Saturday, October 6, 2012


The Orioles have won the Wild Card Round; they will meet the New York Yankees come Sunday in the first postseason baseball the city of Baltimore has seen in over a decade. I’m not too concerned with that, though I know I should be.

Mike Flanagan is still gone, and I still think about him.

I listened to him on the radio and the television, and in the compartmentalized, measured way that we love the old wistful men who talk to us about baseball, I like to think I did. I didn’t know him, though; I never met him in person. But I cursed him. How I cursed him—three or four or seven or forty times, back when he was the Orioles’ Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations—back in the bad old days, back when I was younger. It was a fannish, reflexive thing; I was going after an idea, not a person. But I named that idea Mike Flanagan, and I thought he was a shithead because the Orioles weren’t a good baseball team, and that’s something that I have yet to let go.

Jim Palmer wrote a book, once upon a time—well, he less wrote a book and more sat down with his co-author, a guy named Jim Dale, and talked a lot about how little he and Earl Weaver agreed about baseball, and out of that came something called Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine. In it, Palmer’s himself: an arrogant, hilarious blowhard who knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t appreciate attempts to tell him otherwise. The majority of the narrative covers the various differences of opinion between him and Weaver, but there’s a story buried in the middle there, right near the photo inserts—this is one of those books where the photos are all printed on glossy paper in the center of the binding—about Mike Flanagan. Pending a lawsuit from Palmer’s attorneys, I’ve reproduced that section in full below; the book is unfortunately not available in an electronic format.

        Mind Games, Urinals, and Confidence

Mike Flanagan’s head was talking to him a lot in 1977. (Earl Weaver wasn’t talking to him, but I’ll get to that.) Flanagan’s head was having regular conversations with the rest of Flanagan’s body. And that’s not good. Especially if you’re a pitcher.

It’s like this. Even though you throw with your arm, you don’t pitch with your arm. You pitch with your head. (Take it from a guy who’s in the Sore Arm and Head Hall of Fame.)

When your arm hurts, you can soak it, ice it, whirlpool it, X-ray it, MRI it, massage it, tape it, brace it, exercise it, rest it, salve it, balm it, acupuncture it, cortisone it, talk to it, beg it, or cast a spell over it. It hurts, which is why you can’t pitch. Therefore, if it didn’t hurt, you could pitch. Simple.

If your head gets screwed up, it’s also simple. You’re screwed. You can’t soak it or rest it or tape it or acupuncture it. (You could cut it off, but that’s drastic.) Your head keeps telling you, in this echoey head-voice: “You’re misssssing the corners, you’re loooosing your breaking ball, you’re aiming tooooo much, you’re not aiming eeeeeenough, you’re not con-cen-tra-ting, you’re no gooood, you never were any good, everybody knoooows you’re noooo good.”

Let’s stop there for a moment, actually. Obviously, just about every pitcher—every professional athelete—Hell, every person on the planet Earth goes through periods of self-doubt; periods where nothing they do seems to work, where they can’t catch a break, where everything goes sideways. But every person reading that paragraph who has ever suffered from depression probably just cringed a little bit, reading that. I know I did. The first time I read it I felt like Palmer had yanked five minutes out of one of my worst days, set it to baseball, and started narrating.

That’s the kind of stuff Flanagan’s head was saying to him in 1977. It was Mike’s first year with the Orioles, and he and I used to sit together a lot on the flights from city to city, the two of us kind of spread out across three bulkhead seats. Mike would have a couple beers and start talking/moaning/worrying about how he was doing, which wasn’t too good since he was 3-8 at the time. I’d listen to young guys like Flanagan and Scotty McGregor and Dennis Martinez because by then I was sort of the veteran, man of experience, old pro, old fart, leader…take your pick.

Flanagan is telling me that obviously Earl doesn’t have any faith in him. He figures, how could he have any faith since Flanagan is 3-8? And Earl has never said anything to him about what kind of 3-8 he was having. Like if it was a good 3-8 or a bad 3-8 and there is a difference depending on a lot of things, starting with whether your team is getting any runs behind you or whether they’re fielding the ball or making smart plays or at least showing up…stuff like that. Plus Mike has just come off spending a year in Triple A under Joe Altobelli who’s very compassionate and sensitive compared to most managers. And now he’s got Earl Weaver, who isn’t all that compassionate and sensitive compared to most chain gang wardens.

