Time to re­ally give O’s fans ‘a con­tract’?

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Daniel McLaugh­lin And Wil­liam G. Tier­ney Daniel McLaugh­lin (djmcl22@gmail.com), a higher ed­u­ca­tion con­sul­tant at In­dige­nous Re­search As­so­ciates, grew up in Bal­ti­more and is a long­time Ori­oles fan. Wil­liam G. Tier­ney (wgtiern@usc.edu), a long-time Red S

When fans made a great catch of a foul ball at Bal­ti­more's Me­mo­rial Sta­dium back in the good old days, Rex Bar­ney, leg­endary an­nouncer, pro­claimed over the pub­lic ad­dress sys­tem, “Give that fan a con­tract!”

In light of the Ori­oles’ painful state of af­fairs, maybe that's not just a corny idea.

Though younger fans may not know it, the Ori­oles used to be a team worth watch­ing. Sev­eral gen­er­a­tions ago, there was an Ori­ole Way. It prized pitch­ing, de­fense and timely hit­ting. Ev­ery­one in the Ori­oles or­ga­ni­za­tion was on the same page. Mi­nor league play­ers were schooled in spring train­ing to re-learn the right ways to play base­ball. En­light­ened own­er­ship hired good peo­ple and stayed out of the way. Earl Weaver, whoman­aged field op­er­a­tions from 1968-1982, was the first great man­ager to use data. Long be­fore lap­tops and tablets, he kept track of sta­tis­tics on plain old pa­per. The Ori­oles were cel­e­brated as a teach­ing and learn­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion. They stressed process and con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ments.

The Ori­ole Way was re­spon­si­ble for decades of mag­nif­i­cent base­ball. It started with the Baby Birds of the ear­ly1960s, which gave rise to decades of win­ning Ori­oles teams — from the as­ton­ish­ing World Se­ries sweep of the Los An­ge­les Dodgers in 1966 through the O's most re­cent world cham­pi­onship against the Philadel­phia Phillies in 1983.

Now, we are light years from the Ori­ole Way. The O's lost 115 games this year, the third-worst record since Ma­jor League Base­ball ex­pan­sion in1962. The­lead­er­ship is in sham­bles. Man­ager Buck Showal­ter and gen­eral man­ager Dan Du­quette have been fired. Lines of author­ity in­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion are un­clear. Who makes the de­ci­sions? Do scouts have a clue? Is there re­search about where the best play­ers come from? Is there a plan for stress­ing Ori­oles’ pro­cesses and pri­or­i­ties?

Worse, the O's have not kept pace with the an­a­lyt­ics rev­o­lu­tion. They have not in­vested in in­ter­na­tional scouting. They have largely ig­nored the in­ter­na­tional am­a­teur draft.

What they have done is trade a once-in-agen­er­a­tion tal­ent, Manny Machado, to the Los An­ge­les Dodgers. They didn't move him when they could have in 2017 for far bet­ter ath­letes in re­turn. In­stead, they have signed ball play­ers who could never ex­em­plify the Ori­ole Way: power hit­ters with lim­ited speed and de­fen­sive prow­ess, and bar­gain base­ment pitch­ers with check­ered his­to­ries and lim­ited po­ten­tial. In 2016, they signed Chris Davis, who has strug­gled might­ily but is owed $95 mil­lion through 2022 — a con­tract that will hob­ble the fran­chise for years.

Own­er­shiphaslet the or­ga­ni­za­tion crum­ble. The owner, Pe­ter An­ge­los, is ab­sent. Mr. An­ge­los's two sons are in nom­i­nal con­trol — or are they? Re­ports of mis­trust, ob­fus­ca­tion and in­er­tia abound.

The re­sult? The at­ten­dance at Cam­den Yards has tanked. The crown jewel of a new gen­er­a­tion of sta­di­ums has been aban­doned by a dis­gusted fan base. The team is a laugh­ing­stock.

The prob­lem is not sim­ply Bal­ti­more’s. A team as bad as the Ori­oles is bad for base­ball. Some­times a team has a plan and ex­pects to be bad for a few years — like the Astros, of late. Even the Miami Mar­lins have a plan. Com­pared to them, the Ori­oles are clue­less. If the Ori­oles don’t act, MLB should step in as a con­ser­va­tor. How to fix this mess? Get­back­totheOri­ole Way. Es­tab­lish clear lines of own­er­ship author­ity. Give man­age­ment li­cense to do what has to be done, then get out of the way. Across the or­ga­ni­za­tion, stress: pitch­ing, speed, de­fense and smart an­a­lyt­ics. Hire a cou­ple of or­ga­ni­za­tional ex­perts. Fo­cus on process and com­mon­sense process im­prove­ments. Foster col­le­gial­ity, con­sen­sus and trust. Get ev­ery­one on the same page.

By the way, we are avail­able. We are or­ga­ni­za­tional an­thro­pol­o­gists, ex­pe­ri­enced process im­provers, pro­po­nents of or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­er­ship and change and long­time stu­dents of the game. If not us, then hire some other fans like us — to take charge of what was, by many ac­counts for many years, the best fran­chise in base­ball.

It might well be time to take Rex Bar­ney’s ex­hor­ta­tion — "Give that fan a con­tract" — gen­uinely to heart.

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