It's been nearly 12.5 years since the Baltimore Orioles have been in a playoff game. It's been 12.5 years since Baltimore has last finished a season with a final record above the .500 mark. It's been nearly 5.5 years since the Orioles have seen any place in the final standings better than fourth (and if you don't count the 2004 season, it's been nearly 12.5 years, as well).
There have been a number of stars on the Orioles who have come and gone during this time span: guys like Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina, Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, B.J. Surhoff, Brady Anderson, Melvin Mora, Tony Batista, Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada, B.J. Ryan, Erik Bedard, Aubrey Huff, Nick Markakis, and Brian Roberts, just to name a few.
Even with all of these acquisitions and players who have come up in the Orioles' farm system, the team has yet to improve. The team that has now been considered mediocre (or worse) for over a decade.
With all these great stars, you might be thinking, "How come they haven't done well?" To be quite honest, some of the teams the Baltimore Orioles crafted in the first decade of the new millennium had more talent than the teams in 1996 and 1997 (the only two times they have made it to the playoffs since they last won the World Series in 1983).
For instance, look at at the lineup for 2004 (the only time they managed to seal a place outside of fourth or fifth in the AL East):
1. Brian Roberts (2B)
2. David Newhan (DH)
3. Melvin Mora (3B)
4. Miguel Tejada (SS)
5. Rafael Palmeiro (1B)
6. B.J. Surhoff (LF)
7. Jay Gibbons (RF)
8. Larry Bigbie (CF)
9. Geronimo Gil (C)
That's a pretty talented batting lineup if you ask me. Granted their pitching wasn't all that great, but it wasn't all that horrible.
Now, it's six seasons after the 2004 season, and the Orioles are not only struggling, but with almost a third of the season over they are atrociously on their worst downfall since 1937 (winning-percentage wise) if they don't turn things around quickly. Some even remember those days when Baltimore was actually considered a winning franchise, through the 60s up until the mid 80s, and again in the mid 90s. The Orioles have watched several legends come and go, but those days are long gone... or so it seems.
Why is this? Well, they still have some pretty experienced veterans who are still worth the money on their contracts in Markakis, Kevin Millwood, and Roberts ( although Roberts is injured), and they have quite a few young guys in Matt Weiters, Adam Jones, and Nolan Reimold, who all emerged last season and proved that they have what it takes to stay in the big leagues. They have an experienced starting pitcher who still has game in Millwood, along with a couple of stars who have the potential to have bright futures in Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman, and Brian Matusz. To top it all off, to work with their pitching, they have a pitching coach who won Baseball America's MLB Coach of the Year award in 2006 with the Marlins in Rich Kranitz.
*Fun fact: Rich Kranitz was Greg Maddux's first professional pitching coach in Pikeville, Kentucky in 1984 when Maddux pitched for the Pikeville Cubs.
Better pitching and offense cannot be the solution to this long problem in particular. Could it be the fact that Baltimore needs a new manager? As of late, there has been speculation that there will be a sixth change coming up soon, and that current manager Dave Trembley will lose his job fairly soon. Trembley took Sam Perlozzo's spot in 2007, 69 games into the season. With the O's riding on the worst two-month start of the season in the Majors, people think it is time for a new manager.
Since '97, the Orioles management has made five managerial changes, which includes a four-year segment with Mike Hargrove; Hargrove led the Indians to five straight division titles and two American League pennants in the mid 90s. None of them were successful in achieving the goal that seems like an eternity to achieve: to reach .500.
This brings me to the main point of this article: what the Orioles have been lacking for the past 12.5 years. If you look at the attendance numbers, you can see that they have decreased radically. They were ranked first in the American League in attendance at one point in time. 1997's total crowd attendance was the franchise's peak, as they generated an audience of 3,711,132 people (45,816 per game). Since then, there have only been two occurrences in which the Orioles' attendance has increased… and both times were not significant at all.