So it’s no wonder Flanagan’s head has been talking to him and that he’s talking to me and that I can hear his head-voice coming through loud and clear. To make matters worse for his head, we’re on our way to Boston. Fenway Park is a great place to watch a baseball game unless you’re a pitcher, which is what Mike was going to be in the next couple of days. Batters have a habit of hitting a lot of home runs over the short outfield walls in Fenway Park, and the Red Sox pitchers who pitch there half of every season know how to handle it better than visiting pitchers, like Mike was about to be. Visiting pitchers just see Fenway as a chance for the Red Sox to paint a bulls-eye on your butt and kick the shit out of you. “You’re no goooood, you never were any good, everybody knoooows you’re noooo good…”

Mike’s head won’t shut up. I’ve been there. And I’ve been with Mr. Compassion, the Earl of Sensitivity.

Jim Palmer’s been there, no doubt. I’m sure every single player in baseball, at any level, has heard that voice from time to time. But I’m going to go out on a limb, make an assumption, and say that Palmer never heard that voice like Mike Flanagan did. I suspect there were days that Flanagan woke up with that voice and it never stopped talking and after twelve or fourteen hours it was hard to get to sleep, and I suspect there were a lot of those days. I suspect the voice would go away for a bit, and then he’d see some sign on the street, hear some throwaway bit of nonsense in the corner of his ear, and it would slither right back in and start a one-way conversation. I think—I know—that some people can’t tell that voice to go away on their own. And Jim Palmer might not have really known or understood it at the time but what he did next might have been the best thing he could have possibly done for Mike Flanagan.

The next day, we’re in the visitors’ locker room at Fenway. Some architect with a sense of humor has put the manager’s office opposite the urinal, or vice versa, depending on which one you think has more status. Well, nature calls and I go to use the facility and right next to me—and a couple of feet below—is Earl. (I’m urinating and Earl is taking a piss.)

I decide this would be the perfect time to talk to him about Mike. Earl can’t leave midstream, or if he does he’s going to get his shoes all wet.

I say, “Earl, I sit with Mike on the plane a lot and you know, he thinks you don’t have any confidence in him.”

And Earl gets, well, literally “pissed off.” That is, he starts shouting, and I swear, that noise that pee makes when it hits the water actually stops while he shouts and then starts up again when he’s finished, kind of like dramatic pauses. He says, during a pee-silence, “Have you looked at his fucking record?! He’s three and fucking eight!”

Pee resumes.

“But Earl…” I say.

Earl keeps shouting and stops peeing. “Do I have any fucking confidence in him? I put his name in the fucking lineup every fourth day. He ought to fucking know that I have confidence in him or I wouldn’t fucking do that!”

Pee resumes.

I finally get my turn and say, “But Earl, the way Mike sees it, he doesn’t know how you feel. You know, you can be 3-8 and be good or be 3-8 and be shitty. He hasn’t gotten much offensive backup from the team. He played for Altobelli and Joe has a different style from you.” (This is called understatement.) “Anyway, if you’re going to pitch him every fourth day, it’s probably because you think he has a good future but he doesn’t know you think that. Maybe you should talk to him.”

Pee stops.

I get ready for Earl to shout again, but he doesn’t. He’s finally just done peeing. He doesn’t answer me. He just walks away.

I don’t know how true this story is. It’s easy. It’s perfect. It solves every problem neatly and it makes Jim Palmer look like a goddamn hero, just like every other story in this book. I choose to believe it’s true mostly because, despite his arrogance, within the realm of baseball I do believe Palmer actually is a goddamn hero, for better or worse. Maybe I don’t know him well enough—of course I don't know him well enough; most heroes turn into regular human beings when you get too close. The better ones among them were regular human beings to start with; flawed like we always have been. The best ones, though, are usually liars.

