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September 28, 2007

Wait Until Next Year

George Wenschhof

The end of September brings a lot of excitement to major league baseball fans for the long (162 game) schedule is coming to an end. Wishful hopes abound that their team will win the division or capture the wild card slot. Their team would then make the play-offs with a chance to win the Fall Classic in Sports, the World Series.

For the rest of the teams and their fans, the often used refrain

is "wait until next year."

I began following major league baseball as a teenager. The neighborhood guys would get together often, and we would and go to the local park to play. It was not a sport where you had to have money to be able to play the game. Someone would have a ball, someone else a bat, and we shared gloves. I remember many times waiting for a friend to come running off the field at the end of the inning and throwing me his glove.

My older brother introduced me to the baseball game "Strat-O-Matic," and it was through playing this game - often with him and his friends - that I picked up an avid interest in baseball statistical information.

It took little time for me to become a Baltimore Orioles fan, and the very first year (1966) I began to take serious interest in following the standings and reading box scores the Orioles won the World Series! The few trips we were able to make to Memorial Stadium, fortunately our Mom was a fan as well, were filled with much fun and excitement.

The O's had just obtained Frank Robinson and he would go on to win the Triple Crown that year-(leading the league in home runs, batting average, and runs-batted-in). We had the incomparable Brooks Robinson, a perennial Gold Glove winner at third base; Boog Powell at first base; Luis Aparicio at short; and Davey Johnson at second. Paul Blair had a great glove in center field, Curt Blefary was in right field and Andy Etchebarren did the job behind the plate.

The pitching staff was awesome with starters Dave McNally, Jim Barber, along with a first or second year pitcher by the name of Jim Palmer, who would go on to pitch one of the four straight victories against the Dodgers that year in the World Series. The bullpen was ably manned by Dick Hall, Stu Miller, Pete Richert and Eddie Watt.

What a thrilling introduction to baseball I received that first year as a fan, and I have been following the game ever since.

Over the years many changes have occurred and the game continues to evolve. Free agency was won by the players - interestingly it was Dave McNally, along with the more well known Curt Flood, who challenged management's ownership of the players.

Some of the other changes included the creation of three divisions in each league, the use of a designated hitter in the American League, play-off games prior to the World Series, and a wild card team added in each league to compete with the winners of the three divisions.

These changes have all resulted in many opinions and much discussion as to the benefits or detriment they have brought to the game. Yet the game endures and - to me - remains the great American pastime.

Bud Selig, the commissioner of major league baseball, must be delighted what with five games to go in the regular season, the winner of four of the six divisions and the two wild card winners are still to be determined.

In the National League, all three divisions and the wild card are still up for grabs. In the East, the Mets, who have led the Eastern Division the entire year, has a two game lead over Philadelphia. The Central Division is lead by the Chicago Cubs with a two game lead over Milwaukee, and the West is lead by the Arizona Diamondbacks with a two game lead over the San Diego Padres and three game lead over the Colorado Rockies.

The way I figure it, there are up to five teams battling for the national league wild card slot depending on who wins the divisions. They are the Mets, Philadelphia, Arizona, San Diego, and Colorado.

Over in the American league, Cleveland has won the Central Division and the LA Angels have won the Western Division. The Eastern Division is lead by Boston with a three game lead over the Yankees.

The American League wild card appears to be either the Yankees or Boston. For Detroit to make the wild card slot they would have to win their remaining games and the Yankees would have to lose their remaining games; and then a one-game playoff would occur for they would have identical records.

As to the Orioles, with a 67-90 record, they have a two game lead over Tampa Bay, which currently has the worst record in major league baseball this year.

A lot of discussion has taken place surrounding the last 10-year stretch of losing records compiled by the Orioles. The owner, Peter Angelos, takes most of the heat beginning with the firing of Davey Johnson as manager after the 1997 season, their last winning season.

Five different managers have tried since then without success. You have to pull for current manager Dave Trembley, who had his interim label removed and he was signed for next year. After a career as a minor league coach and manager, he finally has his shot and has earned the respect of the players and management.

There is an old saying, "you can't make chicken salad out of chicken sh--," and this leads many to discuss who is making the decisions on what players to sign and how much money to spend.

With a team payroll of $90+ million, the O's sure aren't getting their monies worth. Our neighbor, the Washington National's payroll is $30+ million and they have a better record.

The two-headed approach to the general manager's duties seems to be on the way out with the hiring of Andy MacPhail as chief operating officer. Where that leaves popular former O's pitcher Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie, who were sharing GM responsibilities, remains a question. Interestingly, Andy MacPhail's father, Lee, was the GM for the Orioles from 1959-1965.

Yet hope springs eternal for the Orioles. Their young pitching staff led by Eric Bedard, Jeremy Guthrie, Daniel Cabrera, and Adam Loewen has tremendous potential. In only his second full year, Nick Markakis is playing like an all-star right fielder with a .290 batting average, 22 home runs and 110 runs batted in. He is joined on the right side by second baseman Brian Roberts, who had another all-star caliber year. Over the summer the Orioles also signed talented first round draft pick Matt Wieters, a switch hitting catcher with power.

Let's hope Andy MacPhail, et. al., can bring back the competitive and winning ways the Orioles and their fans deserve.

Until then, for the O's and their fans it's wait until next year!

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