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Thursday, April 13, 2006
Updated: April 18, 1:31 PM ET
Worst franchise: Orioles

By Graham Hays
Page 2

It might be better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all -- especially if it involves Jessica Alba -- but fans of the Baltimore Orioles will attest that it's far worse to have spent and lost than never to have spent at all.

The Orioles ought to be a picture of baseball virility. They play in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a stadium that has slipped gracefully from cutting edge to landmark status as the forefather of retro ballparks. They have a storied history involving names like John McGraw, Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken. And until recently, they had the baseball market in and around the nation's capital to themselves.

Unfortunately, they also have Peter Angelos.

Arguably the most successful ambulance chaser in the history of American jurisprudence -- imagine a rebel alliance that made you feel sorry for Darth Vader and you have Angelos winning class-action lawsuits against tobacco and asbestos interests -- he has watched over exactly three winning seasons since leading a group of investors in purchasing the Orioles for $173 million in August 1993.

Orioles: Past Five Years
Year Record Pct.
2005 74-88 .457
2004 78-84 .481
2003 71-91 .438
2002 67-95 .414
2001 63-98 .391
Last winning season: 1997
Last playoff season: 1997

Making it all the more painful for fans is the fact that few people not named Hilton get less for their money than Angelos, who seems plenty content to make an occasional splashy free-agent signing and meddle in local politics rather than rebuild a farm system that conjures up images of the parched landscapes in "The Grapes of Wrath."

Until and unless recent first-round picks Adam Loewen and Nick Markakis pan out, the best the Orioles have done in the opening round of the draft during Angelos' tenure is Jayson Werth -- who never played a game for Baltimore before being traded to Toronto for forgettable pitcher John Bale.

Meanwhile, in just the last five years, the Orioles paid:

And we haven't even gotten to the Faustian bargain that was Rafael Palmeiro at just $3 million for the 2005 season.

The few fans who gamely attempted to support last year's collection of overpriced talent in person -- attendance was down more than 13,000 fans a game from its peak in 1997 -- were forced to confront the moral predicament inspired by watching Palmeiro slink to the plate after a steroid suspension that was handed down just days after he basked in the glow of their adoration that surrounded his 3,000th career hit.

The worst franchise in sports?

The Orioles make the Nationals, a team still under the control of MLB, look like a model of efficiency and optimism. And if you can make Bud Selig look good, you must be doing something wrong.

The Orioles aren't lovable losers or unlucky losers; they're just losers.

Graham Hays is an editor for ESPN.com's SportsNation. He can be reached at graham.hays@espn3.com.