In early May, before things went all wrong for the 2007 Orioles, owner Peter Angelos was in a relaxed mood in his private box at Camden Yards. But when a writer casually asked Angelos if he still enjoyed owning the team, Angelos said, "I've never enjoyed this."
Especially now. The Orioles are 29-40, they're in last place in the American League East, and they've lost eight games in a row, including three at home to the rival Nationals, which led to the firing of manager Sam Perlozzo. His departure soon will be followed by the naming of Andy MacPhail as chief operating officer of a team in desperate need of change.
"We tried to make it work," said Orioles general manager Mike Flanagan. "It wasn't one game or one decision [by Perlozzo] that led to this. We felt it [the season] was slipping away."
Perlozzo was, at best, an average manager. In going 122-164 in parts of three seasons as Orioles manager, the complaint with Perlozzo was that he was organized to a fault. He would have his bullpen lined up with his sixth-inning guy, his seventh-inning guy and his eighth-inning guy. But if the game deviated from his plan, he didn't always adjust in-game. And it didn't help his cause that he didn't have the best working relationship with co-GM Jim Duquette.
But Perlozzo is not the reason why the Orioles are in last place; their problems run deeper than this season. They're on their way to their 10th consecutive sub-.500 season as attendance continues to drop, and, inconceivably, apathy has set in. This year, the Orioles are second-to-last in the American League in runs scored. They are last in home runs. They spent an enormous amount of money in the offseason to upgrade what was a horrible bullpen in 2006, but the 'pen has been equally bad this season with an 8-18 record, the most bullpen losses in the major leagues. The Orioles haven't been the same since the 'pen gave up six runs in the ninth on Mother's Day in Boston, leading to a horrible 6-5 loss.
"In my 30 years of baseball, these are the toughest five weeks I've ever experienced. I've never seen so many bad breaks or bad hops," Flanagan said. "I don't want to call it bad luck, but almost nightly, something bizarre has happened."
So many difficult losses have exasperated everyone connected to the team. "We were worried about the morale of the club," Flanagan said. "Sammy was frustrated. It was time to loosen that spring."
But it's more than the Orioles not having enough hitters and having a bad bullpen; they don't have a team leader. First baseman/DH Kevin Millar is the closest they have to one, but he said there were too many factions within the team last year and, he said, "I've having trouble pulling everyone together." That problem, he said, seemed to be solved early in the season with the addition of veteran relievers Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker, but the Orioles haven't gotten the leadership they need from third baseman Melvin Mora (the Oriole with the longest tenure) or shortstop Miguel Tejada (who has the best track record).
A change in leadership came Monday. Orioles coach Dave Trembley was named interim manager. He has managed 20 years in the minor leagues and has been a member of the Orioles' organization for the last five years. With the illness to Orioles bench coach Tom Trebelhorn's wife this year, Trembley has served as bench coach at times, and, from all accounts, has done well. He interviewed for the manager's job once before; Flanagan called it "one of the best interviews I've ever heard." He likely will be just an interim, but Flanagan said the team is proceeding as if Trembley will manage for an extended period.
The Orioles are planning on contacting former Marlins manager Joe Girardi, the National League Manager of the Year in 2006, who was fired by the Marlins mainly because his authoritarian style clashed with the Marlins' front office, including ownership. But he might be precisely what the Orioles need. Angelos admires smart, stubborn, arrogant, confrontational, take-charge guys because that, basically, is what he is. But it's not as simple as Girardi being offered the job, then taking it. Is a non-contending team the right job for him? Is he going to wait to see if Yankees manager Joe Torre will return next season?
The bigger move for the Orioles will be the naming of MacPhail as COO. MacPhail comes from a long line of baseball executives, including his father, Lee, a former American League president. No one knows how to run a baseball team better than Andy MacPhail, who has a good relationship with Angelos after the two worked together on the labor negotiations several years ago. MacPhail will replace the departed Joe Foss, who is a banker and was never a baseball guy.
One of MacPhail's first jobs -- along with Flanagan's and Duquette's -- will be the decisions made at the July 31 trading deadline, specifically involving Tejada. Last year, the Orioles came close to trading Tejada to the Angels, but the Angels wouldn't give up a third player. The Orioles came close to trading Tejada to the Astros, but in that three-way deal, the Astros were unwilling to send a player to the Rangers. It might be best for all parties to deal Tejada to a contender for two young players, then continue to try to rebuild the organization with youth.
The biggest move for the Orioles will come when Cal Ripken Jr. buys the team from Angelos. Ripken has the group -- and the desire -- to own the team someday, and from all indications, Angelos someday will sell to Ripken. But it's even more clear that Angelos is not ready to sell anytime soon. He wants to win in Baltimore. Then he would enjoy owning the team. Finally.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His new book "Is This a Great Game, Or What?" has been published by St. Martin's Press and just became available in bookstores Tuesday. Click here to order a copy. In addition, click here to subscribe to The Magazine.