With the 2002 baseball season now fully complete, and thankfully so, it's time to reflect on everything that's happened since the 2001 season ended. That sage, Vice President of Baseball Operations, Syd Thrift, identified four basic needs. Obviously, the O's needed a leadoff hitter, a clean-up hitter, a number one starter, and closer. So, he looked in the minor league system and found Jorge Julio for a closer and that worked out well. To lead the rotation, a successful team has to have a number one starter who can take the ball every five days and expect to win. Good ol' Syd looked on the disabled list and saw Scott Erickson and made him the number one. That worked out badly. He then looked into the free agent and trade markets to fill out the offensive needs. He came back with Marty Cordova and Chris Singleton, and that was, sigh, real ugly. And so the theme went, a little bit of good, a little bit of bad, and a little bit of ugly to set up the 2002 season.
The Good: The Orioles opened the season at home, and in one of the classiest moves ever, had former manager Johnny Oates throw out the first pitch. The crowd gave their loudest ovation to him, and even I got a bit choked up seeing him out there. The O's then went out there and clobbered the Yankees, the day being capitalized by a Tony Batista grand slam. Later that night the Maryland Terrapins would win the national title, and as of press time College Park is still a pile of rubble. Two days into the season the Orioles sent disabled list filler John Bale to the Mets for outfielder Gary Matthews. This was Gary's fifth different team, and he had done absolutely nothing to make anyone suspect he'd be worth a damn. Yet he would end up having the best season of any Oriole outfielder. Meanwhile Erickson would go 3-2 in the first month and the Orioles closed it out winning 8 of their last 11. Also it took only a month before six year minor league free agent Rodrigo Lopez, previously seen washing dishes at Phillips, was in the starting rotation. He would not lose a game until the end of May against Seattle.
The Bad: The Orioles won opening day, and then lost their next six. Jerry Hairston won the leadoff job by having the best spring training of anyone and promptly pissed it away. Hairston hit only .211 and had an OBP well below .300, meaning it was easier to touch base with Dick Cheney in one of his bunkers. Hairston would eventually move back to the last spot in the order. Wacky injuries began to rear their ugly heads early too. Jason Johnson was forced to the disabled list when he broke his finger by, of all things, SHADOW pitching. That's right, he was going through the motions of pitching without a ball, and STILL managed to break his finger. He would be out until June.
The Ugly: Josh Towers followed up his hope-inspiring 2001 season with a horrible 2002. He didn't win in April. He wouldn't win in May. After being demoted to Rochester, he didn't win there either. Also, Chris Singleton was the everyday center fielder, making a wonderful impression that would endear himself to O's fans everywhere with an astounding .424 OPS. He began his first, and hopefully only, year at Camden Yards with a .165 batting average. Also, Jim Hunter was still on the radio.
The Good: Yet another pitcher who was supposed to spend 2002 in Rochester, making the Red Wings competitive would come up to the Orioles and provide some much needed support at the major league level. Travis Driskill would win his first game ever in Oakland, taking an extra inning tilt. He was rewarded with a start in Seattle that same weekend and he won that one too. In fact, that was a good week for the birds as they won 6 of 12 straight games against the Mariners and Athletics, excelling beyond anyone's expectations.
The Bad: As I said before, Hairston was terrible in April but in May he started getting back into the swing of things. As he heated up, hitting .308 with a .373 OBP, the Orioles called up Brian Roberts and benched Hairston. D'oh! That would ruin Hairston's June but he eventually would turn things around. Lastly, pitching phenom Erik Bedard ended up making his much anticipated major league debut. The only problem was, the team had jerked him around through spring training and didn't allow for his arm to get the work it needed to start the year in the minors. Then, when they called him up it effectively ruining all the progress he had made. He stayed up for about two weeks, pitched to exactly four hitters, and was then sent back to Bowie. A month later, he tore a ligament in his elbow ending his season.
The Ugly: Erickson would not win a game the month of May. In terms of wacky injuries, no one, ever, will be able to top Marty Cordova. Cordova, a guy whose job requires him to spend most of his time OUTSIDE, ended up burning his face in a tanning booth. It was so bad, marks were visible on his face and he would be forced to sit out a couple of games, lest things get even worse. Unbelievable, but true. Also, Chris Singleton was still the every day center fielder, and Jim Hunter called all the games on radio.
The Good: The Orioles, had their first winning month in years! Things couldn't have gone better for this team that had been stuck on perpetual losing. It came against a schedule of teams including Seattle, Oakland, New York, and the AL West playoff contending Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants. They went 14-13 on the month, and managed to string together a 4 game winning streak against the Giants and Yankees. These son-of-a-guns even managed to go 3-3 on their road trip to Phoenix and San Francisco, taking 2 of 3 from the Giants with the highlight of BEATING Curt Schilling. Please understand that when I say that Chris Brock got the win in that game, I'm NOT kidding, it wasn't even close! Also, they had a thrilling come back win against the Seattle Mariners on the first of the month that saw them turn feared close Kaz Sasaki into Kaz SoSUCKy, nabbing two runs off of him in the ninth and handing him his first loss. Mariners fans will tell you he's been become much more inconsistent since then, making him prime dogmeat for the playoffs when the pressure mounts.
