It wasn't so long ago that the big question heading into the All-Star break around here was not who would represent the Orioles in the midsummer classic, but whether anybody was deserving enough to get in without the help of the rule that requires at least one representative from each major league team.
In 2010, for instance, the team's All-Star was Ty Wigginton, a great guy who would not have been a starter on a lot of other teams. There was usually one obvious standout like Brian Roberts or Miguel Tejada, but until the Orioles placed three guys on last year's American League squad, they had been represented by the one-player minimum in 10 of the previous 11 seasons.
That was no great injustice, considering the club was in the midst of a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons. It was simply indicative of the quality of baseball being played at Camden Yards and the waning enthusiasm for it by the team's long-suffering fans.
To put it another way, it simply was what it was, but the good news is that it isn't that way anymore.
The Orioles are not only well represented in the voting for this year's starting American League lineup, you could make the case that they are dominating it. When the latest vote totals were released last week, first baseman Chris Davis was holding a huge lead over Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder, Adam Jones was the top vote-getter among outfielders and J.J. Hardy had moved into the lead at shortstop.
That's what you call respect, and it doesn't stop there. Catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado ranked second at their positions, and both Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth joined Jones among the top eight outfielders. Second base and DH were the only positions (subject to the fan vote) where there wasn't an Oriole at or near the top of the list.
"For me, it's exciting to see this many Orioles to be able to be up there,'' said Wieters, already a two-time All-Star. "In years past, even though we feel like we've had some good players, to even be in consideration for the All-Star Game, it really hasn't been something where we really felt we had a chance to win the voting. It's more a compliment to what this team has done and how this city supports baseball. You put a winning team out there and the fans are going to support you."
Give credit where credit it is due. The big vote totals are — to some extent — a sign that the rest of the country has taken notice of the Orioles after last year's playoff run and this year's team-wide offensive surge, but it's really about the revitalization of the club's fan base and a big effort by the team to get everyone to "Vote Orange."
"It's a sign nationally,'' said Jones, who appears to be a lock for his third All-Star selection, "but it is a sign that Birdland is really dedicated to their city and their team. There are a lot of fans around baseball who are pulling for us, but you have to give a lot of respect to your own fan base. They account for most of your votes. I see it on Twitter all the time. They're telling me, 'We're voting for you. We're voting for you, Davis, Machado, Hardy, Markakis, McLouth, Wieters.' They're just non-stop, creating accounts just to vote for us. It's pretty humbling that our local fans want to see us represented at the All-Star Game and it shows that we're really bringing baseball back in this region."
There is the possibility that as many as six Orioles could end up representing Baltimore at Citi Field in New York during the third week of July. Davis and Jones look like they'll be in the starting lineup. Hardy is in a close race with Rangers star Elvis Andrus for the start at short. Wieters is right behind Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
Manny Machado isn't going to outpoll Miguel Cabrera, but he's one of the game's brightest young players, he's having a terrific first full major league season and he has no problem running second behind the first Triple Crown winner in almost a half-century.
"You're talking about the greatest hitter in the game right now,'' Machado said. "To be in the same category as that guy is just very humbling. It's awesome, actually."
Those are just the position players. Closer Jim Johnson, who matched Mariano Rivera for the league lead in saves with his 23rd on Tuesday night, also will get serious consideration.
"It's awesome,'' Davis said. "That's what we work hard for. It's a sign of us doing the right things, not only individually but as a team. It's a reward for all the hard work and I think it's a great message the fans are communicating to us that there are watching, they are paying attention and they are obviously behind us."
For once, the Orioles' representation at the All-Star Game may be limited by the requirement that every other team send at least one player, but that's a pretty good problem to have after all the years the Orioles seemed fortunate to be sending anyone.
"I think it would be great for the players and the organization, but most importantly the fans, to be recognized by the people who are the reason we're doing all this,'' said manager Buck Showalter. "It's still the best All-Star Game in sports. You love to see guys get recognized. Selfishly, I'd like them to have the time off, but I don't look at anything that recognizes our players as a negative. These guys are good people, too. They are representative of not only the game, but of Baltimore. They represent Baltimore well."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.