The Dark Age

On Sunday nights, Twitter is buzzing with reactions to HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. The show, which I have never seen, is set in medieval times. Other than GOT, what comes to mind when someone talks about that time period? I know I usually think of the bubonic plague, peasantry and warfare. Look, there are plenty of reasons why that era is referred to as the “Dark Age”.

The Baltimore Orioles were a frustrating, fruitless franchise following their 1997 “wire to wire” season. Some would argue that rock bottom came in 2001, when the Birds sported an abysmal 63-98 record (the ’94 team won 63 games in a strike shortened season). However, that season was Cal Ripken’s last year, and Camden Yards still attracted 3 million fans. The following year, attendance plummeted by 400,000 fans. Between the years 2002-2010, the Orioles averaged only 69 wins per season. Of course, in August 2010, the team hired Buck Showalter, and they began to play competitively.

To say watching the team during that nine- year stretch was “painful”, would be like saying that ‘Snooki’ isn’t quite wife material. The Orioles’ Dark Age coincided with my adolescence, and I watched as many of my friends chose to subject themselves to the horror that is lacrosse, rather than allowing the O’s to crush their dreams. Bad pitching, bad coaching, bad hitting and bad contracts kept the team in a perpetual cycle of crapping the bed. The worst part about the Dark Age, was that there was still hope of a brighter future. Pundits were quick to anoint prospects as saviors. These promising talents would arrive in Baltimore, but none of them were able to keep the leaking ship afloat. Radhames Liz lit up radar guns, and he appeared to be the strikeout pitcher the team so desperately needed. His career ERA is 7.50, and he now plays professionally in Korea. Hey, at least that is better than Hayden Penn’s career 8.89 ERA. Ryan Minor, now the head coach of the Frederick Keys, was groomed to take over third base when Ripken retired. Unfortunately, he finished his career with a .177 batting average.

To sum it up, the 2002-2010 Orioles sucked. They really, really sucked. Year after year, the Orioles ran out some of the worst players to ever play in big league games. Luckily, the human brain does a wonderful job repressing memories, and I cannot remember every one of their names. As bad as they were, they were still my team. Today, I’m glad that I weathered the winter storm, avoided the LAX plague and stuck by the organization.

Eventually, the Renaissance restored the quality of life to Europeans, the way the team’s current leadership has brought brighter days to 333 West Camden St. History repeats itself, and that is why we learn about the Medieval Europe. We learn about the horrors of the feudal system, the rapid spread of infectious disease and the inhumane executions of that era. Humans are creatures of habit, and if we choose to expunge those events from history, we’re bound to make similar mistakes.

I choose to remember Syd Thrift’s front office. I choose to remember Sam Perlozzo’s coaching. I choose to remember Brian Burres, Jorge Julio and Brook Fordyce. All of those forgettable names were a part of my development as a baseball fan. Those gloomy days have receded, and it’s the dawn of a brighter period in Baltimore’s baseball history. Even the most devastating losses in 2013 (let’s not get specific) seem like nothing compared to the embarrassing, unrelenting losing that O’s fan endured during the Orioles’ Dark Age.

The next time you’re thinking about ripping the team on twitter, ranting on talk radio or get the urge to cradle a lacrosse stick, remember how much worse things were just a few seasons ago. The 2002-2010 Orioles built up our immune systems against defeats. Nobody likes losing, but it is part of the game. If you can’t handle a few losses over the course of a long season, perhaps you should just stick to watching HBO dramas.

Sal & Cal talk w/ Zach from Baltimore Sports Report

Zach Wilt from Baltimore Sports Report sits down with Sal & Cal for some baseball talk, a breakdown of Jim Johnson’s struggles and even a story about Zach’s first meeting with a Hall of Fame pitcher.

Make sure to follow Zach on Twitter for great local sports coverage.

PTY Podcast 5/16/2013

The boys are back together and broadcasting live from Joepa’s house! Hear what Sal, Cal and Joepa’s thoughts were at the beginning of the O’s losing streak. The guys also talk Manny, Manny and MORE Manny. Plus Sal predicts who can beat the Heat and the guys play “30 Seconds or Less”, and Joe reveals his fetish for Ukrainian women.

0:00-11:00 The Rundown: The guys talk about Rolando McClain’s retirement, which team can beat the Heat, and the O’s recent struggles at home

11:00-15:00: Sal asks when Kevin Gausman will get the call, the guys proceed to make fools of themselves.

15:00-21:00: What’s wrong with Matt Wieters? The guys discuss a Wieters contract extension and what his worth really is.

21:00-34:00 30 Seconds or Less: Sal vs. Joepa, which position should Manny ultimately play, should the O’s give Manny a “Longoria” contract, and who is the hottest girl on the planet?