Tonight, Mike Flanagan isn’t around to enjoy Baltimore’s win over Texas. He killed himself with a shotgun over a year ago. There were reports he was despondent over the “perceived failures during his tenure in the Orioles’ front office.” There were reports that he was depressed. It’s impossible to actually know, but I believe it. I feel dirty talking about it, even now, like some sort of horrible gawker—I feel terrible every time I bring Mike Flanagan up, and afterwards I feel even worse.

It’s a fucked up, confusing thing when you try to know a person by the words he’s said and the things he’s done and he’s not here but you think he should be and you never knew him but he’s gone.

Now it's three days later and we’re on the plane out of Boston and, as I recall, Mike pitched okay there.

We take our usual seats and he starts talking. “You know what? Earl came to talk to me.”

I say, “Oh, really?”

He says, “Yeah, he called me into his office. You know, at Fenway, across from the urinal.”

I say, “Yeah, I know.”

He says, “Earl told me he has confidence in me and I’m pitching better than my record and that’s why he’s putting me in the rotation every fourth day.”

And I say, “No kidding?”

And I listen real close and for the first time in a long time I don’t hear his other voice, the echoey one from his head, the one that won’t let you pitch no matter how good your arm feels. Not a word.

Mike goes from 3-8 to 15-10. I’m not taking the credit. That belongs to Flanagan. And to Earl. And the architect who put the urinal across from the manager’s office.

Somewhere in those last six paragraphs, every time I read them, inevitably I start to cry.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ripken Is 8 Returns, Bearing Manny Machados

So yes, as I said on the Twitter feed thing, this blog is coming back. Temporarily it'll be here on Blogger, but within the next month or so it'll be moved to something with an actual domain and a slightly less...Blogger-y feel.

The main reason it's coming back is because it needs to come back; because if I just do six thousand word Think Pieces every two months I'll never get to where I want to be in my craft and in the industry. And honestly, I can barely stand to read those fucking things more than a month after I've written them anyway, so "disposable" is probably a good place to start.

Oh, yes: while I'll try to curb it as much as possible, I'll be using bad language here. You're shocked, I'm sure.

The big news tonight in Birdland was that, oh, three hours ago now I'd say, the entire Baltimore sports-media all went berserk when the Orioles called up the #2 prospect in the system (and #2-5 prospect in all of baseball depending on who precisely you ask) Manny Machado. I won't bore you with his minor league stats because you can find them all right here, but the upshot is that Machado is 19 years old, putting up very respectable if not amazing numbers as a shortstop in AA while continuing to develop into the professional game and that's pretty much all that people wanted or expected from him this year.

Until the Baltimore Orioles were so bad, just so utterly pathetic, at playing third base defense that Dan Duquette felt the need to pull the trigger and jump him to the bigs, skipping AAA entirely. This isn't unheard of and it's not even really a bad thing, in and of itself; AAA isn't really where you want big time, ticketed-for-stardom guys playing anyway unless they're blocked or there's something else going on with them. This is in fact not so wildly different than what the Texas Rangers did with Elvis Andrus a couple years ago, but with two key differences: Andrus went from AA to the pros, yes, but he didn't go up mid-season, and he certainly didn't go up to play a position he's not familiar with.

Because as noted above, Manny Machado is a shortstop, but he will be asked to play the majority of his time at third base. So he'll be jumping to a level of competition with significantly harder pitching and opposing baserunning, significantly higher expectations and public scrutiny (is he still trending on Twitter? I bet he is), and doing all of this while effectively playing out of position.

Machado will one day be a third baseman in Major League Baseball, but everyone was kinda-sorta hoping that day would come in 2018 or 2019, not 2013, and certainly not for the first real time in his career at the MLB level. Pretty much every other seemingly fringe or marginal move this front office has made this year seems to have either paid off huge or not hurt them much (even getting banned from South Korea!), so maybe asking a 19 year old super-prospect to juggle chairs in on a national stage isn't as ludicrous as it seems on its face; but one hopes if Machado stumbles a bit coming out of the gate the organization shows the wisdom to know when they've rushed a kid a bit too far a bit too fast and instead of doing what the Detroit Tigers do (allow him to fail repeatedly on the major league level and then trade him at his point of lowest value to Florida), send him back where he was for a bit more seasoning and learning. The Angels did this with Mike Trout last year and from all indications that seems to be working out pretty well for them.