The Bad: As I mentioned before, this was the month that Erik Bedard would suffer a big blow. The top prospect in the Orioles system was coming off pitcher of the week honors in the Eastern League and had two outs in the eighth inning of a ball game he was dominating. Then that elbow went pop, he walked off the mound, and that would be the last of Erik Bedard until 2004. It would also be the second straight year he'd have to miss the major league All-Stars Futures Game, which he was supposed to start.
The Ugly: The worst part of the Bedard injury was the handling of it. After an MRI was inconclusive, (bad swelling will do that) the Orioles saw fit to save some money for the Resign Chris Singleton fund and just have Bedard rest. That's right, he took six weeks off and did nothing. After six weeks, Dr. Nick, the quack pot of a doctor from the Simpsons who is also a cartoon had Bedard start throwing again. That only made the injury worse. It's mind boggling that an organization that is so inept and is forced to rely on their minor leaguers making progress would let something like this happen. I'm convinced they had the Simpson's writers come up with something from Dr. Nick because no REAL doctor would ever do something so incredibly freaking stupid!
The Good: The All-Star break came, and although they had at least two players who deserved consideration, Tony Batista was the one representative on the team. And he deserved it, he had himself a tremendous first half that held the team together and kept them in third place. They actually cruised into the break winning their last two series on the road against American League West teams, including Anaheim who you may know as your 2002 Wild Card winners. Also, minor league phenom John Stephens was called up to make his major league debut.
The Bad: Well, Toronto came to town and took both games of what was supposed to be a three game series (one was postponed for rain), after already sweeping a two game set north of the border. That was what they call foreshadowing in literary circles. Also, as mentioned before, John Stephens made his major league debut, finally getting the call up against Tampa Bay. However, he was SMOKED in what would sadly become a theme for him at the big league level this year.
The Ugly: The Orioles went 11-13 in the month of July, but seven of those losses came against teams with losing records. Just one more record of the inconsistencies associated with this team, a team that went 3-3 against playoff teams in that same month. At the same time, Chris Singleton was also given a mind-numbing 94 at bats that month, almost 10 more than he had in any other month. He rewarded the Orioles with a dismal .606 OPS, his second worst of the season. And of course, that Angelos ass-kisser Jim Hunter was around to call every single futile at bat.
The Good: The first half of the month of August was perhaps, the very best that the Orioles played. They split a four game set with Toronto and took five out of six games against the AL Central Champion Twins (including a three game sweep at Camden Yards). Hell, even Scott Erickson got a win in that series. Jorge Julio was just as awesome, closing out six games by August 15th to reach 25 and threaten Gregg Olson's rookie record of 28. One week later, they would stage a remarkable comeback against Toronto, trailing 6-1 early they managed an 11-7 win. What made that night special was that they finally reached the magical .500 mark for the first time since April, posting a 63-63 record. Also, at the VERY last second, a strike was averted, the first time that ever happened in baseball.
The Bad: Sadly, the strike WAS averted. After reaching the .500 point they lost their last eight games of the month in a losing streak that wouldn't end until they were 10 under again. Even if ball players stayed on the job, the Orioles bats were as effective as card board picket signs.
The Ugly: Julio's 25 save back on August 15th would also be his LAST save of the season. Chris Singleton had his biggest outburst of power, clubbing three home runs, nearly equaling his total from the first half of the year.
The Good: Well until this final weekend, there was NOTHING good about this month. They won only four damn games. Three of them came in one weekend. However, this free fall which is the worst I've seen since 1988 means that the tenure of Syd Thrift, one of the darkest and putrid eras ever, is hopefully, coming to a merciful end. Heck, by the time you read this he might already be fired. Goodbye Syd and good riddance.
The Bad: Take your pick. The three game sweep at home to Anaheim. The four game sweep at Yankee Stadium. The four game sweep to Boston. Three games down the drain against Toronto. The final three game sweep at Orioles Park at Yankee Stadium. They actually lost their last 12, no telling how long that streak would have kept up.
The Ugly: The help from the minor leagues was anything but. The talent either failed upon promotion, or just wasn't ready to begin with. I've seen a lot of this talent and some of it is worth the hype and some isn't. There IS pitching help, believe me. None of it is ready though. These are lean times, and it's going to take a long time for the new GM to clean things up. If we're lucky, it would also be the last of Chris Singleton, who actually posted a respectable .822 OPS in what I can only hope is his final month with the Orioles. The last weekend was also filled with a verbal battle between Syd Thrift and Jim Palmer. Palmer took great pains to slam the Orioles both in print and on the air any chance he got, insinuating, correctly, that the problem be laid at Thrift's feet. Thrift meanwhile undertook a battle to defend himself, but, as was much of Syd's tenure it was poorly planned and didn't work. If for no other reason than to exponentially increase the indignity of it all, Jim Hunter was more than happy to call every game on the radio, blaming everyone but the lack of talent themselves for the woes of the Orioles.
All I can say is thank goodness this season is over. I know there are many more stories that fit in each of these categories, some I even meant to include in here but didn't because I forgot either intentionally or not. Either way, as someone who obviously likes disappointment, letdowns, and even humiliation, you've now been given a fairly decent look at the Orioles in 2002. If you've read this far, I thank you. Now you can take me to the bar and buy me a shot, because now that I've gone back through all of this, I have a sudden hankering for tequila. Alcohol kills germs, and it dulls my pain. Hopefully 2003 finds outcomes to be much more favorable than this one.