34:00-42:00 Confessions: Cal has a problem with a popular baseball snack, Joepa nearly an accidental arsonist, and Sal doesn’t like your favorite movie.

42:00-43:56 Sign-off and Cal and Joepa rip Sal’s twitter handle

As always, thanks for listening. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Be sure to follow us on twitter: @PTYApparel, @JoePappa, @S4LR1NAUD0 and check out the PTY Apparel store!

The Spectacular Manny Machado

I have a confession to make. Hanging in my closet, next to a Hawaiian shirt, a Top Gun replica jumpsuit and a Terps basketball jersey, is a navy blue Seattle Mariners jersey.

Alex Rodriguez was the greatest player I had ever seen. When A-Rod played his first full season for the Mariners in 1996, “five-year old Sal” knew there was something special about him. Every time I would watch a Mariners game, Rodriguez made a tremendous play. Defensively, no shortstop had his range or his arm strength. At the plate, the rookie hit .358, with 54 doubles and 36 home runs. He even looked alert on the base paths. I was as enamored with him as an Orioles fan could have been. On my sixth birthday, my parents gave me an Alex Rodriguez jersey.

After all the steroid scandals, starlets and pinstripes, the jersey still hangs in my closet. There is a special bond that a young child shares with his favorite baseball player. Back in 1996, nobody was talking about cheating, playoff failures or Madonna. To be honest, I overlook that stuff when I think about A-Rod, kind of like how we pretend our favorite musicians weren’t strung out on heroin, or cheating on their wives any chance they got. My selective memory allows me to remember the awesome rock ballads from the ‘80s without the drug abuse, and it allows me to remember A-Rod’s dazzling double plays, his grand slams and the promise of potential. Say what you want about him as a person, but I guarantee if you assembled a “Greatest Hits” mix-tape of MLB since 1996, one track would be dedicated to Rodriguez. He was once as visually appealing as any player in the game. He played hard-nosed baseball, but he played it effortlessly, like all the greats do. Sometimes, you have to put away statistics and spreadsheets, and just watch the game. It’s a beautiful sport, and for years, it was pretty special watching Alex Rodriguez.

 In 2012, fourteen seasons later, I still had never seen a rookie impress me like Rodriguez had. That changed with Manny Machado.

Every time the young man walked up to the plate, there was a chance something spectacular is about to happen. The 2012 Orioles were a good baseball team, but once they called Machado up to the majors, they became a playoff team. You know the story: the rookie sensation rose from Bowie, switched positions, played stellar defense and provided a spark offensively.

In baseball, coaches can help players develop physical parts of their game. Pitching coaches help hurlers learn new pitches, or develop better control of the ones they already have. Hitting coaches teach sluggers about pitch recognition, and they help keep their swings controlled and effective. In a game full of coachable components, there is one thing that cannot be taught, and that is confidence in the clutch.

Machado is clutch. Look no further than last season’s “pump fake” play against Tampa Bay, or his RBI in the AL Wild Card Game. This season, he’s at it again. I’m not a big fan of using stats to support arguments this early into a season, but his current numbers place him among the league’s top hitters. Just today, Manny ripped three doubles in a loss to the Padres, including one in the ninth inning. Down five runs in the ninth, and Machado is still working his tail off. There is a lot to be said about a guy that plays as hard as they can in every inning of every game.

His performance on the field is beginning to attract national attention. While Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have dominated the headlines, the Orioles’ third baseman is slowly slugging his way into the conversation. Baseball people everywhere are beginning to see what I saw last season, and what the Orioles must have envisioned when they drafted him.

The question remains, what will the Orioles do with Machado? A converted shortstop, the 20-year old has provided superb defense at third base. JJ Hardy is currently entrenched at shortstop, and he is coming off a season in which he won a Gold Glove. For now, the powers that be, have expressed no urgency in solving this “dilemma”. Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette are happy to let pundits ponder fake trades or draw up hypothetical scenarios about his future. Machado is playing great baseball right now, and why would they mess with a good thing?

In contradiction with most young players, Machado has displayed maturity when asked about the position switch. His “wherever the coach puts me” approach is endearing to a blue-collar fan base that’s been deprived of competitive baseball for over a decade. Each fan has their own opinion on the issue. Some feel that it is easier to find a long-term replacement at third base, and that Manny should slide to short once Hardy’s contract expires. Others think Machado is playing incredibly well at third base, and that moving him would only disrupt his game. A few fans even think Machado must play for the Ravens because there is no way Baltimore talk radio would be spending this much coverage on a baseball player.

