O's players need to own up to woes

June 16, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

In the Orioles' clubhouse, this should be a time for reflection, but not the touchy-feely kind favored by poets and pastors.

I'm talking about the other definition of the word - the kind of reflection that can only be seen by taking an honest look in the mirror.

I'm guessing - and hoping - that most of the Orioles will not be satisfied with who is looking back at them, not after hitting a new low this week with three losses at home against the downtrodden Washington Nationals.

The sweep has spawned a new round of teeth-gnashing about the manager, who continues to twist in the wind, and Sam Perlozzo will ultimately be held responsible. But there is plenty of blame to go around and plenty of room to wonder just when the people who get paid to hit and throw the ball will take ownership of this seemingly lost season.

That's not just my opinion. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who has never been afraid to call it as he sees it, called out the clubhouse in an interview with Sun beat writer Jeff Zrebiec this week.

"In my estimation, until they start taking some self-responsibility for what's going on, then nothing is going to change," Palmer said. "If they think this is a managerial problem ... if we hire whoever, does that mean that Jay Gibbons is going to start hitting the ball to left field or hitting home runs? Where's the correlation? If these guys want to use Sammy as a pinata like they've been doing and nobody wants to stand up, it's disgraceful."

Palmer is no stranger to managerial criticism, of course. He feuded publicly with Earl Weaver throughout their 15 years in uniform together, but he did it while winning more games (268) than any other pitcher in Orioles history.

"These are big league players," he said. "These are professionals. This isn't about a manager. No managers are perfect, but what's going to make them happy, for somebody to say, `Just do what you want to do?' Are you really content playing under .500 again when you should be better?"

Sometimes, it seems that way. Like when the best hitter on the team jogs to first base on a dropped fly ball in the outfield ... or one of the club's veteran leaders inexplicably makes mistake after fundamental mistake.

"It's personal integrity," Palmer said. "It's making a commitment. Can these guys make a commitment to be the best players and keep that commitment? Is anybody going to step up with this team like [New York Mets closer] Billy Wagner did and say, `It's embarrassing the way we've played?'

"You know how to change it, start focusing on winning games. Do whatever it takes. Have a team meeting. I don't know why they haven't done that. Actions speak louder than words."

Instead, there has been an undercurrent of discontent with Perlozzo's leadership and a handful of instances in which players - most notably Gibbons and Melvin Mora - have gone public with complaints about the way they have been managed.

When the Nationals pulled the Orioles down to their level Thursday night, however, there wasn't much room left for excuses - something Kevin Millar acknowledged after the game and again yesterday.

"I don't want people to feel sorry for us," he said, "and I don't want us to feel sorry for ourselves. ... You still have to come out and fight every day."

Then he said something that brought back memories of a better time (for him), but didn't have quite the same ring in the Orioles clubhouse.

"We've got to Cowboy up."

Millar was quick to add that the Orioles aren't the only team in baseball that has slumped badly this year.

"This goes on with every team in the big leagues," he said. "Try to be the Yankees for the first month of this season. It was jumping-off-the-bridge time. Ask [general manager] Kenny Williams with the White Sox. We just got swept by the Nationals. We lost some stingers in Anaheim and we had that tough loss in Boston. This is frustrating, because I believe in my heart we are a better team than that. Last year, I wouldn't have said that."

Veteran outfielder Jay Payton takes a wry view of all this, but maybe that's because he hasn't been around long enough to make the transition to a healthy sense of fatalism.

"We've lost 700 one-run ballgames, so you can't tell me we can't find a way to win a few games," he said.

The actual number is 15, but you get the idea.

"If we were .500 in those games, we would be seven or eight games better right now," Payton said. "There's no reason why we can't come out on the other end of those things."

The first step might be for some of his teammates to stop obsessing about the manager and take that long look in the mirror.

"When I go out there on the field, if I don't get it done, it's my fault," Payton said. "I've got no one to blame but myself. You don't want people to point fingers. If I'm in the game, I've got the opportunity to compete. If I stink, then put someone else in.

"It's a mind-set. We've got to get out of that mind-set that it's a tough division ... that we have to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. You've just got to go out and play the game and try to win."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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