Still, though -- going to be interesting tomorrow night, seeing him for the first time in action against Kansas City. Very interesting indeed.

(Yeah this post was supposed to be two paragraphs long. There's going to be a lot of that.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Series Review: BAL @ TB, 4/1-4/3

I think this is the format I'm going to use for baseball bloggin' this year, instead of trying to do it by every game or whatever. There are much more popular, better-designed websites for you to get that information from. SB Nation's Camden Chat, for instance, has very nice dailies. This will more be a detailed overview of the series as its own unit of baseball storytelling. Every other sport reserves them for the playoffs (except the occasional home-and-home in hockey), but I like the thin veneer of narrative they bring. Still a pretty useless sample size, of course.

Without further ado...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring Training Thoughts: Week One

Well, sort of week one. Pitchers and catchers actually reported circa the second week of February, but they weren't really doing anything for our benefit until the last few days. This is by no means a comprehensive rundown, because you have The Internet for that, and I (like most of you, I'd wager) still haven't gotten a chance to actually see these dudes in action, so I'm mostly spreadsheeting from my mother's basement here. But nonetheless, some thoughts below the jump.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Vladdition by Subtraction

Yeah, that's right. "Vladdition."

Since the signing of outfielder Vladimir Guerrero yesterday there's been a not-inconsiderable amount of (g)rumbling about the real losers of the Guerrero deal: Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. Twenty-four hours ago, one of these two men was likely the starting left-fielder for the Orioles out of Spring Training, and the other was the MLB roster's utility outfielder. With the arrival of Vlad, Luke Scott will be vacating the designated hitter position and moving into left, meaning one of those two is now the utility guy (likely Pie, because he can play center pretty well to spell Adam Jones and OPS around league average for that position with a bit of power) and one of them is starting in AAA Norfolk (condolences, Nolan).

The excellent SBNation blog Camden Chat has been one of the battlegrounds for this particular aspect of the debate (we're going to set aside the issue of money and how much we really should care, considering it's Peter Angelos's and it probably wasn't going to do anything useful for the franchise anyway), with the two sides lining up roughly as follows:

  • The Vladimir Guerrero signing adds a marginal but fairly known number of wins to the Orioles offense and, though it negatively impacts the defense by forcing Luke Scott to play the field most days, is not going to hamstring the Orioles on or off the field. Reimold/Pie will still get ample opportunities to prove themselves, as they should considering their past performance.
  • The Vladimir Guerrero signing deprives Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie of the opportunity to develop into Major League caliber starting outfielders by giving plate appearances to an aging veteran on a one-year deal who, barring a mid-season deal, does nothing to help the future of the Baltimore franchise in a year where the Orioles are not expected by any metric or analyst to contend.

Both sides have their merits. I fall in with the former of the two.

I say this despite being one of the biggest Felix Pie fans in the world and as someone who very much enjoyed watching Reimold play in 2009. Now that Vlad is on the team -- and again, putting aside his contract and the wisdom of signing him to it in the two-thousand and eleventh Year of Our Lord -- he is clearly the designated hitter until he proves otherwise by means of performance or injury, and Luke Scott is clearly the starting left-fielder until he proves otherwise by the same.

That's because Luke Scott and Vlad Guerrero have demonstrated they can start in the Major Leagues, and Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold have not.

By the time the season begins, Pie will be 26 years old and Reimold will be 27 and they will have accrued some 1418 Major League plate appearances between them. They are no longer prospects. Pie was a reclamation project from the Chicago Cubs, who rushed him into the majors and generally handled his development as poorly as they possibly could in any given situation. He made his first appearance in 2007; last year was the first time he ever broke 300 plate appearances in a season. As a Cub a certain amount of this was due to mishandling by their front office -- hey there, Andy -- but Pie has always had an issue staying healthy, and though durability isn't a traditional scouting tool, there's a good case that it should be. Pie was always a toolbox player with poor baseball instincts offset by his amazing measurables, but on the Major League level he's no longer physically outclassing the competition like he did in the minor leagues and even when he's healthy, the man just cannot get on base to save his career. His on-base percentage hovers a tick over .300 across his entire career -- .305 last year -- and his average maybe .020 below that most of the time. The theory is that he can salvage his numbers by slugging well, but his SLG% was .413 last year and even the .437 mark from the year before is dangerously low; you simply cannot credibly put a guy with a .720 to .760 OPS in left field and call him a Major League starter.

