Go ahead and take your shots at Andy MacPhail today, Orioles fans. Use him like a punching bag. He's expecting it.
Rip his vaunted rebuilding plan if you want.
Slam him for running a team with the worst record in baseball, a team that took a major step backward the past two months with a core of promising young players who seem to have forgotten how to play the game.
But know this: MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations, seemed to be doing a good job of beating himself up Friday less than 14 hours after firing manager Dave Trembley.
At a hastily arranged news conference at Camden Yards, MacPhail was somber and introspective when he talked to the media.
"In my experience, every time you go through one of these, it's a negative reflection on your entire baseball operation, starting with me," he said with the new interim manager, Juan Samuel, sitting stone-faced at his side.
No, MacPhail wasn't trying to downplay this latest Orioles disaster.
He used words like "calamity" to describe the way the Orioles are playing right now.
He called the Orioles' production with runners in scoring position "abysmal."
And he knows he's the guy on the hot seat now that Trembley's gone and the Orioles have handed the whole mess over to Samuel with instructions not to get too comfy in the manager's office since he might not be there long.
"I don't know if it's going to be a matter of days, a matter of weeks, a matter of years," MacPhail said of Samuel's tenure, acknowledging the Orioles will launch an extensive search for Trembley's replacement.
Me, I wouldn't hang any pictures on the walls if I were Samuel. I don't think I'd even fluff the cushions on the sofa. Not the way this team is going.
Going into Friday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles were 15-39, losers of eight straight games, 10 of 11, and 15 of 18.
MacPhail says his celebrated rebuilding plan for this team is still on track, but you have to wonder whether he's right.
In fact, you wonder whether this horrible team-wide collapse through the first 54 games won't cause him to start banging on owner Peter Angelos' door and screaming: "OK, to hell with the plan. Let's get the checkbook out and sign some real talent."
OK, time for a quick history lesson on the plan.
MacPhail took over the team in June 2007. A baseball lifer and considered an astute judge of talent after stints as general manager of the Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs, he needed about 10 seconds to figure out the Orioles had huge problems.
The farm system was a ghost town, with more tumbleweeds than talent at each stop. The big league team was saddled with veterans with big contracts nearing the end of their careers.
So he blew up the whole thing up.
He traded away big names like Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard, and he began stock-piling young talent via the amateur drafts, which is how the Orioles came to get catcher Matt Wieters and left-handed starter Brian Matusz.
This year, still doing things on the cheap, he brought back Tejada and signed veteran Garrett Atkins to fill the holes at third base and first until Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder are ready in the minor leagues.
He brought in a new closer in Michael Gonzalez and a new starter in Kevin Millwood.
The plan, everyone thought, was ready to pay dividends.
In fact, at the end of spring training, MacPhail told reporters the Orioles were "the most talented team that I've broken camp with since I've been in Baltimore. It's a younger team in a lot of respects, and I think those things are encouraging."
So, what happened?
Well, lots of things happened.
Injuries to Gonzalez and Brian Roberts happened. Injuries to Felix Pie and Jim Johnson and Alfredo Simon happened.
Atkins was a bust. Suddenly, no one on the team could hit. The bullpen seemed to blow up every other night. There were fielding errors and base-running mistakes that made you cringe.
But here's the main thing that happened: The young guys stopped progressing.
"Maybe the most disappointing [thing] of all, and the most disturbing to me, is we've had some of the young guys go backwards from where they were a year ago," MacPhail said.
Oh, you bet they've gone backward.
Adam Jones was hitting .249 with just six homers and 16 RBIs entering Friday. Wieters was hitting .240 with four homers. Nick Markakis was hitting .300, but had only three homers. Nolan Reimold played so poorly he's back in the minor leagues.
The young pitchers have struggled, too. Brad Bergesen is 3-4 with a 6.75 ERA. Matusz is 2-6 with a 5.28 ERA.
And that's the main reason Orioles fans are questioning MacPhail's plan right now.
"We're doing things we have to do," he said, "but it's not showing up in the wins and losses."
No, it's not. Things have only gotten worse for this team.
And MacPhail's seat has only gotten hotter.
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