O's to NL East?

But seriously ...

September 28, 2004|By John Eisenberg

ORIOLES manager Lee Mazzilli was on, well, somewhat of a right track when he mentioned over the weekend that the Orioles should consider moving to the National League East if they ended up having to share their market with a team in Washington.

He just suggested the wrong destination.

The NL East? A move there makes no sense.

Instead, the Orioles should try moving to the AFC North, the lightweight pro football division where the Ravens reside.

Don't laugh. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig might agree at this point to trade the Orioles to the NFL.

That would certainly alleviate Selig's biggest ongoing headache, the steadfast refusal of Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos to bless baseball's plan to move the Expos to Washington.

Such a move would also help the Orioles, as competing with the mediocre Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns would certainly be easier than trying to fell the mighty Yankees and Red Sox.

OK. Sorry. We'll get serious now. But you might want to remember that glaring disparity in divisional quality the next time you start comparing the Orioles and Ravens.

Anyway, as much as Mazzilli deserves kudos for thinking "outside the box" about baseball's possible return to Washington, his suggestion was off base, illustrating a lack of insight into Baltimore and its fans.

He backtracked a bit yesterday, emphasizing that he believed there shouldn't be a team in Washington and the Orioles should stay where they are.

It was probably ill-advised for a rookie manager with an uncertain future to have ventured onto such terrain.

Baltimore fans would almost rather see the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl than consign the Orioles to a future in the NL East.

For starters, there'd be nothing to gain by moving. The Braves dominate the division, just as the Yankees and Red Sox dominate the American League East. And the Phillies and Mets are always spending a fortune to try to win, much like the Yankees and Red Sox.

But more importantly, running off to the NL East would be tantamount to the franchise raising a white flag of surrender and admitting it couldn't beat the Yankees and Sox.

Baltimore fans would despise that.

The Orioles have finished ahead of the Yankees 19 times in 51 seasons, most recently just seven years ago, so the idea that the Orioles can't beat them is just false.

The Red Sox? They're looking for their first World Series victory since 1918. The Orioles have won three, the first in 1966. It's a fair fight.

And even though the Yankees and Red Sox are making the Orioles miserable these days, the teams have a splendid competitive tradition dating back 50 years. You can't just wipe that out, as Mazzilli should know.

The Orioles' 38 games with baseball's twin powers generate the season's biggest jolts of electricity around here, not to mention 19 home sellouts.

Life without the Yankees and Red Sox would be much more forgiving, but also much less interesting. Thirty-eight games with the Braves and Phillies wouldn't generate nearly as much buzz. And the Orioles need all the buzz they can get.

True, the teams' current payroll levels put the Orioles at a disadvantage. But such inclinations do not remain ever thus.

The Yankees continue to win because owner George Steinbrenner continues to spend outrageously, but what if the owner who succeeds Steinbrenner decides to operate more judiciously? These things do happen.

Talk of capitulation sounds even worse now, as the Orioles conclude a second half of the 2004 season that has been increasingly encouraging.

If they sign a couple of free-agent starting pitchers and make the right tweaks elsewhere, they could be in the playoff hunt next season. For real.

Switching to the NL East rather than staying to fight the good fight against the Yankees and Red Sox would succeed only in depressing local baseball fans.

Angelos should think of another concession to extract from baseball in exchange for having a team move so close to Camden Yards.

He can probably get just about anything he wants.

That became clear last week when Selig dispatched baseball chief operating officer Bob DuPuy to Baltimore to plead, er, negotiate with Angelos.

Baseball clearly is willing to go to great lengths to gain Angelos' blessing.

Meanwhile, the Orioles' owner continues to fight the proposed move, and he's nowhere close to giving up.

A suitable concession from baseball could come in almost any form - a cash payoff, a new cable channel, better clubhouse food.

A switch to the AFC North is not an option. It's a joke.

But a switch to the NL East, after 50 years in the American League, is just as ridiculous.

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