Give Angelos a hand for being hands-off

November 12, 2008|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,

This might make your buddies gag on their Cheerios this morning, but fair is fair. Some might subscribe to the theory that unless you have something negative to say, it's best to not say anything at all. But not you. Half full or half empty, you've always been able to drink whatever's in front of you.

Which is why this morning, you're able to recognize - albeit uncomfortably - an important turning point for the Orioles.

Today marks a mini-culmination of sorts. We probably could've presented the larger hypothesis several months ago, but with some things, you have to see it to appreciate it. Are you sitting down? OK, here goes:

Of late, Orioles steward Peter Angelos has been doing some pretty decent stewarding.

Whew. That wasn't so tough, was it? (And fret not, jinxes don't apply to the offseason.)

After years of pleading, the Orioles are expected to reveal today new uniforms that feature "Baltimore" on their road jerseys. Endorsed by years of fans begging and pleading, it was a move personally handled by the team's owner. Given that, there's probably no better time to recognize that recently Angelos has successfully and with little fanfare done exactly what's expected of him. I'll try not to get too technical here, but I've synthesized the myriad gripes and requests into a brief one-point presentation:

* Stay out of the way.

For years, it seemed, Angelos had his heels dug so deep into the earth they had sprouted roots. Finally relenting and returning "Baltimore" to the road jerseys is a symbolic gesture that tells us not that he is open to change - but more importantly, that he's capable of it.

The uniforms are small potatoes. It's what's in those uniforms that matters most, which is why the true verdict has always hinged on Andy MacPhail's ability to remake this franchise without Angelos' interference, a grievance repeated by MacPhail's predecessors.

MacPhail was brought in in June 2007 and by all accounts has had free rein. He's taking a sensible, patient and deliberate approach to rebuilding the Orioles. This means a man with a pedigree in baseball is making the baseball decisions, while the man who bought his way into baseball has finally - and wisely - put faith in others.

No one's celebrating 11 straight losing seasons, and no one's suggesting the Orioles are within sneezing distance of a single division rival. But for years, one of the biggest obstacles was the guy who signed the checks. Feel free to say otherwise three months from now, but that no longer appears to be the case.

You're forgiven if you're not ready to swallow that as truth. After all, the Orioles have tried many times over the years to sell you a magic quick-fix, cure-all elixir.

The true test comes these next couple of months, as the Orioles enter Stage 2 of their reconstruction - or more accurately, Offseason 2.

It appears this one could challenge Angelos much more than last year's.

If the team isn't convinced it can re-sign Brian Roberts - and it increasingly feels this way - then the Orioles shouldn't waste any time parting with an Angelos favorite. The last trade believed to be nixed by Angelos involved Roberts going to the Atlanta Braves (which proved to be a good use of the veto pen, by the way). The Orioles can't keep him around because anyone's enamored of his smile and his hustle. Instead, you wish Roberts well and send him packing early, which maximizes the package you get in return and also helps you plan the rest of the offseason accordingly.

There are plenty of big-fish free agents available this offseason, too, and there has been nothing to hint that MacPhail has been handcuffed. Certainly the Orioles have money to spend (their payroll last year was No. 21 in baseball), and all indicators suggest they'll make serious runs at Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett.

Allow your friends to cling to their reservations and disbeliefs. There's no reason to think Angelos is going to force MacPhail to hasten his plan. Maybe the Orioles don't land Teixeira (whose agent, Scott Boras, is surely seeking a personal pocketbook stimulus package) or Burnett (who'll be 32 by Opening Day and already has a frequent-visitor punch-card to the disabled list), but it won't be for lack of trying.

And that's all any executive who has come through town has ever wanted - a chance to build as he saw fit, not trying to marry his vision with his boss' fancy.

Around this team, we measure progress in inches, not wins. So, yes, "Baltimore" probably should've returned to the jerseys years ago. (And on that note, a statue honoring Brooks Robinson is still long overdue.) But focus today on the fact that it has happened and what that change represents.

Seeing the city's name across the chest isn't a lesson in geography. It's bigger than that.

It's a matter of ownership.

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