The numbers speak for themselves:
1998: 3,684,650 (45,490 per game), ranked 1st in the AL in attendance
1999: 3,433,150 (42,385 per game), ranked 2nd in the AL in attendance
2000: 3,297,031 (40,704 per game), ranked 2nd in the AL in attendance
2001: 3,094,841 (38,686 per game), ranked 4th in the AL in attendance
2002: 2,682,439 (33,117 per game), ranked 3rd in the AL in attendance
2003: 2,454,523 (30,303 per game), ranked 5th in the AL in attendance
2004: 2,744,018 (33,877 per game), ranked 5th in the AL in attendance (improvement)
2005: 2,624,740 (32,404 per game), ranked 5th in the AL in attendance
2006: 2,153,139 (26,582 per game), ranked 10th in the AL in attendance
2007: 2,164,822 (26,726 per game), ranked 11th in the AL in attendance (improvement)
2008: 1,950,075 (24,376 per game), ranked 10th in the AL in attendance
2009: 1,907,163 (23,545 per game), ranked 9th in the AL in attendance
So that's that. The Orioles' total attendance per year has dropped by over 1 1/2 million in just a little over a decade...
It's amazing what can happen in 12 years. It seems like yesterday when people were talking about being excited about going to an Orioles game. Now, for those devoted Orioles fans who have watched several games it may seem like a chore. The fans have no motivation for their team to give, and therefore have no motivation to give for their players. At Camden Yards, it's almost safe to say that there is no home-field advantage for the O's because there are more fans for the other team than Baltimore's very own. There is, pretty much, no hope in what the O's do and fans almost know what the outcome is… so why bother go?
*If that doesn't say enough for you, 2010's season has reached an ultimate low. On April 12, just a month and a half ago, the Orioles (or shall I say their fans) set a franchise record for the lowest attendance figure since the opening of Camden Yards. Not only that, but it still stands as the record to beat for the lowest attendance figure so far this season in the MLB.
What really interested me, however, was when I looked at the attendance numbers and found that there was a drastic downfall from 2005 to 2006. What could have possibly gone wrong? They only lost four more games than they did the previous year (going from 74-88 to 70-92), so what caused this huge decrease? Well… how about the fact that Sammy Sosa played for the Orioles at the time? It may strike people as odd, but even though he sucked, a name like Sammy Sosa generates money for the franchise. Big names like Sosa, Bonds, A-Rod, Pujols, etc. generate a lot of money. The fans get behind them and start rooting for them… and the team.
Not only that, but bigger names in the MLB tend to have a lot of experience under their belts. A great example is Ivan Rodriguez with the Nationals. One of the greatest catchers of all time, and not only is his contract worth very little for a superstar ($3 million), but he's playing a very big part in why the Nationals are currently above .500 and in third place in the NL East division.
However, with that being said, guys that generate a lot of money usually cost a lot of money. Now… do the Orioles have money like that to acquire someone who will generate that kind of money for the Orioles organization? No… not really. Their payroll this year is a little over $81 million, which is good for 17th in the MLB. Plus, with the attendance they've been getting day in and day out, it seems like owner Peter Angelo might get into some financial trouble with that payroll and might need to keep a tighter budget.
This made me think about a couple of players who might be interested in contributing to the organization. Well, Ken Griffey Jr. is a big name, and he's making only $2.35 million this year. I don't think he'll be up for that, though. Many baseball fans are pressuring him saying that it's time for him to retire, and I think he'd much rather do it in Seattle than anywhere else.
Pedro Martinez? Eh… looking back at his history with the Boston Red Sox, I don't think he'd accept a contract with the Orioles even if they offered him a decent amount of money.
What about: Jim Thome? He's a pretty interesting case. He's in the 500 home run club currently playing for the Twins. He's not doing so well, so it's not like he's going to be asking for a lot more than his current $1.5 million contract with the Twins. However, he has yet to win a World Series… and I don't think he's going to want to go to a team that's on its way of going on 13 straight seasons under .500. Plus, if he sticks around long enough, Thome could be on the verge of hitting 600 home runs. He's 31 shy of the record now.
There are limited options here, but general manager Andy MacPhail needs to realize that he needs to generate a profit somehow… some way. And let's face it: he isn't really doing it with the roster he currently has. He's not putting butts in seats… and he needs to get those butts back in there to cheer the Orioles on.
Do something... or keep "phailing."
Anyone have any other ideas or feedback…? Please feel free to comment. I'm always up for new suggestions and/or different opinions.