this up as they go along.

The price for Guzman last season was Nerio Rodriguez, and it might not be any higher this time. Who cares? Guzman appeals to contenders as a potential free agent with eight postseason starts. If nothing else, trading him could increase the Orioles' depth at Triple A.

Clark is batting .306, and his resume includes 88 postseason at-bats with San Francisco and Texas. The Orioles can always play Jeff Conine at first, a position where they want to stay flexible, anyway.

Then there is Rhodes, a left-hander power reliever who could bring the most in return. The Orioles are willing to give him a four-year contract extension.

Hello? Rhodes is sporting a 6.17 ERA, and his fragile left arm makes him high maintenance.

The Orioles can't trade Albert Belle and Brady Anderson. They won't trade six players they consider untouchable.

And they shouldn't trade Scott Erickson unless they receive a whopping offer. They will need a veteran inning-eater if the 2000 rotation includes Ponson, Jason Johnson and Matt Riley.

All hope is not lost for next season, not if the Orioles improve their bullpen, install Jerry Hairston at second base and somehow purge Anderson or Belle's contract, with the goal of acquiring a new center fielder.

But for once, they need to face reality, concede the season and build toward the future.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And the Orioles continue to suffer from institutional amnesia.

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