O's fate still tied to hated Yankees

June 26, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Orioles are back home at Camden Yards tonight and, in a sense, so are the New York Yankees.

Maybe not in a literal sense, since the Yankees already have the house that a Baltimore guy named Ruth built, but they have taken up permanent residence in our consciousness in much the same manner their fans regularly take over our ballpark. In a weird psychobabble sort of way, they have become a part of us.

This is really nothing new. The fortunes of these two franchises have been intertwined for decades, from the 10-player deal in the 1970s that brought Scott McGregor, Rick Dempsey and Tippy Martinez to the Orioles to the end run the Yankees made around Peter Angelos to steal Mike Mussina to a pair of recent managerial searches that have focused on candidates with those heinous pinstripes running through their backgrounds.

Joe Girardi, who last week turned down the opportunity to replace Sam Perlozzo, played in lots of places during his 15-year major league career, but his continuing relationship with the Yankees probably had a lot to do with his decision to stick with the YES Network until a more promising managerial position becomes available.

Lee Mazzilli was hired by the Orioles in November 2003, at least partly in the hope that some of that Yankees aura would rub off on an Orioles organization that couldn't get out of its own way. He had the club in first place for more than two months in 2005, the longest period of sustained success since the wire-to-wire division title run in 1997.

I realize this is tough to swallow, but if you really think about it, just about everything that happens around here is either because of or in some way related to the Yankees.

For example, all you have to do is connect the dots to understand why the Orioles have been so reluctant to sign top free agents since the beginning of this decade. Angelos has been wary of big-ticket players since he made the colossal mistake of giving $65 million to Albert Belle in 1998. The only top-dollar free agent the club has signed to a long-term deal since Belle came up lame was Miguel Tejada, who was the closest player to a sure thing injury-wise as anyone since Cal Ripken.

Do you remember why Angelos signed Belle? Because there were rumors that the surly slugger was going to sign with the Yankees.

"I didn't relish the idea of him batting in the middle of that Yankees lineup - with those other hitters around him," Angelos said at the time. "He would've been a destructive force."

Turned out, Belle was a destructive force to the Orioles' future, even though the club had insurance to cover most of the lost salary. To that point, Angelos had aggressively sought out the best talent and stocked the team with veteran stars. To that point, the Orioles had been the chief obstacle to the new Yankees dynasty. The Yankees claimed that their interest in Belle was sincere, but there still are conspiracy theorists (me, for instance) who think it was all a plot to undermine their top American League East rival.

Girardi was just looking out for No. 1, but his decision to pass on the Orioles' job also will have significant impact on the Orioles over the near term. New president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail wanted to strike quickly to change the direction of the franchise, but now he's left with a team in managerial limbo.

If it's any consolation, the Yankees aren't doing all that great. They got off to a terrible start and still are a mile behind the first-place Boston Red Sox.

Not that you'll be able to tell that tonight, when the Yankees and their fans make themselves comfortable at Oriole Park. Certainly not tomorrow night, when Roger Clemens is scheduled to go after his historic 350th victory in the second game of the three-game series. Probably not even Thursday night, when Taiwanese star Chien-Ming Wang shows up to affirm that the Orioles can't compete with the Yankees overseas either.

They still look pretty good from here.

They're still in our heads.

Damn Yankees.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturday and Sunday.

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