On Twitter last night, Bleacher Report proposed a question to our followers: Which team would you most like to own?
One of our editors, Joseph Merkel, answered, “The Orioles,” to gales of riotous laughter. And why wouldn’t you laugh? The Orioles haven’t had a winning record since 1997 and are unlikely to have one this year.
While they have somehow avoided the abject embarrassment of losing 100 games in a season, the accepted mark of futility, their average record in their 14 losing seasons was 71-91. Why would anyone want to own this team?
No doubt this question was provoked by yesterday’s sale of the Dodgers for $900 Quintillion (in 1866 dollars, adjusted for inflation), and our oracular feed was fishing for an upside play.
The team of Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson would hardly seem to be that, but put aside the monetary question for a moment and consider the challenge of the thing: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take a fallen franchise and restore it to its former glory.
Babies born the last time the Orioles won a World Series have already had two babies of their own right now. Children who were toddlers when Davey Johnson last took the team to the postseason are going to be college freshmen in the fall. Whole generations of baseball fans cannot recall a time when the Orioles were relevant.
Yet, this was the team of the Oriole Way, of Earl Weaver and the three-run home run, of Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Ken Singleton, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor. At this late stage, these old men are the mere wisps of a legend now so faded it has little connection to the present-day franchise.
Yet, there is something special to be salvaged here, not to mention a great ballpark that has too rarely seen meaningful baseball.
Since the Orioles went off the tracks in 1998, the team has had four scouting directors, seven managers and seven general managers. None of them could overcome more than a decade of poor decision-making, and the negative baseball acumen of the owner and his son.
Imagine, though, if they were swept away, to be replaced by…you.
The market is there: The Orioles ranked first or second in attendance every year from 1992, when Camden Yards opened, through 2000. Even with the Nationals having moved to the area, even with a down economy, 2.5 to three million spins of the turnstiles is not unthinkable.
There is also a regional sports network, MASN, directing revenues into your pockets, revenues that will only rise as the team improves. There is no structural impediment except your own intelligence and imagination.
Sure, the Dodgers have fallen on hard times due to the antics of the former Mr. and Mrs. McCourt, but they never completely fell down—they’ve been to the playoffs four times since 2004, most recently in 2009, when they won 95 games.
The team may not be deep, but it possesses the best position player in its league in Matt Kemp and the best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. They have a long way to go, but having those two pieces to build around will speed up the process considerably.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be the Orioles—the Pirates (19 consecutive losing seasons) and the Royals (under .500 in 16 out of 17 seasons and no postseason appearances since 1985) offer some of the same challenges. Both seem further along than the Orioles, though.
The Royals have Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and the rest. The Pirates have Andrew McCutchen with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon waiting in the wings.
The Orioles finally have a solid position player prospect in Manny Machado. Among the present major leaguers, perhaps Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton will prove to be major league pitchers. As for the position players, you wouldn’t bet on anyone other than Matt Wieters and Adam Jones to be around in the long term.
So, with the Orioles, you’ll be starting with something very much like a blank slate, not an expansion team, but a club with a couple of decent parts and a roster than can be remolded in any way you see fit.
Other franchises are more valuable—if you’re really concerned about plussing your portfolio, see if you can pry the Yankees away from the Steinbrenners—but the Yankees have won under many different ownership groups, and likely will continue to do so until rising sea levels cause the Harlem River to overflow its banks and inundate their stadium.
That’s the easy team. The Orioles are the true hardcore case, the franchise that needs a visionary to remake it in his image.
The Yankees are for the yacht club set. The Dodgers are for weaklings. The Orioles, that’s a team for a man who wants to make his mark on the world.