More O's woes

Peter Schmuck
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The great hope that blossomed around the Orioles organization with the arrival of new president Andy MacPhail was that - finally - it appeared there was a real sign owner Peter Angelos recognized that the revitalization of the franchise would require a totally new way of doing business.

In the aftermath of the first dynamic deal of the MacPhail era, it's fair to ask whether that's proof the club has turned in a better direction.

The answer, unfortunately, is both yes and no.

The trade that sent to the Houston Astros last week might have signaled the beginning of a new era in the baseball operations department, but a couple of other notable occurrences over the past few days have cast doubt that Peter and John Angelos have learned anything from the countless mistakes and missteps of the past decade.

They might not seem like terribly significant events - a statement about the George Mitchell report that was sent out late Saturday night and an unannounced hike in the price of some season tickets - but both speak to an embarrassingly flawed decision-making apparatus and a blatant disregard for the club's most faithful fans.

I'm still scratching my head over the club's decision to e-mail its reaction to the Mitchell Report to the media at 10:21 p.m. on a Saturday night, unless the people who are in charge of communications (the last time I looked, that would be John Angelos and director of communications Greg Bader) simply hoped everyone would be too deep into the Christmas eggnog to care.

Or maybe they were hoping it would seem like such old news by yesterday that no one would look too closely at the strange four paragraphs that first seem to applaud commissioner Bud Selig and Mitchell for their efforts to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from baseball but then call into question the legitimacy of Mitchell's investigation.

Here's a quick excerpt: "The Orioles support Major League Baseball's efforts to institute the most comprehensive testing program of any professional sport and one that strives to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs from all of baseball.

"As to the information and allegations contained in the Mitchell Report, the Orioles caution observers to resist the temptation to accept collective judgments based upon unsubstantiated allegations."

Say what? Maybe the Neo-Comms (that's my nickname for Bader and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network public-relations guy Todd Webster) knew what they were doing when they sent the thing out under the cover of darkness. I can't imagine Selig is going to be too happy to see that the Orioles - with 19 current or former players named in the report - are challenging the integrity of the 409-page document.

It's pretty obvious Peter Angelos got his back up when he saw that was included in the report on admittedly scant evidence, and I would be applauding him right now if he had come forward immediately and taken a public stand for his player. Instead, team officials needed nearly 60 hours to formulate a four-paragraph statement and get approval to send it out, which says a lot about the way they still do things at the top of the organization.

The same goes for the sneaky price hike. The O's sent out season-ticket renewal mailers Dec. 13 that include a letter about the team's bright future from MacPhail and an unspecified increase in some prices.

The best field boxes cost $45 per seat if you bought a full plan last year. This year's full-season plan costs $3,888 per seat, which breaks down to $48 per ticket, though nowhere is that mentioned in the mailer. You have to get out your calculator to figure out the team is raising some prices at the same time it's drastically slashing payroll and being, as MacPhail likes to say, "brutally honest" with fans about the meager prospects for success in the near term.

The team's Web site, by the way, still lists those seats at last year's prices, and repeated attempts to get an explanation from a team spokesman went unanswered.

MacPhail's letter talks glowingly about the young nucleus of the team, which includes , , and up-and-coming catcher Matt Wieters while tellingly making no mention of Roberts, or any of the other veterans the team is hoping to move in the next few weeks.

Let's review: The payroll is headed down dramatically. You're already paying the Orioles a surcharge on your cable bill for MASN, which was supposed to generate money to upgrade the team. And the Orioles think you should pay more to come to the ballpark to see a team that could well finish fifth in the American League East next season.

Honestly, I thought the team - as part of this new era of good feelings - might slightly reduce all prices as a gesture to the fans who have remained faithful through a horrible decade. Of course, we all know I'm a gullible idiot, but I really thought there might be some discussion in the law office of throwing the public a bone this winter.

Instead, you get the same old song and dance, except you probably won't be dancing with any stars next season.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.comListen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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