Recently the Baltimore Orioles traded star shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for five minor-league prospects that you likely have never heard of. The event means a final demolition of the major-league Orioles but not reverie about America’s once-finest Triple A arrangement between the Birds and the Rochester Red Wings. It also shows the damage one bad man can do.
Thoreau said, “Eastward I go by force. Westward I go free.” The Orioles were forced to act at this time, since Manny is a free agent and to get anyone in return the O’s had to trade him now. Machado went delightedly, since Baltimore baseball has become a zoo. The next time someone says that one person can’t make a difference, offer as contrary proof Orioles owner and asbestos trial lawyer Peter Angelos.
Return with me to 1961, when Rochester became Baltimore’s Triple A affiliate. From then till late 1993, when Angelos bought the O’s, they were the model to which every other club aspired. Their farm system bloomed. The Birds accented pitching, fundamentals, defense, and speed. They made few mistakes, were wise in strategy and intuition, and knew the rules. They could drive a Red Sox fan crazy, and did.
A wonderful line said of Brooks Robinson, “So and so doubled down the left-field line, and Brooks threw him out.” Sadly, the great third baseman didn’t play at Rochester, St. Louis still its parent club when in 1955 he hit the bigs. Boog Powell, however, started here, like Mark Belanger, Jim Palmer, and Paul Blair. The Orioles-Red Wings relationship had a family feel, became baseball’s envy. It took quite a person to incinerate such bliss.
My dad adored those Orioles of Cal Ripken and Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson — middle-class, industrious, caring in a team-first way, watching them a seminar in Baseball 101. From 1963-85 Baltimore won six pennants, three World Series, and topped .500 every year but one: no big-league team was more successful. Angelos shattered it, possessing the Reverse Midas Touch — what he touched, he destroyed.
Baseball’s Daddy Dearest inherited a fine team, its best non-Vin Scully voice in Jon Miller, and grand new Oriole Park in Camden Yards. Soon be began firing managers, general managers, and even Miller. For 14 astonishing years (1998-2011) the O’s flunked .500. This year’s winning percentage is an all-time low .282. When Angelos, now 88, bought the team the Yards sold out all year. Today he’s lucky to sell every other seat even for the Nationals, Sox, and Yanks — most of whom cheer the visitor.
Seen from Rochester, worst is Angelos’s barren farm system— hence, the need for prospects in exchange for Manny. The Orioles might be healthier if they treated others better. This space has noted how the trial lawyer’s regime ignored phone calls from Rochester Chief Operating Officer Naomi Silver and General Manager Dan Mason. Baltimore farm director Don Buford even profaned the Wings and Rochester media. A story by Ken Rosenthal says that Angelos’s sons John and Louis are gradually replacing dad around the office. It can’t come too soon.
Angelos sought to demean the Wings. He could not diminish what Rochester did in September 2002 — end the longest working agreement between a big-league team and Triple A affiliate. “Usually, the big-league team fires the little guys,” the Baltimore Sun marveled. Here, the employee axed the boss. The Wings fired baseball’s once-gold standard not only due to lives Angelos had so casually played with, but its lack of respect for the minor’s oldest, longest-running, and most historic team.
The then-parent Cardinals’ Stan Musial played in Rochester in 1941. Ripken did in 1981. It has been voted the “best minor-league organization” and Baseball America’s “Baseball City USA” — a tutorial for the bottom line. Upon the Orioles’ exile, Minnesota became the Wings’ parent club: a fine organization, but in another time zone, with little marquee. At the Wings’ Frontier Field, you still see Orioles caps. Many cannot, will not, forget their twinning-of-the-heart. A love affair— even, at the end, a farce like that—dies hard.
Knifing Baltimore, Angelos left blood on the floor in Rochester too. Many friends here still root for the O’s out of habit, loyalty, blind hope — whatever. The day of the Machado trade, I felt like sending flowers.
Curt Smith’s newest book, “The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House,” was released last month. He is a former speechwriter to President George H. W. Bush, Associated Press “Best in New York State” radio commentator, and senior lecturer of English at the University of Rochester. Smith writes twice monthly for Gatehouse Media Newspapers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.