Kline Makes Me Sad, Too - A Baltimore Perspective

A take on the Steve Kline situation from the Orioles camp.

This season should have turned out better than this.  Much better.


Not just for the Orioles as a whole – that much is a given – but for the relationship between Steve Kline and the city of Baltimore.


Steve Kline could – and should – be a fan favorite here.  Or maybe I should put that in the past tense.  But he's a blue-collar, everyman kind of guy and this town normally eats that up. 


But Kline's early-season struggles, combined with the interview he gave to Rick Hummel back in April, essentially turned the marriage between Kline and the Orioles into a union that would make the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston marriage look normal in comparison.


From my perspective – and I'm confident this is fairly representative of the collective opinion of fans here in Baltimore – the biggest problem with Kline is that he feels like nothing is his fault.


Oh sure, on the surface, he seems like a stand-up guy when he openly admits that he's had a horrible year.  But if you dig a little deeper, you'll see that he also spreads around a lot of blame to help explain why he's been so horrible. 


Some of the excuses we've heard this season have been laughable.  These include:


  • My manager doesn't know how to run a bullpen.  (In fairness, under Lee Mazzilli, this was absolutely valid.)


  • The umpire called "phantom balk" on me…and so I thought it would be a good idea to get ejected.


  • My leftfielder and shortstop were unable to catch a blooper – and that's a ball that would have likely been caught in St. Louis…so that was why I gave up all those runs.


  • The umpire blew that call at first base – even though I was late in getting over to cover the bag. 


  • And my personal favorite – and I'm quoting directly from the Hummel article here – "Everybody in the world thought they were bunting again… but (Byrnes) swung and hit it out of the ballpark. I threw the pitch right down the middle, letting him bunt, thinking it was National League style, you know."


The other thing that bothers me greatly about Kline is his body language – you can just see the frustration when things aren't going his way. 


And that's just not what fans around here are used to.  Even though the Orioles are suffering through their eighth straight losing season, most fans in this city were raised on the philosophies of Earl Weaver, Ray Miller and Cal Ripken, Sr.  And one of the things those men consistently taught their pitchers was to never, ever, under any circumstances show your emotions on the mound.


So when Orioles' fans see a manager or pitching coach come out to the mound to visit Kline, we're shocked to see a player who looks as if he is openly pouting – almost as if to say, "Why are you coming out here?"


And whenever you see Kline get upset over an umpire's call – or a poor defensive play behind him – a barrage of hits is almost certain to follow.  (Just like Weaver, Miller and Ripken said it would happen if you showed the other team you were upset.)


In fairness, I should point out that Kline hasn't pitched nearly as bad in the second half of the season.  Of course, he's mostly been used in non-critical situations, but still – the numbers have been a bit better.


And I'll also point out that Kline's take on the ownership situation here (as described in the interview with Tim McKernan) is accurate.  The owner is never around -- he's always at his law office -- and it seems like the co-GMs still have to get his approval on nearly everything.  So they have to try and track him down and hope that he's available. 


It's a pathetic situation, really – and the fans are fed up with it.  Attendance is down…television ratings are microscopic…and all the while, the team just keeps on losing.


So in some respects, it's easy to understand why Kline feels like coming to Baltimore was a mistake.  Heck, I'm sure there are others who have signed with the Orioles who feel that way…only they haven't said so publicly.   This truly is a dysfunctional franchise, and there's not a lot of optimism that the situation will change any time soon.


It's also worth pointing out that Kline's emotions were likely thrown out of whack this spring, due to his wife's miscarriage.  The truth is, that piece of the story wasn't widely reported in Baltimore…and there are very few fans willing to cut Kline much slack as a result of that misfortune.


As I said at the very beginning of this piece, this was a move that should have worked out brilliantly.  Steve Kline is precisely the kind of player that would ordinarily become a cult-like figure in this town.


But when all is said and done, the only person Kline has to blame for this not working out is himself.  Just take another look at that interview with Hummel, and you'll see he gave the fans here more than enough material to work with in the daily court of opinion that is sports talk radio. 


Two quotes in particular were what sealed Kline's fate: "I feel like I'm going through the motions right now," and "There's nothing worse that getting booed at home…St. Louis fans are too good for that.  They understand the game more than most people."


Again, I can sympathize with Kline about the booing – that's hard to deal with, and he had likely never experienced it before.  But when you've been in a new city for roughly two weeks, it's just not a good idea to talk about how much better the fans were in your old city.


And the last thing any professional athlete – let alone one making $5.5 million over two years – should say is that they're just going through the motions.  At a minimum, fans are entitled to 100% effort on the field, and to admit you're not giving that, well…that's never a good idea.


But the truth of the matter is, Kline still could have turned things around even after the Hummel interview. 


All he had to do was perform as expected – just get left-handers out in the late innings.  That's all.  If he had done that, he could have popped off every few weeks and no one would have given it a second thought.


But Kline's performance was awful…and his body language was even worse.  If you're going to get shelled while you're on the mound wearing an Orioles uniform, at least take your beating like a professional.  Don't throw temper tantrums and get thrown out of games…don't disrespect your manager – no matter how bad he may be…and don't complain about a call when you were too slow in covering first base.


I have no idea what the future holds for the relationship between Steve Kline and the Baltimore Orioles.  But given Kline's hefty salary – and his 2005 performance – it's unlikely that the Orioles will find a willing trade partner unless they agree to eat nearly 100% of Kline's 2006 price tag.


In a way, I suppose I feel a bit like Kline – I'd still like to see this work out.  Good left-handed relievers are tough to find.  And I suspect that with a fresh start in 2006, things could work out better. 


But the best thing for everyone involved right now would be for the 2005 season to end as quickly and quietly as possible.


Jody Madron is a Baltimore-based freelance writer whose work regularly appears at
sportsblurb.com and baseballnotebook.com.

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