As Joe Angel, voice of the Orioles, might say, "Here are the not so lovely totals": Ten straight losing seasons, 25 years since our last World Series win, attendance down by 1.5 million over the past decade, and a 2007 season that featured a humiliating 30 to 3 home defeat to Texas on the same day that the Orioles signed interim manager Dave Trembley to a fulltime contract.
It hasn't been pretty. In fact, it's been downright ugly. So in the name of civic sports duty (we're sure Peter Angelos will thank us. . .eventually), we asked all sorts of folks—former players, team owners, baseball experts, plain old fans—for their thoughts on the O's and, more specifically, how'd they'd fix the team. Not surprisingly, they had lots to say on the matter.
The good news? Most people think that new president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was a smart hire—a good man, with an even better head for baseball. And most are willing to be patient with the team's (umpteenth) rebuilding effort. But there were plenty of suggestions for improvement—from lowering ticket prices to putting the word Baltimore on the jersey, to doing more outreach with the community. Mr. Angelos, you're on deck . . .
70, Orioles legend
The only way you are going to fix the Orioles is if you have some type of continuity. You can't have six or seven general managers or managers in a short period of time and expect to win. You can't have two general managers like they did with Flanagan and Beattie. You have to have one guy. They have got the right guy now in Andy MacPhail. Andy is a very capable guy to run the Orioles.
49, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks
Most people go to the games to have fun, not because they want to see a team win. Winning is just an incremental benefit. If you think of the very first game you went to, you don't remember the score, the jump shots, or the homeruns. You remember that you went with your dad, friend, on a first date, your buddies, and what you did with them at the game. Sports brings families together and they go to games together. Grandma might not be able to talk to her 16 year old grandson about anything else, but if they live in Baltimore, they can talk about the Orioles at the dinner table. Sports play a unique role in the lives of most of us. The team just needs to realize that.
39, lifelong Orioles fan, owner/operator, WNST
I don't think fixing the franchise has anything to do with them winning or losing. They've broken the faith of the people here and I think it's about being a good civic partner and making people feel welcome at the ballpark. You must, must start by getting the community back, and that isn't guys with needles in their arm hitting 60 home runs and fighting to 95 wins one year. It's not about getting rid of all the Yankees and Red Sox fans that are downtown those weekends. It's about having the players live here so maybe they could do some stuff in the community. It's about maybe putting Baltimore on the jerseys. Maybe the owner accepting some responsibility and showing up for a press conference and taking some questions from his customers. Maybe they would want to hold the line on ticket prices so people can afford to go to the games. Maybe they would want to get more entertaining broadcasters. Young people in this community don't care about baseball and it's heartbreaking. I don't wish Peter Angelos any ill will, I just wish he loved the team as much as I do.
12, 6th grader from Pikesville
It is tough watching all the videos of the Orioles from 30, 40 years ago. It's like, what happened? I was actually at the 30-3 game. That was pretty sad. It became so bad that it became fun—the sarcastic clapping after the 10-run inning. We didn't stay for the second game, we had had enough.
We've got to improve some of the hitting but our main focus has to be the pitching. We spent $42 million on the bullpen last summer and they lost almost half of our games. I think Tejada was definitely a smart deal. The Bedard trade, I was happy we got rid of him, but I think we could have gotten a little more talent out of that deal. They should keep Brian Roberts because he seems to enjoy being in Baltimore more than most of the other Orioles. I think unlike most other people who were accused, he actually did admit to using steroids, even though that was wrong. He enjoys it here so why should we let him go? [ed. note: As of press time, Roberts was likely to be traded to the Chicago Cubs.] A winless season is all that could drive me away.
45, former Sun columnist, senior writer and baseball analyst for Fox Sports
I think they should trade all their marketable veterans, assemble as much young talent as they can, and try to build back up. This has been a formula that has worked for Oakland, Minnesota, Florida. It's time honored. Angelos has resisted, taking the position that his season ticket holders want to see a quality major league product and not a team of youngsters. That's okay but it hasn't worked in 10 straight years and it won't work. They need to go back to their roots in player development and a team of youngsters will be very well received in Baltimore, where fans always embraced young players. I think they've had enough of the current methods. They've had enough of players like Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton, mediocre free agent after mediocre free agent. You keep spinning your wheels you go nowhere. It's time for that to end. It's been time for a long time.
I think the losing has had a far greater pull than the steroids. Frankly I don't think they've been a steroid team any more than any other teams. Their guys have been caught and been named in these probes. I don't think they're necessarily the epicenter of this problem.
Within baseball they are viewed as a team that is a sleeping giant—but fast asleep. I think there are a number of executives who look at the Orioles and say, "Man, what I could do with those resources, that fan base, that ballpark," and it's a really exciting proposition for them. Most teams aren't as blessed as they are with all those things, and they've squandered it in a way I didn't think was possible.
