By Aaron Koos
I know the Orioles aren’t the only professional sports team with a dark side, but there was a time when the organization seemed fairly wholesome. It was a team that respected its elders and showed up for work every day. The club was built on the shoulders of hard workers like Brooks Robinson who stressed fundamentals over flash. They might not beat you with brute strength and raw talent, but this bunch of blue collar underdogs could find ways to get it done.
At least that was my perception of the Orioles, and maybe it was naïve. But it was fun to root for that type of team. Well, those days are over now.
Not only have the Orioles been touched by the performance-enhancing drugs scandal that now consumes major league baseball, but it appears the club could be at the very epicenter of this problem. Maybe every team eventually will have its own discovery of steroid and human growth hormone (hGH) use, but a decade ago, would you have expected that one of the clubs most frequently associated with the unfolding scandal would be the Orioles?
Yet, that appears to be exactly the case. The Orioles are a dirty club, and by the way the news has broken so far, one of the dirtiest. First, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa were called to Washington to testify before Congress on steroid use in baseball, and they weren’t called just because of Baltimore’s proximity to D.C. Six months later, Palmeiro failed a steroid test and pointed fingers at his teammates. This season, former Oriole reliever Jason Grimsley was busted for hGH. And Sunday, David Segui, who last played for the Birds in 2004, admitted to hGH use. If you want to pretend that the common denominator of playing in Baltimore is completely meaningless or coincidental, then go ahead. I, however, won’t get fooled again.
The first inklings of an O’s drug culture surfaced in 2003 with the sad death of 23-year-old Oriole reliever Steve Bechler due to complications resulting from his use of ephedrine – a speed-like “dietary supplement” that has since been banned. And then there are the questions about other Orioles, past and present, who may not have admitted to drug use, but who are highly suspect.
The Orioles haven’t endorsed steroid use, but on two separate occasions the club sent a clear message that it was willing to forgive and work with cheaters when the team signed Albert Belle and Sammy Sosa after both had well-documented corked bat incidents with other teams. Clearly, giving a wink to corking bats isn’t an endorsement to use ephedrine, hGH, or stanozolol, but it certainly does point to a bend-the-rules, whatever-it-takes, just-don’t-get-caught philosophy on cheating.
Now MLB investigators want to meet with Sam Perlozzo on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. He may not know anything about what all these players were doing, but he’s one of the few Orioles that at least knew every one of the players implicated in the investigation. He’s one of the only people within the organization qualified to answer questions, because he’s one of the few people that has actually survived the Angelos era in a leadership position.
And that may be exactly at the root of the problem. Besides longtime ballboy Ernie Tyler, Sam Perlozzo is one of the longest-tenured members of the organization, spending most of his time in Baltimore as a base coach. Numerous leadership changes in the front office and clubhouse during the Angelos reign may have created a chaotic environment where nobody was focused on making sure the seamier side of professional sports didn’t get out of control in Baltimore.
Thankfully, it wasn’t always this way in Baltimore. This month, the Maryland Science Center opened an exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings in Baltimore that will run through January. The featured painting, “Gee Thanks, Brooks,” is the famous rendering of Brooks Robinson signing a baseball for a young fan. According to The Sun article about the exhibit, it was the only solo portrait of a named baseball player ever painted by Rockwell.
Often criticized for illustrating an idealized America that never was, Rockwell didn’t have to stretch the truth much for “Gee Thanks, Brooks.” A Hall of Famer, Brooks was the genuine article then and still is today. The Orioles would do well to ask players to create more “Gee, Thanks” moments for fans than “Oh, Jeez” moments that have become commonplace. Incidentally, Brooks Robinson has his own blog where he talks about the Rockwell exhibit and other baseball-related topics.
Despite being depressed by more news of the Orioles’ cheating ways, my CAP average – the ultra-scientific system that rates my abilities as a fan in the categories of Current Knowledge, Ardor, and Participation – has risen slightly. I’m now averaging .207. Hey, at least we took two out of three from the first place Mets. Wow.
Selections from The Sun –
Fan reaction to Grimsley and Segui (hint: CAP isn’t the only disenchanted fan)
Peter Schmuck on the steroid controversy “hitting home”