Those of us who wax nostalgic about the days when star players stayed with their teams throughout their careers – such as Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken — realize that such times are ancient history. But if Manny Machado is traded or sold elsewhere (especially — perish the thought! — to an American League rival) many diehard Baltimore Orioles fans will seriously consider swearing off the hometown team for good.
Brooks, who just turned 80, still comes up in conversation as an honest legend in his own time, but many of those who saw him in his heyday might reluctantly concede that Manny has greater range, a better arm and a more explosive bat. No less important nowadays is that Manny also has an established and strong fan base here.
That fact seems to be lost on Orioles management, which appears to be champing at the bit to shop him around. Right now the most serious suitors seem to be Chicago’s Cubs and White Sox. A trade to either would still be terrible, but far better than a trade to the New York Yankees, which has a the long and storied history of depredation.
By hook, crook or circumstance, New York has plucked some of the best Orioles feathers over the years. We may not be able to count Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler in that group; the inventor of the “Baltimore chop” hit a still-standing 0.424 for Ned Hanlon’s Orioles in 1897 before the team relocated to New York in 1903 as the Highlanders (renamed the Yankees in 1913). And Babe Ruth, born and raised in Baltimore, played for Boston before he was sold to the Yankees in 1919.
But our modern-era, big-league franchise has certainly seen its share of unfortunate exoduses to the Bronx. Some say the plundering began in late 1954, when the Orioles and Yankees engineered the largest two-team trade involving 17 players, the biggeset swap in major league history. The Orioles parted with pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen; in 1956 Mr. Larsen, now 88, pitched the only perfect game in World Series history, and Turley, who died in 2013, went on to win the 1958 Cy Young Award. Others left of their own accord for the greener (as in bigger bucks) pastures of Gotham, like Mike Mussina, lured away in 2000 by an $88.5 million contract. Mr. Mussina won at least 11 games in 17 consecutive seasons — an American League record. Reggie Jackson, who put in a perfunctory season here in 1976, couldn’t wait to escape Charm City for the Big Apple.
Mr. Machado, on the other hand, is a home-grown athlete — an Oriole ever since he was drafted in 2010 and farmed through minor-league affiliates in the Gulf Coast League Orioles, the Aberdeen IronBirds, the Delmarva Shorebirds and the Frederick Keys. He was introduced to Baltimore fans in a September 2010 series against the Yankees, who have probably been salivating over him ever since.
Trading Manny might likewise be the last straw for fans who have witnessed the full deflowering of the national pastime into a corporate mongoose, whose primary and overwhelming motivation appears always to fatten its bottom-line profits. It would confirm the widely held view that loyal local spectators are good only for the tickets they buy — if in fact they can still afford them on an average blue-collar income. Many of them will tell you that the season is already extended at least 25 games past its reasonable shelf-life.
The Orioles, one of two dozen teams not likely to make the playoffs, don’t seem to care.
Witness their cavalier cutoff of games not televised on their wholly-owned Mid-Atlantic Sports Network — short shrift indeed for fans who cannot afford to pay for cable. Moreover, has management considered the effect that selling Mr. Machado might have on the rest of the team’s few other talented young players? For Jonathan Schoop, Trey Mancini and Zach Britton, the thought undoubtedly will cross their minds that management is less interested in building a solid team for the future than it is in unloading high salaries.
Even before New York sopped up its current crop of high-priced pin-stripers, being a natural-born Yankee-hater — which used to provide a certain perverse pleasure to folks around the country — may no longer be worth the effort.
There’s always the possibility that Manny will end up where he belongs — that he’ll realize and appreciate the place where he’s adulated, that he’ll make more than enough money to keep him happy and that he’ll stick with the Birds.
Kenneth Lasson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.