It’s impossible to tell what position he will inevitably play, what off the field drama he will run into or even what statistics he will post when he’s 37-years old. While analysts are sitting in their parents’ basements, developing new numbers to find his actual worth, I’ll be watching this kid play the game the way it was meant to be played. Maybe he becomes a star shortstop, or maybe he continues to develop into an amazing third baseman. Either way, that decision won’t be ours to make. For now, we just have to sit back and enjoy watching Manny’s meteoric rise to stardom. One thing is certain about Manny Machado; his jersey will forever hang in my closet, right next to that navy blue Seattle Mariners jersey.

PTY Podcast 5/12/2013

This week, we decided to stick to our strengths. For the most part, the entire show is baseball talk. There has been too much going on in Birdland for the PTY guys to cover alone, so we decided to bring in Bert Rode from Section 336 Podcast.

0:00-11:00 The Rundown: Cal gushes over Tiger Woods, and Sal is still watching NBA games

11:00-18:00 Bert Rode Interview: Our fellow diehard O’s fan, Bert, lends his talents to the program. He even showcases his “Bert’s Story Time” segment.

18:00-38:00 O’s Talk: Joe Pa gives a statistical comparison between Machado, Harper and Trout.

38:00-42:00 PTY Fantasy Challenge: Joe “gets a lap dance” from Chris Davis.

42:00-52:00 Confessions: The three amigos give their confessions, plus Bert reveals one of his own!

As always, thanks for listening. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Be sure to follow us on twitter: @PTYApparel, @JoePappa, @S4LR1NAUD0.

Check out our friends at Section 336 Podcast. Follow them on twitter (@BertRode, @Section336 and @JoshSroka) for awesome Orioles commentary.

Saving Superman

Once regarded as one of the league’s most marketable young players, Dwight Howard has supplanted LeBron James as the least liked man in the NBA. In 2008, while wearing a skin-tight Superman costume, a 23-year old Howard was able to slam dunk his way into the hearts of fans. His game had a childish innocence to it. He played basketball the way people remember playing basketball. Years removed from the politics, the practices and the pressure of performing, people tend to remember that basketball was mostly fun. Sure, they loved watching the Magic center post double-doubles on a nightly basis, but they especially loved his Stan Van Gundy impersonations, his wide smile and his positive demeanor.  

 Four years later, Howard finished his first season in LA in fitting fashion; he was ejected. LeBron James made an unpopular decision, but he stuck to that decision. Howard spent most of 2011-2012 flipping back and forth between staying or leaving Orlando. He wanted to leave. He knew Orlando was incapable of surrounding him with a supporting cast. Howard asked to be traded. When the fans turned on him, he quickly backed off his stance and played dumb. Here’s the kicker: Howard declined his opt-out clause and chose to opt-in for 18 million in 2012-2013. Of course, the drama was only just beginning. The backstabbing of Van Gundy leaked to the media. Howard demanded the coach be fired, but publicly denounced such actions. Finally, in May 2012, ownership fired the incompetent GM Otis Smith, as well as the lame duck coach, Van Gundy.

Rob Hennigan came over from Oklahoma City to be the new GM. When the pair met up in late June, Howard demanded a trade. However, Howard only wanted to be traded to Brooklyn. The Nets offered garbage in return for the big man, knowing that Hennigan’s hand was forced. Finally, after months of rumors and rumblings, a four-team trade was announced.

Dwight Howard could not have handled the situation any worse, but the sport gods have a way of giving 6’11” centers second chances. Instead of being traded to another struggling team, Howard would join Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the artist formerly known as Steve Nash in Los Angeles. What could go wrong?

This past Sunday, Howard left the Staples Center for possibly the last time as a Laker. While he vows to test free agency, many believe that his best bet is to re-sign with the Lakers for a max contract. However, would the maxed out Lakers want to pay a 270-pound complainer a max deal? Despite not fitting into their system, Howard clashed with Kobe Bryant’s “win or die trying” mentality.

That being said, unless you happen to be Nikola Vucevic’s mom, it’s tough to argue that Dwight Howard is not the best center in hoops. Andrew Bynum plays with his afro than a basketball these days, Joakim Noah is kind of a tool and Brook Lopez is never consistently dominant.

Howard would still make any NBA team better (sorry Mrs. Vecevic). He’s thrown more tantrums than two-year old, he’s coming off a shoulder surgery and now has teams questioning his maturity. Allow me to reiterate: he’s still the best center in the NBA. LA will make a push to sign Howard for a couple of reasons. First, they’re the Lakers, and they have a ton of money. Secondly, with Bryant’s injury, they really don’t have any other source of scoring next season.

