Today, we mourn 9 losing seasons Commentary

October 01, 2006|By RICK MAESE

2006 Orioles

April 3, 2006-Oct. 1, 2006

They lived, they played

We laughed, we cried

We gather together today, this final day of the 2006 baseball season, and lay to rest another disappointing Orioles team.

For the ninth straight year, they were losers. For the eighth time in nine seasons, they finished fourth in their division. And so on yet another October day, we bid them adieu with a familiar sense of frustration and disillusionment.

In a break from this annual rite of fall, we're not inviting speakers up this year to eulogize the team. After all, what can be said about these Orioles that wasn't already written in Dante's Inferno?

No, this year we'll revisit speakers from the past, and see if we can't latch onto whatever blind hope they did. Without further adieu, Mr. Angelos, the stage is all yours.

Orioles 2005 funeral: "We are coming back strong next year," Peter Angelos said last September. "I know you have heard that tune before, but this time it will literally come true."

And what a sweet song it is. Twelve months later, I can still hear it echoing ...

Orioles 2004 funeral: "We have some areas to improve upon, and we think there are some great possibilities for us to do that," former executive vice president Jim Beattie said on the final day of the season. "I want to be standing here next year with the idea that we've got a few more games to play in October. That's the way we're approaching it."

Instead, the next October, Beattie was piling his belongings into boxes.

Orioles 2003 funeral: "The urge and desire to bring a winner for the community and the fans gets the better of good business. ... Fans are waiting and watching," Angelos said. "So are writers and commentators. Their opinions matter."

At least some things never change. Glad that our opinions still matter.

Orioles 2002 funeral: "I have to find a way to work less," former vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said. "We need more help. A lot of different things are bogged down. You need a lot of different people to maximize their energy. Maybe we need new people, find people who have high energy, enthusiasm and good judgment and who can make things happen."

It didn't take long for Angelos to find a way for Thrift to work less. He cut his hours by 100 percent.

Former manager Mike Hargrove also spoke: "I'm not trying to sugarcoat it or alibi what's happened," he said. "If we had our druthers, we'd rather finish off strong. But there have been a lot of good things to come out of this season. ... I think we were able to establish some things that we needed to establish to give this organization and this club a chance to win, down the line."

Important follow-up question: Exactly how far down the line?

Orioles 2001 funeral: "The 2003 season should be a lot of fun if things fall in place," Angelos said, "but I don't think [success in] 2002 is necessarily out of the question. I wouldn't be surprised if some significant progress can be achieved."

Surprise!

Orioles 2000 funeral: "We intend to be competitive every year," Angelos said. "We haven't been in the last three years because our minor league system simply was not capable of producing players because it was still in the process of emerging as a legitimate minor league system. But this year, with the advent of outfielder Luis Matos and other players, the minor league system is beginning to produce players capable of competing at the major league level. We have no intention of remaining at some second-level status."

The road to fourth place is clearly paved with good intentions.

Orioles 1999 funeral: Angelos spoke in November about Hargrove, the manager he'd just hired to turn the club around.

"He brings an atmosphere of winning baseball that we believe will help us achieve the goal of the entire Orioles organization - to put a team of excitement on the field and bring a world championship home to our fans," he said.

And I'd like to be the first to invite Hargrove back to Baltimore to celebrate that championship in the year 2025.

Orioles 1998 funeral: "If you want [to maintain] a competitive team on the field you're probably looking at a five-year project," Pat Gillick said in September, when it was certain he wouldn't continue as general manager the next season. "If you want to go down to scratch and come back, you're probably looking at three or four years. But if you want to do it over five years, you can expose people more slowly."

Or if you want to do it over 10 years ...

At the time, many worried that a mass exodus of free agents would cripple the team, prompting outfielder Eric Davis to predict: "If everybody leaves, what do we have then? Another Florida [Marlins]. Do you think Peter is going to do that? No way. This team will be competitive and probably challenge for the World Series again. As long as he's owner, that's going to happen."

Heck of a prognosticator that Eric Davis, huh? He signed a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals five weeks later.

Orioles 1997 funeral: Coming off a winning season - the Orioles' last - the team parted ways with Davey Johnson and in November of that year, Ray Miller was handed the reins.

"Mr. Angelos guaranteed he would do everything in the world to keep this club competitive and in a position to win," Miller said. "If we're short of something, I'm sure ownership will go out and get it."

Funny you should mention it, Ray, because we are running a bit short on something: gravesites to keep burying these losing teams. rick.maese@baltsun.com

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