I finally figured it out. Something’s been bothering me about the Orioles’ good five-season stretch from 2012 to 2016. And yes, it was a good stretch, despite the Orioles regularly bragging that during that period, they were the winningest team in the American League.
The club did nothing particularly notable other than win their division in 2014 with a 96-66 record, then beat the fading Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series to get into the American League Championship Series, where they were dominated by the Kansas City Royals. Factor in the losses to free agency of outfielder Nick Markakis, designated hitter Nelson Cruz and the game-changing left arm of Andrew Miller, and you know all you need to know about why mid-October 2014 was the high-water mark for that recent five-season run.
The Orioles’ record from 2012 to 2016 was a very solid 444-366. That calculates to a .548 winning percentage, which isn’t great baseball by any stretch of the imagination. However, what made the 2012 to 2016 seasons look so shiny were the comparisons to the 14 seasons of under .500 baseball from 1998 to 2011. The O’s played to a miserable record of 990-1,276, a .436 winning percentage.
Those 14 years of baseball misery look even worse when you take out the first three years under .500 from 1998 to 2000, which were Mike Mussina’s last three with the club. If you factor out those Mussina years, the winning percentage drops to an ever more dismal .426.
The larger point is, those five good seasons were very enjoyable. But now when you look back on them, it feels like the famous Peggy Lee song: “Is That All There Is?”
The passion coming out of those seasons was extinguished very quickly. During the last two of those five seasons, we had an 81-81 record in 2015 and a debate over why Buck Showalter didn’t use Zack Britton in the one-and-done vs. Toronto.
I’ve come to this surprising and sad conclusion after watching two exhilarating National League Division Series in which both went five games, and then the beginnings of the Cardinals vs. Nationals series and the Yankees and the Astros in the two championship series.
Those are teams where those four cities are experiencing the phenomenon that I am talking about — they are in the heart of the heart of October baseball. Those four teams and their fans could really dream the “What if?” of winning a World Series.
Clearly, not every city in baseball gets a run in October that pays off. In Washington, until it beat the Dodgers, that city hadn’t won a postseason series since 1924. Those Dodgers? They may have played at a very high level, but they haven’t grabbed the brass ring since 1988. The Tigers? They had several good years under Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland, even made it to the World Series against St. Louis in 2006, but the reality is they haven’t won anything since 1984.
In Baltimore, it’s been 36 seasons since we have played on baseball’s biggest stage.
Always being in play to win a World Series is not an entitlement. We may have felt that way when the Orioles were in four World Series between 1966 and 1971. We may have felt that way yet again when the O’s were in two World Series between 1979 and 1983.
Since then, the Orioles have had just two brief episodes of success in ‘96 and ’97, and the ‘12-‘16 run where they were relevant. The thing that’s been missing has been long-range planning and commitment to making this thing sustainable, the way it’s been in Houston, the New York Yankees, San Francisco, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston.
This October, watching the intensity of the crowds in the final four of our national pastime, has reminded me what I have been missing for so many of my summers since 1983 — that belief that my team had a chance to win the World Series.
I think the Nationals’ appearance in the 2019 World Series is a good thing. I know that doesn’t sit well with many Orioles fans who think the Nats are a large part of the problem with our baseball team.
You know the Orioles have a new marketing slogan to get fans to feel the gestalt — “Be a Part of It All.” It sure makes a lot of sense to me, and I hope my fellow Baltimore baseball fans can hop back on the train that will again move us closer to the heart of the heart of October baseball.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is the founder and publisher of PressBox.
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