A's and O's - a glance back, a look ahead

As if a three-game winning streak isn't enough to temporarily squelch the "Woe is us" crowd, the plight of this weekend's opponent- the Baltimore Orioles- should serve as a reminder to A's fans everywhere that things could always be worse.  This from our sister site, Camden Chat:

It's fun to joke around when your team has lost for eleven years and it's a weeknight west coast game against a crappy team. But it sure is not fun to watch your team lose four out of five when they had just won five straight and they clearly, clearly should have had this game in the bag. 

It's the kind of thing that can make the kids on the roster think the team is snakebit. Which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are used to mediocrity in Baltimore, and that's not a good thing. You can damn betcha there are other towns where ineptitude on this level would be all over the news after the game.

Sound familiar, folks?  And we've only had a little over two seasons worth of steam to blow off. 

You kids are spoiled, I say.

And since I am in one of those story-telling moods, gather around children, and let Uncle 67M tell you about that wacky and wonderful period when the A's and O's were good.  Frighteningly good.  At the same time!  It was the era before six-team divisions and wild-cards, when finishing first actually counted for something.

Beat the Birds

 

But let's go back even further.

Before they were the Baltimore Orioles, they were the Milwaukee Brewers, for one season, in 1901.  (To add to the confusion, the New York Yankees were called the Baltimore Orioles for the first two years of the American League's existence).

From 1902-53 the Orioles were stationed in St. Louis, and were known as the Browns.  Only nine times did they win more than they lost, and they were downright awful from 1947-55, averaging 97 losses for nine seasons.

Gaedel 

The Browns brought in Eddie Gaedel to draw fans.

{67M: Yes, Rated-R Superstar?}
{Rated-R Superstar: You said something about a "good" part?}
{67M: Patience, grasshopper.}

Yes it is true.  It was as brief as it was beautiful.  Keep in mind that the A's and Orioles have produced winning seasons in the same year just 16 times since 1901 (come on, everyone knows that).  But nine of those came in succession, from 1968-76, coinciding with the A's first years in Oakland.

The Orioles had already gotten the jump, winning 97, 94, and 97 games from 1964-66, the third year producing the franchise's first World Championship. When the American and National Leagues each split into two divisions in 1969, Baltimore spent the next three seasons dominating the sport like few others before or since.  They became just the second ball club to win 100 or more games three years running (the first were the Philadelphia A's of 1929-31); only four teams have accomplished that trifecta. Each season ended with a trip to the World Series, with the O's winning their second title in 1970.

It was in 1971 that the Oakland A's made the playoffs for the first time, and the novices were no match for the seasoned vets of Baltimore, who swept the ALCS in three straight.  But the torch was passed the following year with the A's earning the first of three consecutive appearances in the Fall Classic.  So for those of you who lost count- there were six straight Series' where the American League was represented by either the A's or the O's.

'71

Here's hoping we don't see a repeat of this sweeping scenario this weekend versus the O's.

 

Oakland and Baltimore met twice more in the post-season with the A's prevailing in five games in 1973, and needing nine less innings the following year.  After dropping the opener of the 1974 ALCS, Oakland hurlers allowed just one run in the next three games, and that came in the ninth inning of the deciding contest.

07- ken alcs 208- blue alcs 3 
Ken Holtzman and Vida Blue fired back-to-back shutouts in the 1974 ALCS.

While the A's amazing championship run came to an abrupt end, the O's continued to shine, making a Series trip in 1979 (losing in seven games) and another in 1983 (winning in five).  By 1988, they were teams headed in stunningly opposite directions.  The A's burst out of the gate that year (24-7, including a 14-game win streak) while the Orioles floundered, losing their first 21 games of the season.

SI 1988

 

Baltimore was back in the playoffs in '96, after a 13-year hiatus.  Thanks to the Yankees and a young boy named Jeffrey Maier, it was a painful visit.  The O's lost in the ALCS that season and the next, and haven't sniffed October baseball since.

{67M: What is it whiteshoes40?}
{whiteshoes40: This is all very, um, interesting, but do you have anything that is not so, you know, prehistoric?}
{67M: Actually, I do! After all it's a preview/review.}

First, let's turn to SC over at Camden Chat:

Quick Recap: The O's (24-30) sit in last place in the AL East as expected, but there have been some genuine bright spots. Adam Jones (1.002 OPS, 11 HR) is showing his superstar potential after a rocky yet promising 2008, and right fielder Nick Markakis (.833 OPS) is continuing his solid production. Luke Scott is flat-out slaying pitchers this season (1.060 OPS, 12 HR). The real key has been seeing some of the younger stars in action. Pitchers David Hernandez, Jason Berken and Brad Bergesen (lesser pitching prospects in the system) have been given shots with dead weight veteran Adam Eaton being mercy-killed from the roster recently. Oh yeah: All-world prospect Matt Wieters is coming to your town.

