Monday, October 22, 2007

Benedict Millar

In case you haven't heard by now, Kevin Millar has become a cheerleader for the Red Sox.

No he hasn't donned a short skirt and pom-poms just yet, but don't give him any ideas either. After watching this video, I don't know if a short skirt and pom-poms are far off.

During the ALCS, in which the Red Sox were down 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians, Millar appeared in a commercial that called for Boston fans to not give up, citing the 2004 ALCS in which the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Yankees and ultimately win the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

He went on to list the reasons Boston fans should not give up saying "we've got Curt Schilling, we've got Big Papi, etc..."



Then, Millar threw out the first pitch at game 5 in Boston. Then he went on record saying that his #15 is "on loan" to Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia.

Well, Millar's cheerleader routine must've helped because the Red Sox came back to beat the Cleveland Indians and return to the World Series. I wonder if Millar will be available during the World Series to personally warm up Red Sox players during games at Colorado in a sleeping bag.

What's next? Millar as Red Sox team fluffer?

Apparently, Andy MacPhail gave Millar permission to throw out the first pitch and appear in the commercial. So shame on BOTH of them.

As much as Millar talks about the concept of team and as light as he apparently keeps the clubhouse during the season, one has to think that this changes things.

Millar went out of his way to root on the Red Sox in the ACLS not just privately, but for the entire world to see. It's now been discussed on sports talk shows across America and has yet again brought more negative press to a city and team that doesn't need any more. If I am Nick Markakis or Brian Roberts, someone the Orioles are the only thing they've ever known, I am not appreciating the quickness with which Millar decided to jump ship to cheer on the Red Sox, a bitter division rival, while the Orioles are reminded yet again, that they are not even close to making the playoffs.

I also don't know what Andy MacPhail was thinking. By comparison, the Red Sox asked the New York Mets if they could "borrow" Pedro Martinez for the series too, but the Mets gave the right answer. They said "no."

What did MacPhail think the Orioles would gain from this?

And one has to question MacPhail's agenda, too. It's been no secret that MacPhail is a favorite for Bud Selig's chair as commissioner once Selig retires. Is this move somehow connected to his plan to become the next commissioner? Does MacPhail want people to see that he broke down the barriers between teams to allow players to cheer on their former teams for the good of baseball?

That may be a stretch, but when the Orioles are known for being such a disgraced organization, I don't know how MacPhail could think that allowing Kevin Millar to publicly cheer on his former team helps the Orioles' reputation. If anything it reminds people who see Millar cheering on the Red Sox that he plays for the Orioles, one of the worst teams in the league year after year.

And all of the above doesn't even factor in the most important aspect of all this: the fans.

How are they going to cheer on Millar next season when he has openly cheered on the Red Sox?

I don't blame any fan that decides to boo Millar next season.

I just hope they don't forget to boo MacPhail for allowing it to happen.

Going, going... Mazzone

A few weeks ago, the Orioles released/fired famed pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who still had one year left on his original 3 year contract. This came after the Orioles finished second to last in team ERA for the second consecutive year.

Makes sense, right? Think again.

Mazzone dealt with a lot of injuries to the starting rotation this season, and at one point, 4/5 of the Opening Day starting rotation was on the disabled list. However, by the time this happened, most of the damage had already been done. The Orioles were 20+ games out of first place and getting dangerously close to the 100-loss border. So one can't blame the Orioles for letting Mazzone go.

And once Sam Perlozzo was fired, one had to immediately question Mazzone's loyalty to the team that had just fired his good friend, and lone reason for coming to Baltimore.

Also, it has been said that Mazzone picks and chooses his projects while ignoring other pitchers almost completely. The same thing happened to Rodrigo Lopez, who openly talked about Mazzone's neglect once he was traded to the Colorado Rockies.

It's also been said that he doesn't work with the bullpen very often, which may have lead to this year's pen being one of the worst overall bullpens in the history of major league baseball.

But with all that said, one still can't avoid the stale taste in their mouth after the Mazzone firing. Here's why...

Mazzone was universally known as the best pitching coach in baseball, having overseen a pitching staff in Atlanta that at one time lead the team to 14 consecutive first place finishes in the NL East. So when the Orioles fire someone of Mazzone's stature, one can't help but think that it's the Orioles who are to blame, given each of their respective reputations.

But even if the Orioles made a mistake in releasing Mazzone, at least they replaced him with another well-respected pitching coach in Rick Kranitz, the former pitching coach of the Florida Marlins, and a guy who may be better suited for the Orioles.

Kranitz is used to working with young pitching prospects, whereas Mazzone had veterans in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz anchoring his rotation for many of his years in Atlanta. Add to that, Altanta usually brought in veteran pitchers like Mike Hampton, Paul Byrd, Jared Wright, Russ Ortiz, Jon Burkett, Andy Ashby and Tim Hudson when a spot opened up in their rotation. Not exactly spring chickens who need to be taught a lot at the major league level.

