Paper's brickbats for the Orioles: tough but fair

Public Editor


According to The Sun, Baltimore Orioles fans' No. 1 reason for hope in 2006 is the arrival of a new pitching coach.

With no disrespect to Leo Mazzone's outstanding record with the Atlanta Braves, this does not indicate that fan confidence is riding high.

Sun reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg's front-page article on the eve of the season opener described the team's fans as being at the intersection of hope and cynicism.

It reported on a frustrated Oriole supporter's plan to drive a truck around Camden Yards carrying a personal message imploring Peter Angelos to sell the team. And although some people quoted believe the splendid ballpark ambience can help make up for a struggling team, the article conveyed a sense of acute fan despair over eight consecutive losing seasons.

When it comes to sports, newspapers historically have had something of a split personality - they want their home team to win but have the obligation to report and render opinions about why their team is losing.

Over the past few years, The Sun has expressed cautious optimism as the Orioles began their seasons. But this year - with the content of Van Valkenburg's story and its front-page placement - the newspaper was being more realistic. It reflects the mood of many fans who find it difficult to find reasons to hope for a winning season.

Reporting on this early mood is not much fun for journalists. But it is the right thing to do.

"I want to sincerely thank the author of this article," said reader Dan Ross. "The status of the Orioles leaves me in physical pain whenever I think about what has happened to this franchise. So many of us are as passionate about the Orioles as anything else in our lives, and some have truly been suffering over the past decade."

The most optimistic assessment of the Orioles was found inside The Sun's "Baseball 2006" preview section, where reporter Jeff Zrebiec examined the team's organizational plan. The article and accompanying chart broke down the future prospects position by position, including the views of scouts and talent evaluators and the expected arrival time of each player to the big leagues.

Still, concerns about the makeup of the current team and some of the organization's decisions persist.

Columnist and longtime baseball writer Peter Schmuck believes the team's stalled contract negotiations with veteran third basemen Melvin Mora are a key issue. In the last year of his current contract, the highly productive 34-year-old and management have so far failed to agree on an extension. Schmuck reported last week that Mora has twice revised his proposal, but when the Orioles did not modify their offer, Mora told his agent to stop the negotiations until the season ends.

It is worth noting that Mora has displayed the kind of professionalism often absent from recent Orioles teams. He was the only current player to attend the funeral for longtime Orioles player and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who died suddenly in December. The hugely popular Hendricks had suffered a heart attack during the season and was to be reassigned to a lesser job in 2006.

Schmuck worries that the Mora situation could affect the play of team leader Miguel Tejada, who was in the news much of the offseason, expressing his frustration with what he thinks is the Orioles' lack of aggressiveness in producing a winning team. Schmuck's worst-case scenario is the veteran part of the team being broken up at midseason.

John Eisenberg's Tuesday column, "Elrod's widow can't forget: `Fact is they broke his heart,'" examined the awkward and painful residue over the treatment of her husband. Even though Hendricks' son threw out the first pitch on opening day, Merle Hendricks did not participate in the pre-game ceremonies.

She told Eisenberg that she believed the team's decision last year to reassign Hendricks was handled badly and that "it broke her husband's spirit." Eisenberg also noted that many fans and former team members were upset that the Orioles did not retire Hendricks' number - traditionally the ultimate organizational tribute.

But reader Gene Ball said, "I think the timing of these two columns was terrible, spoiling the wonderful feeling fans had after the Orioles' opening game [Baltimore beat Tampa Bay, 9-6]. It seemed in very bad taste to focus on the negative, especially the article about Elrod Hendricks and his widow."

So, is The Sun simply wallowing in negativity?

I don't think so.

The Orioles are a big part of this city and this region. It is a multimillion-dollar business.

Given the recent history of the team's performance, the newspaper must report and comment on the Orioles realistically and truthfully - no matter how painful that may be for fans and readers (and journalists).

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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