Be Concerned With: Scott, who is red-hot, and Jones, who has been excellent. Markakis and Brian Roberts have been what you'd expect of them, and Aubrey Huff is hitting, though not like he did last season. Young outfielder Nolan Reimold still has some flaws, but he can launch the ball.

Don't Be Concerned With: Melvin Mora is an old man in baseball years, and he's hitting like it this season. He did the same thing in the first half last year before catching absurd fire in the latter part of the season, which made for season stats that were somewhat an illusion. None of the pitching should scare anyone. In fact, the bullpen should send opposing hitters into a fit of glee.

Appreciate the time, SC!

***

And now a Q&A with Matt Sadler, who helps run http://rightoffrussell.com - a blog dedicated to Baltimore sports.

67M:  The O's have averaged 90 losses in the last eleven seasons- and surely playing in the AL East is not exactly what the doctor ordered. Is there any real hope for this team to contend any time soon?

MS: I think so, but I think they are about 2 years away. For the first time in years, the O's have a stocked farm system. Most of the talent is in pitching. Best part is that we haven't even seen the studs in the major leagues. Look for names like Tillman, Arrieta, Patton, and Matusz. Offensively, the team has made a commitment to veterans Markakis and Roberts. Combined with young guns like Wieters and Adam Jones, expect the Orioles to rise from the ashes ala Tampa Bay.

67M: Baltimore has struggled on the mound- second to last in ERA- who have been the bright spots?

MS: Going into the Oakland series, the O's are only carrying one of their opening day starters. There has been a complete turnover with Rich Hill, Brad Bergeson, Jason Berken, and David Hernandez. All four of them have had strong starts and some not so strong starts. So O's fans have been ecstatic with the results so far, and to think these guys aren't considered the cream of the crop.

67M: The O's are not exactly striking fear into opposing pitchers either (we can relate), what with eight runs in their last five games. Thank goodness for (recent Player of the Week) Luke Scott, huh?

MS: Luke has been amazing... no doubt about that. While the team has been struggling scoring runs, they have been getting on base. Mistakes on the base paths, lack of clutch hitting are more to blame. I think those things even out throughout the year.

67M: Part of the reality of backing a mediocre team is trying to figure out who the lone All-Star rep might be. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Adam Jones (.345/.399/.603) is the O's front runner?

MS: I think you are right on that one. Jones is a stud. He can catch, throw, hit, run, etc. His numbers are outstanding. If Luke Scott keeps up this pace, we might see 2 Oriole All-Stars.

67M: Speaking of Jones, while the A's weren't terribly thrilled to see Erik Bedard in their division, how would you rate the trade some 20 months later? 

MS: As an O's fan, we are thrilled with the results. Jones has been wonderful. George Sherrill has been a serviceable closer. We hope to see Chris Tillman strutting his stuff by the end of the season. Fans loved Bedard but the team was having a difficult time coming to terms with him on a long term deal. We get to enjoy Tillman and Jones much longer.

67M: Your thoughts on Dave Trembley?

MS: No one really blames Trembley for the O's problems. He's a good strong coach. No flashiness. He commands the respect of the players and they seem to play hard for him. The fans are more excited about the future as opposed to worrying about the current state of the team. I think Trembley is safe through next year.

67M: A's fans get their first glimpse of Matt Wieters this weekend. Small sample sizes be damned, what are your impressions thus far? Good as advertised? I mean, the guy was the inspiration for this T-shirt: "Matt Wieters Is So Good Jim Palmer Stopped Talking About Himself".

MS: I've been following him pretty closely all year so it is challenging to separate Wieters the Oriole vs Wieters the Tide (Norfolk).  Based on his numbers in AAA, his results in the MLB so far are not surprising. What I think makes Wieters special is that he has given a city hope again in their ball team. He knows the expectations and he has handled everything with class. Will he live up to the hype? Who knows, but for now it sure is fun to see excitement in Camden Yards.

Thanks, Matt!

***

And speaking of Wieters, this got a chuckle out of me. Some highlights:

All anyone has been talking about for four days has been, "Wieters is on his way!" The O's fans actually gave him a standing O before his first at-bat...I guess for breathing.

Don't you think we should see a few at bats before we buy him a plane ticket to Cooperstown?

Forgive me for not wetting my pants with joy over a completely unproven rookie.

Just imagine if he was a Yankee. We'd be hearing how he was the 3rd coming of Christ. We all know that Joba Chamberlain is the 2nd coming of Christ.

And if you enjoyed that, how about these from a site dedicated to the highly-touted prospect:

Matt Wieters' At Bat Music Is A Moment Of Silence. For The Pitcher.

Some Day, Matt Wieters Will Make The Cooperstown Crowd Laugh By Talking About The Time He Batted Behind Melvin Mora And Luke Scott

Michael Lewis Sadistically Plans To Include Wieters In His Follow-up To Moneyball, Thus Forcing Joe Morgan To Like It.

Good stuff.

It's the A's and O's so mind your P's and Q's.  At least until tonight. Game time is 7:05.  Thread and lineups to follow.

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