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MacPhail is again taking his time

It was a different job, a different town and a different time. You might have missed it because Orioles fans were still on their honeymoon, sipping mojitos with their favorite team's new owner. In the fall of 1994, back in Chicago, a newly hired Andy MacPhail addressed reporters and, according to published reports at the time, talked about building a winner in a city frustrated from years of losing.

"I've had my name spelled with an 'F,'" MacPhail said. And he was right. Two days before he even accepted the gig as Chicago Cubs president, a local columnist, known for breathing fire and penning poison, introduced fans to the phrase "MacFail," which the writer would use nearly two dozen more times in the ensuing years.

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"It's hard to come here and preach patience in Chicago," MacPhail continued. "But my plan has three points: solid, slow and unspectacular."

Fast-forward: Baltimore, 2008 ...

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Solid?

Slow?

Unspectacular?

Let's come back to this in a second. With less than two weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we're no longer talking about the Erik Bedard Trade. It's now the Erik Bedard Ordeal. Or Fiasco. Or Debacle.

Put me in the camp that still thinks the Bedard-to-Seattle swap will take place. And the Orioles eventually will be better because of it.

But make no mistake: Even if the deal does go down, damage has already been done.

For practical purposes, bringing MacPhail on board last spring didn't instantly change the Orioles' direction or guiding philosophies or operational practices. A message was sent throughout baseball circles, however, that in Baltimore, a mechanism for change was finally in place. What remained unsaid - and unknown - was just how much change was truly possible.

What message do you think was passed around the baseball world the past several days?

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New boss, same old Orioles.

I say that without knowing all of the details surrounding the stalled trade talks between MacPhail and the Mariners. The trade could ultimately happen, and we might learn that the impediments were minor and insignificant. We might learn that owner Peter Angelos played an inconsequential role. We might learn that through cunning and savvy, MacPhail managed to rob the Mariners blind.

But it won't matter. Perception need not reflect reality. And the way this trade talk has played out has reflected poorly on the Orioles, mostly because baseball insiders - and outsiders, too - view it in the context of the team's bumbling recent history. The Orioles have a reputation for being difficult to deal with, for having a meddling owner, for sitting on offers, for allowing minute details to block deals, for asking too much and giving too little.

Still in the early stages of his great reconstruction project, MacPhail had a chance to recast the team's reputation. And to be fair, by all accounts, he was well on his way. In fact, if popular opinion were rooted in fairness, we would have to agree that he had already exorcised many of the ghosts who had stuck around from previous administrations to haunt the team.

Remember that Miguel Tejada deal? It was relatively quick and painless. Though the Orioles were publicly shopping the All-Star shortstop around and MacPhail had been in a variety of talks for weeks, the completion of the deal still sneaked up on most of baseball. It was a dawning of a new day, right? If only cloud cover hadn't quickly obscured the team's rising sun.

Just seven weeks after the Orioles completed what might stand as the steal of the offseason, we're again talking about how hopeless and inept they are.

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To be fair, MacPhail didn't earn that over the course of the previous week; his employer earned it over the course of the past decade. The Bedard trade was another chance to reshape the Orioles' reputation; instead, it validated it.

Forget the rumors and conjecture from the past several days. Working solely with the known entities, we can be sure that the Mariners thought they were close to a done deal and that the Orioles pulled back and then publicly planted the idea that other teams were in the mix. Even if this trade eventually happens, the prelude to the deal will be remembered as nothing short of a disaster.

Solid. Slow. Unspectacular. That was the way MacPhail approached building a ballclub several years ago.

MacPhail knew back then that assembling a championship team wasn't easy, but you have to wonder whether even he realized that it might be this difficult.

Even if he hasn't, rest assured that the rest of baseball has taken note. The biggest question I have right now: Which is tougher - working with the Orioles or working for them?

rick.maese@baltsun.com


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