Now, you might be able to put him in center field, but that's been discussed before; there's a younger guy with higher upside, a better bat and more years left of team control there already, and he's proven he can stay healthy. Pie is probably better defensively in center -- UZR has good things to say about him both there and in left -- but he's a good defensive centerfielder, not an elite one. He doesn't have good ball instincts and still makes poor decisions when choosing his routes. At age 26, it's high time that we amateur scouts just accept that this is how Felix plays ball and move on. Jones-Pie-Markakis could be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball, but the production that Scott-Jones-Markakis gives you (with Vlad as DH) is probably going to win more ballgames.

Pie, however, blows just about every other fourth outfielding option the Orioles have out of the water (I believe we employed the ghost of Joey Gathright for a time in that position last year). He can play all three outfield positions and he's a servicable Major League hitter. Lots of teams would love to have a guy with his numbers from last year on their bench and some of them would settle for him as their starter in center on Opening Day.

Which brings us to a man with all sorts of promise countermanded by one line:


That is what Nolan Reimold, allegedly healthy after an offseason of surgury and rehab and a full spring of baseball, did in the Major Leagues last year.

I don't care about context. I really don't. Nolan had a number of issues last year that affected his performance, some of which are relevant to baseball (playing through a torn Achilles tendon for the last half of the 2009 season) and some of which are not. But everyone had a number of issues last year that affected his performance. Everyone has a story. As far as I know, Reimold never made any excuses for his performance, and he certainly doesn't owe me or any other jackass on the internet an explanation for anything. But if  for whatever reason Reimold wasn't fit to be playing baseball, then he shouldn't have been playing baseball. Otherwise, the numbers are the numbers.

And the numbers are not very good. In fact, the only positive thing about them is that they only came in 131 plate appearances and represent a very small sample size. His AAA line is a little better: .249/.364/.374 in 401 PA. His discipline is still there on both levels. But in 2010, he could not hit Major League pitching, and didn't fair too much better against minor league pitching. .249 is six points lower than he hit as a 24 year old in A ball seeing professional fastballs for the first time (incidentally, he OBP'd .379). It's thirty-five points lower than any full-season line he's put up since -- and this is forgiving the MLB plate appearances where he hit just above .200.

All this is to say that Nolan Reimold has a lot of work to do before the Orioles start making free agency signing decisions around him. He wasn't the club's starting left-fielder before Vlad signed. He wasn't even a lock to make the major league squad. He's entering his year 27 season essentially starting from scratch, and barring an unforseen injury he'll be doing so in AAA Norfolk, and that's how it should be. The temptation to slot him into left field for the Next Great Orioles Baseball Team at some point in the nebulous near-future is understandable, but should be resisted. Reimold first needs to demonstrate he still belongs on a major league team at all.

The general counter-argument to Vlad bumping one of these guys to the bench and the other to Norfolk is that they could get better, markedly better, and better enough that either man's emergence coupled with Adam Jones's progression might give the Orioles a top five outfield in baseball. That's a nice thought, and it's certainly a thing that could happen. But it's not something to shape your offseason around. When you can sign a guy like Vlad without dipping into the other parts of your budget -- and since this was a patented Angelos Move, it's safe to say they didn't -- and when the only thing you give up to get him is the opportunity cost on that $8 million (which is vanishingly small because again, not part of the pot to begin with), you sign him. The discussion about how that budget is set up is one for another day, and spoiler alert: it has the unhappy conclusion that the Orioles front office is what it is, and that the only solace of someone who wants a larger IFA and Latin American presence is to be found in the fact that your fandom is probably going to be able to outlast Peter Angelos's ownership of the club.

