I had a chance to talk today to former Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the rival New York Yankees.
Roberts, 36, can make up to $4.6 million total in 2014 if he reaches 650 plate appearances (it’s an escalating bonus scale that starts at 250 plate appearances).
He is coming off a four-year, $40 million contract extension with the Orioles, the organization that selected him as a supplemental first-round pick in the 1999 first-year player draft. Roberts played 13 seasons with the Orioles, made two All-Star teams and was the face of the franchise – at least until myriad injuries limited him to just 192 games in the past four seasons.
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He talks about leaving the Orioles, joining the Yankees, disappointment in never playing in the playoffs for the Orioles and his comments to the Yankees-owned YES Network last week that rankled some Orioles’ fans feathers.
Here is the interview:
To start, what are your thoughts on no longer being an Oriole?
"It’s definitely something that I’m not sure I ever really envisioned. Once I got to a certain point in my career, I just had the feeling or belief that I would play my entire career as an Oriole. It’s something that certainly was very high on my priority list and something that I felt was very special to be able to do. But it didn’t turn out that way. But it doesn’t take away from the 14 or 15 years -- or how many I had been in the organization -- and the time I had there. It doesn’t -- and never will -- detract from that, because every opportunity and every day that I had to be an Oriole was more than I could have ever dreamed of. But at this point it just didn’t happen.”
What it’s like now being a Yankee?
“You know, I’m very excited. I’m excited for the opportunity to continue playing. I am excited for the next stage and being part of a tremendous franchise with so much history. And I think if I was going to have an opportunity to keep playing, I wanted to do it in a setting where I had an opportunity to accomplish something I haven’t had an opportunity to do -- which is hopefully play in the playoffs and have a chance to win a World Series. And I thought going to New York gave me a great opportunity to do that.”
You told the YES Network in a recent interview that you felt it was “time to move on.” What did you mean by that?
“I think some people may have taken that in a different way than I said it. The only thing I meant by that was that I was really moving on because the opportunity to be an Oriole wasn’t there anymore. And that’s perfectly OK. I understand 100 percent that it is a business. And my time there had been great. Obviously, there had been some ups and downs in the past couple years. That was hard on me as an individual and baseball player and hard on the organization, I’m sure, to not have someone on the field that they counted on. So when I said it was time to move on, that was really the only option I had to continue playing, was to move on at that point. That’s what I meant. I didn’t mean it, by any means, that I chose another organization over the Orioles. That wasn’t what happened, and that really wasn’t an option. It was time to move on, and I think the signs were very clear that that was what was going to happen."
The Orioles never approached you in the offseason about a deal and you never approached them. What happened there?
“I think, as I said, I understand that this is a business, and at some point that’s what it becomes. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in one place. Every organization comes to a point where they have to do the best for that organization, and whether that means trading a really good player or not signing a player that’s been there a long time or whatever it might be. I think that’s where it had gotten to. We really didn’t have any conversations about it. I don’t think it’s my place as a player to necessarily go to an organization and ask for a job. So I didn’t think it was my place to try and force an issue and put the organization in a situation where they felt like they needed to -- out of guilt or anything else -- to [re-sign me]. I wanted it to be that both parties wanted it to happen. And I think I made it clear at the end of the season when I talked to [Orioles] people and the media and anybody else that the Orioles would be my No. 1 choice. I don’t think that I ever wavered on that. But I also think on the last day of the season, that when the game was over, that [would be] it, that was a possibility. And I was OK with that. I became OK with that as a player. And there are no hard feelings. The organization and the fans and everyone in Baltimore have been incredible to me my whole career. I wouldn’t have changed a thing, except I wish I could have been on the field a little bit more the last couple years. But other than that, I wouldn’t change anything.”
The sense is that with your strong relationship with the Angelos family you could have contacted owner Peter Angelos and told him that you wanted to stay this year and it would have happened. And you didn’t do that. Why?
“I have so much respect for the Angelos family and the relationship we have had has been something that has been a huge blessing to myself and my family. At first, I didn’t think it was my place to use that leverage stick to come back. As I said earlier, I really wanted it to be something that happened because the people in the organization wanted it to happen and felt like I could be an asset to the team. And I’m not saying that they don’t think I could be that or whatever. But the way it played out, it just seemed like it wasn’t what was going to happen and I didn’t feel like it was my place to do that. Maybe some people will look at it differently, but from my standpoint, that’s just the only way I’ve ever worked, and the way I feel it should work, so that’s really the reason why [I didn’t call Angelos]. But I have talked to the Angelos family [since], I have had great conversations with them, and I hope, and I think they know, the way I feel about them and everything they did for me and my family.”
Some Orioles’ fans were rankled by your comments to YES Network that many players grow up thinking about the Yankees’ pinstripes, you included. What are your thoughts on that?
“When I made the comments the other day, it seemed like somebody tried to take it as a dagger to Orioles fans. My point of saying that a lot of kids dream about putting that uniform on, I didn’t mean that as a jab at the Orioles or Orioles fans. My point was I had pictures of me as a kid in a Yankees uniform playing in the backyard because my dad [former University of North Carolina head baseball coach Mike Roberts] had a player that played for the Yankees (Scott Bradley), and I think it is something a lot of kids do dream of. Playing on that stage because of the 27 championships or whatever they have now. But I didn’t mean that as a dagger, and I hope that [Orioles fans] didn’t take it that way. The only thing I meant was that I am excited for this opportunity, and I hope there is nothing wrong with that. I would hope that anyone that comes to the Orioles, who signs on there, would be excited about that opportunity as well.”
Have you heard the sentiment that Orioles fans understood you leaving, but were disappointed you ended up with the Yankees? Did you think about that wrinkle while making the decision?
“Of course, I’ve heard that sentiment before. I’m pretty sure. But I guess, honestly, I can’t say that I let that weigh too much into my decision. I had to take the best opportunity for myself and my family that was available. And we felt like that was the best opportunity when it came to everything we were looking for, when it came to an opportunity to play and an opportunity to win and several other things that our family was looking at. It was just the best opportunity. And I understand that [sentiment] more than anyone. When I put on that Orioles uniform for 13 years, I felt the same way as the fans did [about the Yankees]. But now I’m pretty excited to be a part of their side, and that’s where I am now, and I am going to embrace it, and I hope the fans understand that it was an opportunity and I am excited about that.”
When you look back at your Orioles’ career, what memories stand out for you?