That isn't to say Mazzone had an easy job in Atlanta. He coaxed mediocre veterans like Jared Wright, Russ Ortiz and Jorge Sosa to the best seasons of their careers, something he failed miserably to do with Wright and Ortiz in Baltimore. And after Mazzone left Atlanta, Sosa reverted back to his former 5+ ERA self.

But there is a big difference between working with veteran pitchers who may just need some minor tweaking to recapture their success and working with raw pitching talent like the Orioles have.

And as we've seen time and time again, the Orioles pitching prospects have dominated the minor leagues and then come to Baltimore, leaving behind their ability to throw strikes. And while Mazzone's patience and aptitude with young pitchers may never be exactly known, at least the Orioles know exactly what kind of pitching coach they are getting in Kranitz. He's worked with young pitchers before in Florida and he'll be doing it again in Baltimore.

When it's all said and done, the biggest impact the Mazzone firing may have is with Orioles ace enigma Erik Bedard. Bedard, a man of few words, never avoiding praising Mazzone during his stay in Baltimore, and it's no coincidence that Bedard had the 2 best seasons of his career under Mazzone. And with rumors of Bedard refusing to sign an extension with Baltimore swirling around the city like an old newspaper page, the prospect of Bedard signing an extension with Mazzone gone become even more dim.

We may never know exactly what happened during Mazzone's time as pitching coach in Baltimore. But one thing is for sure...

When one looks back over Mazzone's coaching career, Baltimore will be a blip on his resume, one that most people will chalk up to Baltimore's shortcomings more than Mazzone's.

Whether they are right remains to be seen. But at the moment, I'm going to side with Mazzone on reputation alone.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Nightmare is over, but I'm still dreaming...

The Orioles finished 2007 the same way they entered it, with a loss.

How fitting?

With a 69-93 record, the Orioles have continually gotten worse since 2004's "high-water mark" of 78-84.

At this rate, the Orioles will be lucky to win 65 games in 2008.

Ironically, 65 games is all we should win in 2008 because it means that we've likely gone through a rebuilding phase where Erik Bedard, Miguel Tejada and Brian Roberts are traded for good young talent.

But this is the Orioles we're talking about. They could increase payroll and win 65 games next year and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. Not after this season.

OK, let me take a deep breath. The season is over, after all.

Andy MacPhail made the usual "this is what we need to do during the offseason" speech the other day in the Sun and said all the right things, unlike in years past where the front office opened their mouths and we didn't believe a word of what they said.

With MacPhail, it's different. He at least deserves some benefit of the doubt based on his past success in Minnesota and Chicago. That doesn't mean that everything he says is perfect, either.

MacPhail said that he's still in the process of determining what path the team should take in the offseason and that a total rebuilding process is not out of the question.


But how long is it going to take MacPhail to know in which direction this organization needs to go?

MacPhail was hired in what, June? That's been 4 months, more than enough time to be able to see the writing on the wall. This organization needs a shake-up from top to bottom. The "middle ground" way of running the team has gotten the Orioles nowhere. If anything, MacPahil has had the perfect strategy laid at his feet when he was hired: Do the complete opposite of what has been done over the last 10 years.

A drastic path needs to be taken, now more than ever, or else the losing will continue.

And those drastic paths are: Either spend more on quality free agents every year like the Yankees and Red Sox do, or hold a fire sale and start from scratch with the few good young players they currently have.

We all know that the Orioles don't have it in them to hang with the Yankees and Red Sox, nor should they, especially when considering this offseason's lackluster class of free agents.

And singing free agents only cost the Orioles draft picks, something that has become more valuable with Joe Jordan at the helm of the draft. The last few draft classes have been very good, at least on paper, and it's the best way to stock the farm system with promising players.

The challenge, however, is developing them into solid major leaguers, which is something the Orioles have been absolutely horrible at doing. Injuries, lack of control, you name it, the Orioles' younger players continue to run into roadblocks on their way to the majors.

And that is what makes MacPhail's mission even more challenging. Not only does he have to get the team younger, cheaper and better, he needs to address the organizational issue of failing to develop players in the minors.

In my opinion, everyone except for maybe a few coaches here and there need to be sent packing and then implement a new Oriole Way. Something different than what's been done these past 10 years.

So, the only way to make the Orioles any better is by trading away valuable players and going young.

It'll be a big change for the Orioles, since it's something they've never been able to do. But after 10 years, I think the fans will accept losing the likes of Bedard, Tejada and Roberts if it means that they might actually have a chance to root for a winning team. Besides, players like Nick Markakis, Adam Loewen and Jeremy Guthrie are easy to like and cheer for. Definitely easier than Tejada and Bedard.

Roberts will just be collateral damage.

So there it is. The season is over, but the real challenge, begins.

Gotta love hot stove baseball. Only, the pilot light went out years ago.