Dave Trembley turned 56 yesterday, but Andy MacPhail gave him his birthday present more than two months ago. Orioles fans got one, too.
The present to the suffering Orioles faithful: less suffering this week. Pause today to remind yourself how glad you are that your team isn't lurching through the game of managerial musical chairs that one team (the New York Yankees) just played, and another team (the Los Angeles Dodgers) is playing.
And that your team didn't take the low road the way those two supposedly reputable franchises did. The Orioles locked Trembley in for the 2008 season Aug. 22, largely to avoid offseason charades such as the ones playing out now. How right do they look now, steering clear of the slop the Yankees and Dodgers are dragging everybody through, all the burned bridges and hurt feelings left behind?
Trembley is grateful. MacPhail is resolute. The kind of new Orioles president said in the summer that he liked the rapport between him and Trembley, the shared values, and said they had more important things to do in the offseason than troll the manager market - no matter how tasty the produce might look by then.
MacPhail feels just as strongly now. In fact, he was surprised to hear that there was still any question about the wisdom of the move. "I haven't heard anything about it," MacPhail said yesterday.
"We're doing what we have to do as a franchise to use its economic resources to build a foundation, to improve at the instructional level, to change the culture of the place, to dedicate itself to fundamentals," he added. "Our margin for error is thin."
See if the marquee names bubbling around since the end of the regular season fit into that equation. Tony La Russa? Joe Torre? Grady Little? Joe Girardi does. MacPhail offered the job to him first. He was not about to drop the Yankees in favor of the Orioles. Mighty arrogant and diva-like for a guy with one losing and contentious season of managerial experience, sure, but you can't blame Girardi.
As for the rest, the Orioles have followed that recipe before, not with managers, but with players. That old mind-set would get the Orioles in the running for a certain all-universe, thin-skinned, self-absorbed pig of a free-agent third baseman, whether he wanted to come to Baltimore or not. Same for an aging, successful yet also self-absorbed and attention-starved ace pitcher from the newly crowned World Series champs. And, of course, for a surly, asterisk-speckled home run king.
This Orioles' brain trust, though, appears to be done trying to use paychecks as Band-Aids, at least for now. You'd like to think this fan base is past being suckered into buying into this team with big names. MacPhail and Trembley seem to think so. If they're going with recognizable names, apparently they're going with them on the coaching staff (John "T-bone" Shelby) and front office (the more MacPhails, the better).
"We've had a plan," Trembley said yesterday, "and Mr. MacPhail has been tremendous in supporting what I want to do." He repeated the line about changing the culture and identified what needed changing: "It's not good to masquerade as a big leaguer." He chuckled. "That's a good term to use today, isn't it?"
"Masquerade," he meant, on Halloween. "Big leaguer" is a good term to use any day, especially around here. Trembley used it to describe Shelby, his new first base coach. He said he hopes to have more former Orioles come to spring training and spread the big league gospel. He also used the term when describing what qualities he wants eventually in his bench coach and what he wants that coach to espouse.
Ask yourself: Who has acted big league on the Yankees or Dodgers in the past week or so? Not many, perhaps not even Torre, who exited the Bronx with class but might be an accomplice in bum-rushing Little out of Chavez Ravine. It has all been so unsavory, it's a wonder that Bill Belichick, Pat Riley and Isiah Thomas aren't involved.
Be big league.
With that as the Orioles' mantra, it made perfect sense to start instilling it as soon as possible, and that meant locking up Trembley and not looking back. The temptation to look back got strong that very night, as history (30-3) will forever remind us, and it stayed strong. But it isn't strong now, not even with the managerial names floating around.
The Orioles handled their business quickly, decisively and professionally. Teams that are perpetual Series contenders apparently can afford to let such details slide, but the Orioles can't.
Good for the Orioles that they didn't let them slide. That's why they already have a seat in the musical chairs game. And why they are sitting there with clean hands.