A debate was started a few years ago at my office whereby folks were talking about which team is the worst team in baseball? My office, based in Baltimore, MD, was of course, littered with Orioles' fans - fans that were fed up with the team not just losing every year, but finishing last or next to last over the past several seasons. The debate spawned into a pool whereby each person (out of 10) would draft a team. At the end of the season, the person with the combination of teams that accumulated the fewest number of wins, won. This draft has gone on for about 5 years now, and that black and orange team still remains the top pick. Being a Yankee fan at the time sure made me smile to listen to the debate.
I did not grow up in Baltimore - I grew up Atlanta (how I became a Yankee fan is another story). However, the way the Yanks ousted Joe Torre and did not hire Don Mattingly as his successor left a sour taste in my mouth. Feeling that the Yankees management turned their back on me, I too, turned my back on them. Since the end of the 2007 season, I abandoned my 24-year loyalty to the pinstripers and chose another American League team to root for (my favorite National League team is the Chicago Cubs - why not the Braves?, well, that's another story).
However, rooting for the Orioles has not been easy. They typically start out the season strong, and usually pack it in come August. The fans here are generally good people, and filling the stadium (which is one of the nicest I have ever been too) on a weekend is rarely a problem.
Entering the 2010 season, the sentiment around Charm City is pretty much the same regarding the Orioles' potential - there are zero expectations - or even hope for that matter - of the team making the post-season - let alone winning the division. Right now, folks will be happy with not finishing last - maybe even winning 80 games.
This sentiment is very similar to how folks in Atlanta felt about their baseball club back in the late 1980's and very early 1990's. The Atlanta Braves were also mired in a long slump of finishing last - and folks around town would have proclaimed it a successful season should the team finish higher than last place. They even had a bumper sticker made: "Go Braves...and take the Falcons with you". Alanta's professional sports were lack-luster at best, with only their basketball team (Hawks) showing any type of winning success (mostly because half of the NBA teams make the playoffs). Come 1991, the Atlanta sports faithful finally got a taste of success with the surprising emergence of the Braves (and Falcons too, for some reason - perhaps Deion Sanders was the common denominator). The Braves proved that the miracle season was no fluke, and ensued upon a string of 14 consecutive post-season appearances.
Another city that is almost parrallel to Atlanta in terms of sports success at the time was Cleveland. That city has not had a professional sports champion since the baseball team (Indians) won the World Series in 1948. However, the Indians were on a path to success as well.
Every other team in baseball has made the post-season this century, save for the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and Pittsburgh Pirates (of those teams, only Baltimore and Pittsburgh failed to win at least 80 games). Well, at least the Oriole faithful can hang their hat on one thing - that they will still not be the team with the longest post-season drought - currently held by the Nationals at 27 years). Even each of the four most recent expansion teams (two in 1993 and 2 more in 1998) have made played well into October.
How did they do it, you ask? Most will say that money is a huge factor. The Minnesota Twins and New York Mets both disprove the notion that spending will lead to victory. The formula for success starts with the right General Manager, and the ability to acquire (either via draft or trade or free agency) the right players to win. The second part of the equation is developing the young talent - this is mostly attributable to their minor league systems and the manager. The final component is luck - getting the right players at the right time to have breakout seasons is like catching lightning in a bottle.
Similarly, the Orioles have been drafting the right people, but have been unable to develop such talent until recently. The General Manager was able to sign some veteran players, however, the outlook looks grim for the Birds. The formula for long-endured success appears to be a combination of young prospects with a sprinkling of veteran leadership. The veterans need not be superstar all-stars, only players that have a proven track record based on a steady commitment to the game.
So, which team do you think will be the worst this season?