O's forecast: cloudy, with chance of pain

October 01, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

If you still need something to illustrate the depressing state of affairs that is the Orioles, all you have to do is juxtapose two important moments in yesterday's lopsided, season-ending loss to the New York Yankees.

When Alex Rodriguez was removed from the game in the top of the fourth inning, he received a partial standing ovation from the mixed-allegiance crowd of 43,589 at Oriole Park.

When Miguel Tejada came out of the season finale in the bottom of the sixth, he received only polite applause. There were a few people standing in the lower bowl of the ballpark, but it's possible they were just stretching their legs.

Considering it might have been Tejada's last game in an Orioles uniform, he probably deserved better ... and he might ask you what else is new. When he signed his six-year deal four years ago, he thought he was coming to a team that was committed to winning. When he found out differently a couple of winters ago, he complained too loudly, which cost him a measure of fan affection.

Now, he is just another movable piece in the murky mosaic that is the Orioles' future. And he is not alone.

The dominoes already have begun to fall. First base coach Sam Mejias told the team in August he will not return for next year. Bench coach Tom Trebelhorn was informed this weekend that his contract will not be renewed. Club president Andy MacPhail has indicated the final makeup of the coaching staff remains in question.

There is speculation Tejada will be traded or moved to another position. There are whispers of a front-office shake-up. Just about everyone in the organization -- other than Peter Angelos, MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley -- is going to be on pins and needles for a while.

Normally, that kind of uncertainty might make your fan base uncomfortable, but the possibility of widespread change is probably the only thing keeping anyone interested right now.

In their 10th straight losing season, the Orioles failed even to get back to 70 victories. They spent $42 million to upgrade the bullpen last winter and took a giant step backward in the late innings. They fired another manager and changed the power structure in the front office.

MacPhail will gather all of the baseball operations people in Sarasota, Fla., next week to analyze the organization. Just a hunch, but I'm guessing not much of that time will be spent on self-congratulation.

If MacPhail has stressed anything during his first 3 1/2 months in the Orioles' front office, it is that the time has come for the team to be brutally honest with itself and its fans.

Gone are the days of pumping up unproven prospects and concocting delusional best-case scenarios to mollify an angry public.

"Believe me, I've come from a place [the Chicago Cubs] where the fans' patience has been tested," MacPhail told The Sun recently. "I think if you're honest with them and straightforward and you have an explanation for what you're doing and they can see some evidence that you're committed to what it is you're trying to do, some will leave and some will not. But clearly, where we are now, it's not working."

Loose translation: Fasten your seatbelts, because it's going to be a long, bumpy ride back into playoff contention.

Trembley didn't sugarcoat anything, either. He has jumped right onto MacPhail's credibility caravan.

"I think what the fans want is the truth," Trembley said yesterday. "I think they want definite direction, and I think they want you to stick to it. Mr. MacPhail, that's what he's going to do."

Maybe so, but the truth and 70 wins next year is still going to be a tough sell for a team that just barely exceeded last year's all-time low Camden Yards attendance total.

During Trembley's final post-game news conference of the season, somebody asked him what he learned during his first half-season as a major league manager.

"What I've learned," he said, "is a lot of patience."

That's just fine, but Orioles fans can be forgiven for losing theirs a long, long time ago.

In that regard, they have a lot in common with Tejada, who could have used a little love -- and maybe a farewell kiss -- yesterday afternoon.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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