And I'm not sure this is even going to be an issue. I think Reimold and Pie will have more than enough opportunities to showcase themselves to MacPhail, Showalter, the other guys on the team and the fans, because I don't think that all three of Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero, and Derrek Lee are going to be healthy the entire year. And two of those guys more than likely won't be back in 2012. Reimold and Pie will have their chances at redemption and careers in Baltimore, and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. It doesn't work out for most guys. The fact that they're in the mix is testament enough to their ability.

But this is all a side note to the real questions of what Vlad, Lee, Kevin Gregg, Mark Reynolds, and J.J. Hardy mean for Baltimore's long-term future, and whether or not Andrew MacPhail has lost his goddamn mind. I'll tackle those when I'm less preoccupied with hexing the Steelers' wideouts in preparation for tomorrow.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Back From the Bog. The Blog Bog. Hi Vlad.

So yeah, I'm probably going to start updating this freaking thing again. Long story short, I had a really drastic career change about, oh, one year ago exactly and then the Orioles had a terrible season and well, I got sort of bogged down. I blame Steve Trachsel, because there is no statute of limitations on his crimes.

I might disappear again. Probably not. For now, I will note that the Orioles have signed OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year, eight million dollar deal. You may have already heard. I will note that Vlad's agent pulled the stunningly brilliant tactical move of claiming that Guerrero had an eight million dollar deal already in hand from A Mystery Team!!! once it became clear the Orioles were probably not going to go above the four and a half to five million dollar range. And to be fair, it appears he was right. The mystery team turned out to be the Baltimore Orioles.

As I've been beaten for like six hours on this news, you've probably already read your fill of how this really adds maybe a marginal half-win to the Orioles' lineup for a pricetag that could field an entire team of South American teenage prospects. That's fine. Anyone who knows the Orioles of the past decade knows the only way that eight million dollars was going anywhere near Latin America was if, well, it went to Vlad. Baltimore isn't really into that whole International Free Agency...thing. This might explain why they are so bad. The fact that they've had the second-to-fewest draft picks in the top three rounds of the draft over the past five years also might have something to do with it.

Either way, welcome aboard Kevin Gregg, J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Jeremy Accardo, the corpse of Justin Duchscherer, and yes, Vlad, you too -- I, for one, am more than ready for the Era of Pretty Decent, I Guess to begin.

Monday, February 8, 2010

An Update from the Snowdrift

There hasn't been much content here for the past couple weeks, largely because I didn't feel like bragging about calling the Tejada signing, there hasn't been much other Orioles news, and my attention has been captured by another guy who wears the number eight: Alexander Ovechkin. Yes, there's a sister blog coming for the Capitals. And this one's moving to a real domain and over to WordPress. And all of these things are happening in the murky and undefined Future, when we get around to setting it all up. But it is coming.

For now, do what I'm doing: shoveling snow, purchasing a flamethrower online, and rejoicing that pitchers and catchers report in a little over a week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bring Back Tejada -- No, I'm Not Trolling

It's been awhile since the last update to this blog, the primary reasons for that being a lack of news on which to comment combined with the soulcrushing ennui of the typical Baltimore sports baseball offseason (which recently has expanded to include playoff losses by the next-door Ravens, but don't think me ungrateful; at least they make it there). However, there have been enough rumblings about something I was making offhand jokes about a month ago to drag me out of my blogging stupor: the possibility of Miguel Tejada returning to the Baltimore Orioles.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Baltimore Orioles Acquire A. Gonzalez

This time, it's bench bat/utility infielder Andy Gonzalez. He is not related to Adrian, as far as I know; Adrian's brother is named Edgar.

But look at that major-league IsoD!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Irony 2.0

Just as I finish up a blog post with this:

"Of course, this all goes out the window if the O's do something nuts like trade for an Adrian Gonzalez or sign a Matt Holliday, but there's not much chance of that happening right now."

I flip over to Twitter to see that it's alive with the sound of groaning, because it looks like Andy MacPhail made Matt Holliday an 8 year, $130 million contract offer. No word if that offer is still good, of course. Maybe Jason Bay's contract has depressed the market slightly.