60, Yankees announcer, former Oriole
There are enough people around here who know the distinguished history of the franchise, that's what makes it disappointing. Now there's been a generation of fans who haven't seen the Orioles win. I think they've started to improve. They traded Miguel Tejada [and Erik Bedard]. They might have to suffer a little bit more. I think they have to bring a lot of young players in, revamp the farm system. That's what we used to do. We used to bring up one or two players a year who always seemed to contribute.
I think fans would see what they're doing by going to a younger group of players and watching them grow. At least the fans would see them doing something different, because what they have been doing over the past 10 years hasn't worked.
41, Baltimore resident,
spotted at Lexington Market
It's not affordable any more. You used to be able to take your family down to 33rd Street. Now it's all businesspeople entertaining their clients. They need to give baseball back to the community.
77, Orioles manager, 1968 to 1982 and 1985 to 1986
When we won the three straight 100-game seasons, in '69, '70, and '71, we used to have trouble drawing a million people. Right at the end of the season, we'd get over the hump. As the years passed, right around '79, '81, and '82, we started drawing a lot more people. There was a great relationship with the fans, like Wild Bill Hagy in the stands and Dempsey leading the cheers from the field. That was a great situation. Baltimore has always had great fans who know their baseball. There's always great interest in the team no matter where you'd go—the grocery store, filling station, or wherever. I don't look at too many box scores, but when I do [the Orioles] are the first one I look at. And it's not good news, that's a cinch. All cities support winners. Everybody says they're a great sports fan, but you've got to give us a winner. If they challenged, it would create interest. When you're not in the race, it's not really all that interesting. I'd like to see them come up with another championship, to get back in the race. We used to challenge Boston and New York, I'd like to see them do the same thing again.
70ish, PR maven
We used to have some heroes on the Orioles that the community could identify with. The Brooks Robinsons and the Cal Ripkens were symbols of the Orioles. In the last couple of years we don't have that icon anymore. If you could find a couple of players Baltimore could identify with, and make sure they become a part of the community, that would really help. You used to have to fight to get Orioles tickets. I remember hearing stories about people who would fight over them in their divorce proceedings! The Orioles could do more community outreach. They do a lot now, but they don't do a good job of communicating it. The Ravens have done a better job of that. Matt Stover does a lot, and think what you will about him, Ray Lewis is out there in the community. Peter Angelos is very cautious. People kind of nail him to the cross, but he hasn't let anyone know about all the good things he's done. Maybe he doesn't want credit, but people don't want to wrap their arms around him. I just think the Orioles could do a better job.
62, Orioles legend
I think people would just like to have a team that is better in September than they are in April, one where the younger players mature. Nick Markakis is going to have another chance to prove that he can be one of the best young players in the game. But he's not going to have as much protection in the lineup. Those are the challenges.
It's going to be an interesting year because I don't think anyone can really tell you how they're going to perform. Anytime you try to build something you have to have a drawing plan. Andy [MacPhail] said there's safety in numbers, you hope that your scouts are good enough. You look at the numbers of the players the Orioles have received, somebody's going to have to teach those guys how to play the game. They're going to have to develop their players at the minor league level. You have to refine their natural ability, which is really what the Oriole Way was all about.
You look at Adam Jones, he can run and throw and steal bases. He's going to get an opportunity to play and prove himself every night. It's kind of like building a restaurant. You served great food on Friday night, well you have to do it again on Saturday.
That's the great thing about the Orioles right now: If you're a young player, what better organization would you want to be in? You're going to get an opportunity to either succeed or fail. That's what I wanted when I started.
54, owner Downtown Sports Exchange bar
The crowds from the beginning of last season to the end diminished by 80 percent. I'm heavily dependent on the Orioles, and when they're not drawing I don't get the customers. I think they're on the right track with Andy MacPhail, bringing in some younger players and rebuilding the farm system. The Orioles games are always on [TV] here, but it's only a handful of people watching. It's clearly a disappointment, but I'm a baseball fan, I love the sport and I still like going to the games. I'd love to see them do better, but I'm not going to abandon them.
44, former Sun Orioles beat writer, ESPN baseball analyst
Without a doubt, people tend to think of Peter as someone who doesn't care that much about competing. He really does care, he just has a really difficult time trusting people. You have to trust an Andy MacPhail type of guy. [Baseball executives] aren't going to go to Baltimore if they think they won't be able to do their job. You look at the mid-market organizations where they have had success. Minnesota has stability, Oakland has stability, Cleveland has stability. In theory, the Orioles really should be in that second echelon. Hiring Andy MacPhail is clearly the first step. I'll always believe that when Gillick recommended that they blow up the team in '96 and Angelos vetoed the trades, from that point on he kind of got the feeling, 'Do these people really know what they're doing?' Since then, he's had a difficult time trusting people. But Andy is someone who he really trusts. He worked with him on the labor negotiations. The magic question is how wide open is that window of opportunity? Is it a never ending trust? Is it something that's going to close? They're not looking at two or three years, they're looking at a five or six year rebuilding plan. It's a major job. That's the question. I do think that it's such an educated fan base and I think they recognize a good plan when they see it. But they need to see a plan in place for several years. If Andy only lasts a couple of years, it's going to be the same old same old.
60, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum and Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards
I think the fans will embrace a youth movement if they perceive that it will be carried all the way through. The team needs to bring in good athletes who are also quality individuals. They need to rekindle the old Oriole Way, which for years and years was considered the ultimate path to success for baseball organizations.
Our museum clearly benefits from greater attendance at Oriole Park, as does all of downtown. The Orioles are a big part of our community, and if they've got a young, exciting team people will come out and that will benefit everyone.
52, Baltimore resident, spotted at Lexington Market
The people involved in upper management don't have a clue. This was a great baseball town a few years ago. They have to get baseball back in the inner city.
70, longtime Oriole fan, former owner of the Polo Grill
I gave up my season tickets a few years ago. The team has provided very little enjoyment lately. There was just no real pleasure in going out there. It was the kind of baseball they played. You've gotta have some excitement in every activity that you do, whether it's running a restaurant or putting a major league team together. You saw what the symphony in Baltimore did: They hired a world class conductor who's adding new and exciting music to the venue. The opera company is doing some sensational work. I think you need to invest and infuse excitement into an organization. How do you do it in baseball if you don't have the Yankees or Red Sox or Mets money? You try to find some athletes who can create interest, create some excitement. Consistency in personnel is a wonderful thing to have, whether it's the announcers, the players. Consistency is my mantra—consistency in food, consistency in attitude.
54, member and former president, The Oriole Advocates
The most obvious thing is the attendance at the ballpark. It's been sad the last few years. I remember when Camden Yards first opened you couldn't buy a seat down there. The last few years you walk through the ballpark and a lot of concession stands are closed because there's just not enough fans. I think fans have heard promises and expectations for so long now it's becoming a tougher and tougher sell. I think it was 2002 when their motto was "Come see the kids." [ed. note: It was actually 2001, "Bring the kids to see the kids"]. Each year it gets a little more difficult to sell. They do an awful lot of community service, but they haven't done a good job of letting people know about it. From our perspective, one of our projects is called the Hit, Run, and Fun League. It's a Baltimore city league for kids 8 to 12 years old. We've had 500 to 600 kids a year. That's fine, but I think a lot of people in the community only see the on-field results and they don't see the results in the community. In my opinion, the promotions are nice, but people don't come to the ballpark because they get a bobblehead. Winning is what breeds fan loyalty.
21, employee, Stadium Sports in Harborplace
I know the Orioles have a lot of history, but they've never won the World Series since I've been alive. They were the first team I got attached to because we didn't have a football team at the time. My grandfather and I watched them every night. I feel like they need to start rebuilding, picking up some younger players. We really need pitching, we need a bullpen. People still root for the Orioles. People complain but they are not going to give up on them.
21, Bel Air resident
They made the right move in trading Tejada and Bedard and getting 10 prospects back. I'm frustrated, but not enough to keep me away. I'll always keep going.
55, Orioles President of Baseball Operations
I've always felt an attachment to the franchise. I have a lot of respect for Peter Angelos, who I worked with on the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement with the players association. I think the franchise has the capability to do a lot better. I've always enjoyed the area. I have family here, my wife has family in the D.C. area.
[Ours is] a very unforgiving division. To truly win you have to be very good. I thought the team was stuck in a neutral approach where you try to apply band-aids and that wasn't going to be what was needed. I thought we had to take some pretty dramatic steps, whether it was adding a lot of young talent, creating a new academy in the Dominican Republic, improving the international scouting department, changing how we do our entire program. I thought we needed to make significant structural changes in the organization as opposed to going out and trying to purchase a free agent or two. It's not like we're trying to reduce payroll. We committed over $7 million to our top two draft choices, we made a significant investment in our new academy in the Dominican Republic. I think redeploying your assets in your infrastructure as opposed to making one more signing is the way to go. We have some significant financial assets and we have an owner that's been willing to spend in the past.
Obviously we're going to emphasize pitching. We always need to value defense, it's something we need to put into every equation. Offensively we need to value those players that can work the count. If you look at the six lineups that saw the most pitches last year, five wound up in the postseason. We need to value character. It takes a certain kind of focus to optimize your talent over a six-month, 162-game season.
I think you'll find the fans to be pretty forgiving if you give them three things: effort, energy, and enthusiasm. I certainly hope we can do that.