The Bums of Baltimore?

This article was originally published in The Sting on October 1, 2020.

Photo: The San Diego Union-Tribune

In 1939, Willard Mullin of the New York World Telegram got into a taxi and asked the driver how the hapless Brooklyn Dodgers were doing. 

“Dem bums are bums,” the cab driver said.

The name stuck as long as the Dodgers were in Brooklyn despite numerous World Series appearances and a title in 1955. But it’s hardly fitting to call them that anymore. In the past eight years, they have made the postseason every year, with World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. 

If we were to bestow the “dem bums” title upon another team, who would it be?

Easily, the Baltimore Orioles.

Now I don’t say that to be ungenerous. In fact, I’m a lifelong Orioles fan who makes about five or six games a year, in addition to Ironbirds and Keys games. However, this is the fourth year in a row that the Orioles losing record has disappointed me. Night after night (or Sunday afternoon), I sat in front of my television screaming at the poor performance or sheer horrible luck that plagued my favorite team.

2020 has been a bizarre year across the board. Baseball has been no exception. After postponing the season during spring training in March, baseball returned in Julyfor a 60-game season, a little more than ⅓ the length of a normal season. There were unorthodox new rules, including a universal DH, placing a runner on second base during extra innings, and 7-inning double headers.

Despite the unconventional changes, the season went on. The Orioles, described last season as “hapless” by Sports Illustrated, had a better performance this year, even finishing ahead of the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Even with some slight improvements, the Orioles still have some inadequate areas.

For starters, the team needs drasticrefinement in baserunning. Third-base coach Jose Flores was sloppy at his job, often signaling runners to advance when there wasn’t enough time, leading to easy outs. Ferocity in the style of the great Pete Rose should be admired, but not stupidity that sees your players getting thrown out when they have a chance to score runs if they had just been held at second or third for another at-bat.

Pitching still torments the Orioles too. Despite the team improving their ERA by one whole run, a 4.51 ERA is still a staunch reminder that the Orioles pitchers have their work cut out for them. Starters and the bullpen both have been mediocre at best. Cole Sulser, who seemed like Brandon Hyde’s go-to guy in the bullpen, has a long way to go if he’s hoping to be in a class with former Orioles O’Day and Britton.

Dean Kremer, the first Israeli to be drafted by an MLB team, made his major league debut this season with a respectable .500 record and a 4.82 ERA. Not great, but the 24-year old has promise. Heading into next season, I hope he’ll be able to improve his ERA and walk percentage, and become a solid part of the Orioles’ pitching rotation.

Perhaps the best news on these fronts is that Jose Flores and pitching coach Doug Brocail are gone, with the organization announcing Wednesday that they wouldn’t return.

The Orioles also saw their fair share of tragedy this year. In March, outfielder Trey Mancini was diagnosed with colon cancer and missed the entire shortened season to undergo chemotherapy treatments. One of the Orioles’ most valuable players, Mancini was immensely missed in the lineup this year as other players tried to pick up the slack where they could. Mancini recently finished his treatments at Johns Hopkins, so he will hopefully be deemed cancer free and will be able to return to the team next year.

Ace pitcher John Means was dealt a blow when his father died after a battle with pancreatic cancer in early August. Upon his return from the bereavement list, Means was in poor form.

Dealing with feelings of anger over his father’s death, Means was unable to control his pitching. He dealt with those personal issues and was able to finish the season on a strong note, including two quality starts in September.

And then there’s Chris Davis: the bane of the Orioles’ existence. Davis again had a disappointing year, finishing the season with an abysmal .115 batting average. Although he spent most of the short season on the IL, Davis hasn’t looked good since 2015 when he hit .262. The Orioles are stuck paying him $23 million a year through the 2022 season.

So, glass half-empty or glass half-full? 

The Orioles still have a long way to go before they approach their former glory from the era of Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson, but they’re starting to get on the right track. Only making the playoffs three times in the last 20 years, the Orioles really are bums. 

But at the end of the day, who cares if they’re bums? I still love the Orioles, and so do many long-enduring Baltimoreans. The Red Sox waited 86 years for a World Series title. The Cubs waited 108. We’ve only been waiting 37.

The Orioles will get there, but I hope we won’t have to wait much longer.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting.

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