The 2012 & 2005 O's: Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde
I’ve got to be dreaming.
If you would have told me in December that the Orioles would have the best record in Major League Baseball after the first month of the season, I would have chuckled under my breath. According to the mass media, this is a team that wasn’t going anywhere, filled with cast-offs and unknowns, with a few young breakout players sprinkled in. The Orioles were placed in the basement of the American League without even playing a game.
Fast forward to now. The Orioles have done everything that they need to do to win baseball games: They are pitching well, hitting the ball, and making a few spectacular defensive plays (unless your name is Mark Reynolds or Nick Johnson – Then you just need to leave your glove on the bench). This team believes in itself. They are fighting for each other, taking responsibility for their actions, and are making a city filled with skeptical baseball fans believe in them.
The Orioles record after 28 games is 19-9. The last time they had that record was back in 2005, a year that Orioles fans won’t soon forget.
The 2005 Orioles started off as one of the best teams in the league. They were in first place for 62 days. They had lights out starters in the forms of Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera, a shutdown closer in the form of BJ Ryan, and some of the hottest bats in the game: Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and Rafael Palmeiro. Brian Roberts was showing the rest of the baseball world that he was one of the best second basemen in the AL with his bat, glove, and speed. They traded for Sammy Sosa and his boombox in the off-season, and saw him as a bit of a reclamation project, as he had worn out his welcome with the Chicago Cubs. Manager Lee Mazzilli, who was hated for his Yankees ties by some of the Orioles Faithful, seemed to have found a way to win.
Then the bottom fell out. Rafael Palmeiro lied to Congress about his use of steroids. Sammy Sosa hurt his toe (probably doing his ridiculous hop-slide before he hit a long fly out), and was never the offensive catalyst that the Orioles needed. The pitching staff started serving up meatballs on a daily basis. A barrage of injuries plagued the Orioles worse than a Bird Flu outbreak. Mazzilli was fired in early August. Sir Sidney was arrested (again) for DUI. The fans and players alike had had it with the Front Office’s inability to put a winning team on the field. The Orioles had become what everyone expected them to be from Day One – The doormat of the AL East.
At this point in time, the records are the same, and fans are cautiously becoming excited. The stigma of 2005 still lingers, and some are just waiting for the bottom to fall out. However, comparing the 2005 Orioles to the 2012 Orioles is an insult to the present team, and here’s why:
- Grumpy Old Men: The 2005 Orioles were filled with aging past stars and AAAA cast-offs. When your outfield consists of a combination of Jay Gibbons/Sammy Sosa/Luis Matos/Larry Bigbie/BJ Surhoff, you’re going to have some problems. Today, we have 2 Gold Glove-winning outfielders under the age of 29 in Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. The 2012 team is a teenager: A spunky young kid, willing to learn; The 2005 team was a middle-aged man going through a mid-life crisis.
- Accountability: The 2012 Orioles have a lot of fight in them. It is not about one player – It is about working together as a team, playing for the name on the front, not the back. The egos of the 2005 Orioles were omnipresent; too many overpaid and underperforming players who were worried about making themselves look good, willing to point the finger at the Front Office/other teammates for their own miscues.
- Management: The 2005 Orioles were managed by Lee Mazzilli – A former Yankee who rarely showed emotion, was an Angelos puppet, and did favors for the named players while letting others drowned in failure. The 2012 have Buck Showalter – A future HOF Manager who plays by the rules, fights for his team, and expects nothing but hard work from his players. A winning attitude in the clubhouse is created by the manager instilling belief in his team, and Showalter has done that since he came here almost 2 years ago.
- Stocking Up: The 2005 Orioles were plagued by injuries, but had no one waiting in the wings fighting for the opportunities that were presented. They took the “Band-Aid” route, picking up less-than-mediocre players off of the waiver wire, and promoting people that could have used more time in the lower levels of the minor leagues (I’m looking at you, Jeff Fiorentino and Hayden Penn). The 2012 Orioles actually have a bit of capable pitching and fielding options waiting for the call in the minors or rehabbing: Zach Britton and Joe Mahoney being the most notable of those players. There are also young guys who had been with the Orioles at one point in past years with chips on their shoulders, just waiting for the phone call: Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, Ryan Adams, and Jason Berken all have ML experience, and all figure to be back at one point or another if any member of the team goes down with an injury or is traded.
The 2012 Orioles will continue to be compared to the 2005 by the numbers in regards to the Win/Loss record until the numbers start becoming associated with a more positive time in Orioles history – The year 1997, our last playoff appearance, and the last winning season that the team had for 15 years. As long as our pitching holds up, our bats stay hot, and the defense continues to improve, there’s no reason to believe that the winning trend won’t continue.
Why not us? Why not now?