Cumberland Times-News

Columns

June 6, 2010

Trembley’s ouster close to 30 years in the making

How bad are the Baltimore Orioles? They entered Saturday night’s road game in Baltimore against the Boston Red Sox with a record of 15 wins and 40 losses.

How bad is that? It’s two games off the clip established by the worst team in Orioles history and one of the worst teams in baseball history, the 1988 Orioles, who were 13-42 after their first 55 games on their way to a 54-107.

How bad are the Orioles? They are so bad that they can be easily transitioned into a conversation about high school softball. Upon hearing the news that the Allegany softball team had beaten the previously undefeated Dunbar softball team 27-0 in the Maryland Class 1A state semifinals, my friend Daggett said, “How can that happen? Dunbar was 17-0.”

To which our friend Rich said, “But eight of them were against the Orioles.”

Ba-da-bum!

But that’s how bad the 2010 Baltimore Orioles are. And guess what? The unforgiving American League East is about to become even less forgiving, so that 54-107 could be at risk.

So was it Dave Trembley’s fault the Orioles are 15-40? It would be impossible to lay this large of a dose of calamity on one man’s doorstep, but Trembley’s managing certainly didn’t help. And while Trembley was clearly in over his head, this is all the result of organizational neglect through the many years prior to general manager Andy MacPhail’s arrival, and it dates back longer than even the soon-to-be 13 straight losing seasons since owner Peter Angelos ran former manager Davey Johnson and general manager Pat Gillick out of town.

Gillick understood better than anybody how barren the Orioles farm system was. The decay of what once made the Orioles such a great franchise began in the early-to-mid ’80’s during the late Edward Bennett Williams’ years of ownership. EBW was a dying man and he knew he was a dying man, so he turned to free agency and trades at the risk of the farm system to try to win another World Series. Hello Freddy Lynn, Lee Lacy, Don Aase and Alan Wiggins. Make way for 0-21 and the ’88 Orioles.

So in 1996 Gillick, a 1960’s graduate of the tried and true Oriole Way, was ready to rebuild the organizational depth with trades of veterans such as Bobby Bonilla and David Wells. But this is where Angelos made the most damning decision of his career as Orioles owner by forbidding Gillick to trade veterans and urging him to acquire even more to make a late-season run at the American League wild card.

The move was damning because it worked. The Orioles further mortgaged their future by acquiring veterans such as Eddie Murray, Todd Zeile, Pete Incaviglia, Terry Mathews and Luis Polonia and successfully made their wild-card run. The problem was this led Angelos to believe this owning a baseball team thing was easy, and after the Orioles won the American League East in 1997, Angelos had completely duped himself into believing it was because of his baseball wisdom. And here we are today.

The tone of this season was set, of course, when leadoff hitter Brian Roberts, still likely the best player the Orioles have, injured his back in the winter and failed to tell anybody about it. As of Saturday, after what is said to be another minor setback, he was still waiting to make his first extended spring training start in Sarasota. Without Roberts the Orioles lineup is toast and, guess what? No organizational depth to back him up. Hello, Julio Lugo.

Then, of course, the back end of the bullpen crashed with injuries, which further cemented the tone, and the Orioles find themselves chasing the same kind of history the franchise was sorry enough to grasp some 22 years ago.

In the close to three years since MacPhail was brought on board to replace the lackeys who preceeded him, his No. 1 priority has been player development and building organizational depth. This was the season, however, that he expected some returns on his rebuilding in the form of more wins at the big-league level, saying over the winter that Trembley would be judged this year on wins and losses. Now that Trembley has lived down to the expectations many of us believed he would, MacPhail’s plan is being heavily scrutinized as well.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that not only are we on the right path, we are on the only path that we can take if we are serious about ever being a contender in the American League East,” MacPhail said during Friday’s news conference to announce third base coach Juan Samuel as the team's interim manager. “I wish it was easier ... I wish it would come faster. I truly do, but there's not one scintilla (of doubt) in my mind that this is what we have to do.”

If you recall, last year was the season the Washington Nationals believed they would start seeing the wins come at a more frequent pace, but they were 16-39 after the first 55 games and 26-61 when they replaced manager Manny Acta with Jim Riggleman.

The Nationals now find themselves playing around .500 and in contention for the National League East as well as the NL wild card, so a managerial change can make a difference if you find yourself a good manager, which the Nationals have.

For the Orioles to make the same kind or progress, MacPhail’s most important responsibility will be to find a permanent manager who has a winning pedigree and who won’t be afraid to make it clear that he is running the team and the clubhouse. And just as the Nationals stuck with their plan of developing their own players, the Orioles must stick with MacPhail’s plan as well.

A healthy leadoff hitter and a legitimate clean-up hitter wouldn’t hurt either.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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