Howard should spurn the Lakers and the extra cash that he would make by staying in LA (he can sign a 5-year deal with the Lakers, rather than a 4-year deal with anyone else). He’s like a troubled student; he just needs a new teacher to help him realize his potential.

I typically wouldn’t feel bad for a super-rich guy like Dwight Howard that has squandered his opportunities to be loved. This is America, though, and I think Dwight deserves one last chance at happiness. Superman needs to leave Los Angeles. Superman needs a new home, and I’m willing to help him find one. I’m super nice like that.

 1) Atlanta Hawks: For years, people have rumored about Howard’s homecoming to the ATL. The Hawks will have roughly 40 million to play with in cap space. They could easily afford Howard’s max contract, while also retaining the services of his former AAU teammate, Josh Smith. Only one problem: The Hawks have Al Horford locked up at center. The only way this deal would happen, is if another team was willing to deal for Horford. Also, the cap-strapped Hawks would like to re-sign PG Jeff Teague.

2) Charlotte Bobcats: Just kidding. The Bobcats have a better chance of starting Mike Jordan than Dwight Howard next season.

3) Dallas Mavericks: Dallas was one of the original teams that Howard wanted to play for while he was in Orlando. Cuban would help him remake his shattered image. His presence would allow Dirk Nowitzki to play away from the hoop, and give the German gunner another run at a title. Plus, if it didn’t work, the fights between Howard and Cuban would be epic. Dana White, make this happen.

4) Houston Rockets: Picture a starting lineup with James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Lakers could sign Howard, and then they could trade him to Houston for some combination of Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Thomas Robinson. Would the Rockets be willing to part with Lin or Robinson? That’s the only question here. Howard would join a long lineage of star centers in Houston.

5) Minnesota Timberwolves: This one is purely for fun. Rarely in the NBA, do teams trade a franchise player for another franchise player. Kevin Love wants out of Minny, and a trade is inevitable. Love is only 24, played his college ball in LA and he was teammates with Kobe Bryant on the national team. Howard signs with LA, and then two teams swap forwards. Love isn’t a superstar on the same level as Howard, but it would give the Lakers a piece to build around in the future. A Rubio/Howard combo would make the T-Wolves a team to watch in the West.

6) Baltimore Bullets: The city needs a team, first… I’m beginning to think I’m the only one who wants this… Yup, just me. Whatever (dribbles basketball into sunset).

7) Portland Trailblazers: When looking at Portland’s roster, it seems like Howard would be the missing link. Damian Lillard was just named the NBA’s ROY, Nicolas Batum is freakishly athletic and LaMarcus Aldridge is a top 15 player when he’s healthy. Adding Howard to that rotation would allow Aldridge to play away from the rim, which may prevent future injuries. Also, their current center, JJ Hickson, is a free agent. This won’t happen, because who the hell wants to play in Portland?

Baseball’s Finest

            It’s a warm evening at Camden Yards. Jason Hammel just made quick work of the Kansas City Royals, and now the Orioles are coming to bat in the bottom of the first. Music blasts out of the speakers, and Ryan Wagner leans into the microphone. “Now batting for the Baltimore Orioles, center fielder, Mike Trout!”

            Mike Trout was last season’s American League Rookie of the Year. It took the first Triple Crown in over forty seasons to keep him from winning MVP, also. The 21-year old New Jersey native is already in the discussion as the best player in baseball. There are 29 other general managers that would take years off their own lives, if it meant acquiring Trout.

            As poetic justice would have it, there is another young player making a large impact in the National League. Bryce Harper, the first pick in the 2010 draft, helped Washington host their first playoff series since 1933. So far in 2013, Harper is in the top three in both batting average and home runs.

            The national media has obsessed over these two superstars for the last year, arguing which is a better player. Many analysts and pundits are quick to take Trout, but others are just as willing to select Harper. Each of these players would be a lovely addition to any team in the league.

            While the debate raged on, another rookie made his MLB debut earlier than expected. After his team called him up to the big leagues, no team had a higher fielding percentage. By switching positions, he solidified a hole on the roster, and he propelled his team into the playoffs. Of course, the prospect’s name was Manny Machado.

            Often times when debating the best young player in baseball, Machado’s name is left out of the conversation. Despite his versatility, most people believe that Trout and Harper are head and shoulders above any other young player.

            Everyone has their own answer. Some love the base stealing ability of Mike Trout. Some love the bat speed and power of Bryce Harper. Some love the enormous arm strength of Manny Machado. In fact, when the PTY Podcast guys had their choice, each of them selected a different player.

            Imagine this: MLB breaks up its teams to promote parity among the league. Each owner is allowed to pick a new team in a snake draft format (team that picks last in the first round, would get first pick in the second round). Which of these star players would be selected first?