Like an old car, Orioles need more than recycled parts

The Kickoff

August 30, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

I've got some sad news. My '92 Celica, which carried me to countless local sporting events over the past 15 years and provided regular fodder for the Kickoff page, announced its retirement yesterday on a lonely stretch of Highway 10 in Anne Arundel County.

And unlike me and Junior Seau, I don't think it's going to be unretiring anytime soon.

Yeah, it's just an old car, but it's also a metaphor. I watched it weep four gallons of rusty coolant and I couldn't help but shed a few tears for all the years that we drove together to Camden Yards, wide-eyed and hopeful that better days were just around the next bend in the road.

The car wasn't actually wide-eyed, but it looked that way because it had those cool popup headlights - not the space-age, bug-eyed halogen lamps that are popular now. I suppose it's also a stretch to say that the car was hopeful, unless it was hoping that I'd lose 30 pounds and take a little strain off the engine. But it was dependable and cost-effective and, now that I think about it, not really a metaphor for the Orioles.

I guess I'll have to settle for a little symbolism. I stood there watching the antifreeze pool at my feet and realized that I was looking at a thing of the past, and now it was time to look toward the future. Like the Orioles, I need to go out into the open market and spend whatever it takes to get to the next level. I'm thinking convertible. The Orioles should be thinking Carlos Lee, now that he has rethought the whole Scott Boras thing.

Change is never easy, but the air conditioning went out just before the last heat wave (isn't that the way it always happens?) and the radiator cracked wide-open yesterday. I could spend $400 and get a new radiator and maybe I could drive it for another four or five column references, but the car isn't worth $400 and there comes a time when you have to stop rationalizing why you're not willing to open your wallet.

That time has come for me, but I still wonder if it has come for the Orioles. The conventional wisdom around Camden Yards is that the settlement between the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and Comcast removed the last obstacle that stood in the way of the team raising its payroll dramatically to compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Orioles officials have hinted that they will be aggressive during the offseason, which I take to mean that they'll make a major bid to sign a premier run-producing outfielder and try to sign or trade for a No. 1 starting pitcher. Of course, we've heard this kind of thing before, so I will remain skeptical until I'm summoned to the warehouse for the Barry Zito/Carlos Lee meet-and-greet in late November.

The trouble is, the Orioles probably are thinking the same thing about the current roster that I was thinking about my aging automobile every time I made some piecemeal repair to avoid the inevitable: Who cares what it looks like. It's cheap and every month that I keep driving it, I'm putting money in my pocket.

The way I figure it, the young pitchers have started to bloom about six months too early. The recent success of Adam Loewen and the resurgence of Daniel Cabrera, combined with the solid performance of Erik Bedard, just might be enough to convince the owner that there's no reason to sink $60 million into Zito or whoever else might become available.

That would be a mistake of staggering proportion. The fans are sensing that something good might be ahead, so the last thing Peter Angelos should do is disappoint them again. He's got his television network and he has a chance to make a dynamic change in the cynical public attitude toward himself and his franchise.

I know all about this, because a couple of days ago, as I was leaving for work in my comfortable, inexpensive, decrepit Toyota, my normally frugal wife walked me to the door and said something that I never expected to hear.

"If you don't come home with a new car tonight," she said, "don't come home."

Though I didn't listen (and the locks were not changed when I puttered back a few hours later), it struck me at the time that Orioles fans are thinking the same way about this offseason.

I'm getting a new car soon, and for once in my life I'm not going to go half-stepping. I suggest the Orioles' front office take the same approach in the free-agent market so next summer we both have a chance to ride in style.

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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