The last time the Baltimore Orioles posted four consecutive non-losing seasons, from 1982 to 1985, I was negative four years old. Wham! had three top-100 hit songs and Michael J. Fox was going Back to the Future for the first time. The average American income was $22,100 and gas cost $1.09 per gallon. With yesterday’s 9-4 win over the New York Yankees, the Orioles improved to 81-81 to finish with a .500 record. Not sure what to make of a .500 record? Well, it’s certainly not a losing one.
How far have the Orioles, who did not record a .500 season from 1998 to 2011, come that a .500 season is no longer viewed as anything but a disappointment. Fans of the team have become spoiled by a plucky bunch of players who could always find a way to push one extra run across the plate. We’ve seen two playoff berths in four years, something not done since the Earl Weaver days in the Seventies. It’s been a fun ride, but in all likelihood, it may be coming to an end.
The Orioles and their front office pointed to the winter of 2016 as the primary reason for not more aggressively pursuing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis last year. With Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Wieters, and Darren O’Day entering free agency, saving money in 2015 to keep the team together in 2016 was the goal. The Orioles have clearly stated that they will make every effort to re-sign Davis, but the organization has never handed out a $100 million contract, and has shown a reluctance to sign players in their thirties to more than four years. It’s going to take at least five years and $100 million to bring back the player who has hit the most home runs in the American League over the past three years. Chen is in the same boat. The Orioles received an amazing return on their initial $16 million investment in the left-hander from Taiwan. When that price tag hits $16 million per season, will the Orioles be able to pay up?
Players spoke in phrases and tones after yesterday’s game that did not offer much reassurance, and why would they? Ownership has not shown a willingness to spend aggressively to build a winner. The winning clubs of the past few years are built upon shrewd acquisitions and players who exceeded any reasonable expectation. When it’s time for those players to be paid, however, you reach a fork in the road. The franchise can go one of two ways here, and one of them won’t be pretty.
But let’s not turn this post into something negative.
It has been a joy to watch the Baltimore Orioles play baseball over the past four seasons, a time span that includes three last place Boston Red Sox finishes. That’s not something I thought I would be able to say entering Opening Day 2012. This team has shocked the world despite being written off annually. They were written off again this year, and had to contend with big market Toronto buying itself a new team at the deadline. Even then, the Orioles kept their heads above water in the playoff race. Ultimately, a 1-11 stretch brought on by the @@**&!! Minnesota Twins torpedoed any chance of returning to the playoffs for a second straight year.
The Orioles were hard to watch at times this season. More than one soft-tossing left-hander had a day to remember against the overly aggressive, home run happy batting order. The starting pitching bordered on replacement level for much of the year. Chen was the only consistent option in the rotation, and even he had his down moments, especially in the second half. A playoff berth was not to be in 2015, but even as the record sunk below .500 in September, the Orioles never stopped fighting. This team played hard all the way to the 162nd game of the year. Being able to claim a .500 record meant something to them as they reeled off five straight wins to end the season.
Baseball is back in Baltimore thanks to the past four seasons. Will that ride continue next year? I certainly don’t know. I feel that it can. The Orioles still have all the pieces in place to make a run. Bring back Davis, bring back Chen, and sign a mid-tier starting pitcher like Mike Leake or Brett Anderson, and you’ve still got yourself a pretty good team. The rest of the division has its flaws, and the Orioles starting pitchers are not as bad as their 2015 performances would indicate. Injuries played a big role in the declining performance of Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez.
No one knows what the future holds for the Baltimore Orioles. Instead of trying to gaze into my crystal ball and predict the demise of a franchise I have loved since my kindergarten days, I am going to use this moment as an opportunity to look back on all that has been not what might be. The Orioles gave their fans far more moments to celebrate since 2012 than any of us could have imagined. There have been home runs in bunches, walk-off and comeback wins, and too many creme pies to the face to count. The bullpen has been the best in the league, slamming the door nearly every time it has been called upon. We’ve seen highlight reel plays from Manny Machado and Adam Jones. Jonathan Schoop appears to be blossoming into a superstar right before our eyes. This is a special bunch of players who takes great pleasure and pride in being a team.
It’s true what they say. All good things must come to an end. I don’t know if that’s what this is for the Baltimore Orioles. It very well could be. That there is real reason to feel emotional anguish over the breaking up of an Orioles roster shows how far the team has come. Would you have been all that torn up over the loss of David Segui, Jason Johnson, or Geronimo Gil? I think not. The end of the 2015 season is bittersweet because we don’t know what the future holds for the Orioles. It’s bittersweet too, because we’ve grown to love this team that has triumphantly resurrected itself from the ashes with four very good years of baseball. Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. That’s another thing they say.
It’s been an incredible ride these past four years, Orioles. Thanks for taking me along, and let’s buckle up for a few more.