Saturday, August 25, 2007

Goodbye Chris Gomez, There's Always Next Year

Just as soon as it looked like things were turning around, the Orioles were beaten 30-3 by the Rangers--in their own park. Pummeled. Routed. Mauled. Embarrassed. Exposed. Run-ruled. Touchdowned. Body-slammed by a revamped Ranger team that had unloaded its big stars. A friend asked why we didn't plunk the Rangers for running up the score. Well, it's easier said than done. They would actually need to hit the target and the ballspeed would only be slightly faster than the hurlers from the Little League team, Chinese Taipei.

On the same day, the Orioles announced Dave Trembley as manager for 2008. They players relaxed. The trading deadline had passed so everyone was safe and the coffers of Mr. Angelos would continue to flow for the forseeable future. Trembley was the only question. With him locked for 2008, the Orioles could safely fold up their tents and roll over. Suddenly, the "magic" required to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory returned. They lost the next three games to the Twins, after leading two of them through seven. Before Texas came to town, they were 58-65, only seven games from .500. Now they are 11 games under and counting. They teased us into being fans again. The circus is packed and the caravan is pulling out.

A few weeks ago, the Orioles traded Chris Gomez, someone who brought professionalism and class to the franchise as a utility infielder. Gomez hit .300 and played next to near flawless defense at short and third while Mora and Tejada were on the DL. His reward: sold to the Indians for $20,000. They had a winning record when Gomez started games after Trembley took over. Gomez was one of only a few Orioles I could cheer for this year.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Oriole Baseball, 1966 - 2007

The fumes of Friday night's comeback win had begun to fade as I watched the game yesterday afternoon with my father over in Baltimore. We didn't attend the game in person but we did have a nice family gathering that included a cookout. I've attended many games over the years with my father and the Orioles have been a binding force in our relationship, wherever we are at the time, the Birds have a way of focusing us in on a common pursuit. We might not necessarily agree on politics but we share similar opinions concerning how baseball ought to be played in our native Baltimore. We attended Game 4 of the 1970 World Series together and 2130 for Cal. Supposedly, I attended a 1966 World Series game, but I was too young to remember that one. We both agree that Dave Trembley should be our leader for the future. With my infant son at my feet, we watched the Orioles mount another stirring late inning comeback against the Red Sox. They rescued a game that looked like it was sure to be an uneventful loss at the hands of the best team in baseball. Trachsel had escaped disaster all afternoon, aided in two intances by the glove of Melvin Mora at third. Miguel Tejada came up big in the eighth and Millar clubbed a walkoff home run in the 10th. We listened to the postgame show on a radio. My dad barbecued salmon and tuna and I made a salad. It reminded me of the Oriole theme song in the early seventies: "Oriole Baseball, father and son having fun together." I can't remember the last time I watched a game with my Dad.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Black-and-Orange Friday

When you follow a team that has been scuffling for a decade, there are moments that you hold onto and not seasons. There are a few bright spots along the way that you can savor and tonight was one of those instances when a horrific sequence of events, the kind of which we have grown used to, reversed themselves and turned back in the Orioles favor, helping to heal a wound incurred early in the season at Fenway park known as the Mother's Day Massacre. The Orioles had been mauled by the Mariners this week and the prospects were not good against the Red Sox. Their fans invade Camden Yards like the Massachussets regimen did at the beginning of the Civil War. Bedard and Matsuzaka pitched incredibly well through seven -- spellbinding performances -- and the Orioles clung to 1-0 lead. Bedard worked the Sox like a bullfighter -- keeping them off balance -- until he was eventually gored by a Willy Mo single. In the eighth, the Sox tied the game and went on to put 4 more on the board, taking a 5-1 lead. I turned the TV off, sulked, and pretended to go to sleep. Then I turned it back on. The Orioles did not quit. Patterson doubled off Gagne, who looked sloppy and overheated. Markakis singled him in. Tejada walked. Huff scorched a low liner that bounced under Drew's glove and two runs scored, 5-4. As the ball rolled toward the warning track, one could not help but think of the curse and its rekindling or of seasons that have rolled away from our New England foes. Mora drove in the tying run and we had a new ballgame. Hoey, a sleepy-eyed horse of a pitcher, barely held the Sox in the ninth. A shallow fly from Markakis scored Roberts from the third and we won it in the bottom of the frame. Electrifying. I can't sleep now.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Barry Bonds homered for the 755th time yesterday, tying Aaron's record. I feel ambivalent about the accomplishment, even numb to it, and will continue to feel this way when he breaks the record. I didn't feel that way on the night Aaron broke Ruth's record. I'd showered and was in my pj's watching from our couch in the den. I was so happy for Henry Aaron. I had his baseball card and he seemed like a tremendous human being. They wrote about his wrists and how strong they were--the secret to his home runs. The moment was epic for many reasons. Sports journalists today cover the game like a continuous colonoscopy. We see too much and we know too much. The mystique is gone forever and along with it the way we listened to baseball on transistor radios while doing our homework. Baseball is meant to be imagined in one's mind or viewed in person. It has never been "Must See TV."

Barry Bonds gets a bad rap. Breaking the record will not disgrace the game. It's not like Bonds is any more despicable as a person than say, one Tyrus Cobb or even the drunken philanderer from Baltimore, George Herrman Ruth, whom people worshipped and loved. Pete Rose comes to mind as well when odious baseball behavior is the flavor of the moment. Cheating has always been central to the game of baseball. Balls are scuffed and greased by pitchers, even Hall of Fame hurlers have been known to carry sandpaper. No one asks about the number of "true" wins they have. Stealing signs is an accepted practice (and the Yankees are known and thrown at for this). I remember a childhood friend of mine who lived next to a ballplayer. There were pills and marijuana around the house. Limousines dropped off scantily clad women. These guys are fallible human beings who excel at a boy's game. Why do we require them to be paragons of moral virtue or larger than life heroes? I visited the Mets locker room in the late eighties and was surprised by how overwhelmingly human the players were, just regular guys having a Budweiser and a turkey sandwich. The two nicest and most personable players to me that day: Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.

Steroids killed the home run as we know it, but it was already dying a slow death. First, the balls were juiced and flying out of newly created "banbox" parks in record numbers. We needed more runs and we blamed it on the baseballs while players became Incredible Hulks before our eyes. We bought the tightly wound ball excuse for awhile. The runs piled up and we were all along for the ride. McGwire and Sosa battled like professional wrestlers for the home run crown. Then we turned on them--the users. We forgot that the owners and the GMs must have known something and must have profited from it. Performance enhancing drugs give an "edge" to the batter. A player with warning track power suddenly becomes a slugger. More power hitters making more money with lucrative contracts are a good thing for the players in general. Home runs, though beautiful and breathtaking to watch, are a superficial aspect of the game to me and one that should not be focused on exclusively. They were a precious commodity back in the 70s, something to cherish and hold in the memory, and now they have become instant gratification for our home run derby obsessed American culture. I prefer a pitcher's duel, a defensive struggle, a scratch run.

Bonds is an extraordinary baseball talent and the swift, compact nature of his swing emerged as a major factor in his ability to pile up the round trippers. His homers, all of them, will be viewed as "synthetic" to some degree from this point forward. There is nothing he can do about that and he has only himself to blame. My guess is he's somewhere between Ty Cobb and Cal Ripken on the "hero" scale. But make no mistake, there is no such thing as the pristine game of baseball.
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