Maybe it's a little early to start passing around the credit for the Orioles' surprising, uplifting and just plain fun first half of the 2012 season, but this could be a clear case of better early than never.
The O's have exceeded expectations, and it's easy to point a couple of fingers in a couple of obvious directions. Buck Showalter clearly has changed the culture both on the field and in the clubhouse, so you can put a big gold star on his photo in the Orioles yearbook. New baseball operations guru Dan Duquette has made a couple of dynamic moves to upgrade the starting rotation, so his impact is easily measurable, even if he tried to acquire just about everybody with a pulse during the offseason.
The guy whose name isn't mentioned enough, however, is the one who received so much blame for the organizational stumbles of the last couple of years.
Former president of baseball ops Andy MacPhail has kept a very low profile since he decided not to accept a contract extension from owner Peter Angelos. He has not spent a minute defending his 4 1/2 -year attempt to rebuild a franchise that had been tripping over itself for the previous decade. He never bothered to answer the critics who thought he was too deliberate and too conservative to turn the Orioles around.
That criticism was not entirely unfounded. MacPhail certainly didn't employ the kind of shotgun mentality that Duquette brought to the job. Every move was calculated, and he seemed to prefer steady progress to dynamic change. That long-range approach — which both cynics and supporters dubbed "The Plan" — just moved too slow for a big, angry chunk of the fan base that already had waited way too long for the Orioles to get back in the game.
So, MacPhail went home to spend more time with his father and family and a lot of people dismissed his tenure as the latest in a series of poorly executed turnaround attempts, which could not be further from the truth.
MacPhail's reign did not produce a winning record in his fourth full season, something he had pointed to while he was trying to rebuild the team from the bottom up after his arrival in the summer of 2007. When the Orioles fell apart again last year, it was easy to look at the sum total of MacPhail's efforts and not see much real progress.
Of course, we all know from presidential politics that what happens on the big guy's watch will be credited to or blamed on the big guy, so MacPhail is right not to curse the fates or waste time trying to make everyone recognize his contribution to the success the Orioles are having this year.
It should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention.
MacPhail's seeming (but probably overstated) drive to assure that every trade worked to the greater benefit of the Orioles resulted in what will likely be remembered some day as one of the greatest deals in club history. He acquired Adam Jones and — count 'em — four other players for oft-injured pitcher Erik Bedard. George Sherrill would make an All-Star team in the Orioles bullpen and Chris Tillman remains at Triple-A, but the trade would look one-sided in the rear-view if it had just been one for one.
The deal that sent Miguel Tejada to the Astros for Troy Patton, Luke Scott and three other players probably won't be remembered quite as grandly, but MacPhail moved Tejada at a key moment in baseball's checkered steroid scandal and the trade fit well at the time into a greater plan to repopulate the Orioles' minor league system.
Jones, now that he has signed a six-year extension, will always be MacPhail's biggest triumph, but some of the trades he made during his final year with the Orioles are playing very large in the club's apparent re-emergence as an AL East contender. He stole power-hitting shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Twins, got both Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for reliever Koji Uehara and — though it's almost hard to believe — picked up fireballing setup man Pedro Strop as the player to be named in the deal that sent left-handed reliever Michael Gonzalez to the Rangers..
No doubt, Showalter also had some input into the more recent player moves, as well as some of the savvy acquisitions by Duquette, but no one should discount the positive impact that MacPhail had on the organization.
If timing really is everything, maybe he came and left at just the right moments in the resurrection of this franchise. Who knows if he would have shown the devil-may-care aggressiveness that Duquette displayed when he shipped veteran starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for new staff ace Jason Hammel and setup reliever Matt Lindstrom. Maybe he would have balked at signing Taiwanese pitcherWei-Yin Chen to a multi-year contract after getting mixed results with Uehara.
We'll never know any of that, but we do know MacPhail left his mark on the Orioles franchise and left it in good enough shape for the good things that have happened so far this year.
Give the man his due.
Read Peter Schmuck's in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090AM) and at wbal.com.
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