Baltimore Orioles: Culture of complacency?

The Free Dictionary complacency as “a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy.” More specifically in a sports sense, it’s better terms as accepting failure. (It’s also more commonly referred to as collecting a paycheck in the business world.) If you really think about it, baseball’s nothing more than a job to players and coaches. If you work in sales (as a salaried employee) and your competitor gets a piece of business is it truly any sweat off your back? You’re still eating tonight, right? The same could be said about players and coaches when they lose a game. Obviously the sports culture itself doesn’t allow for that kind of complacency long term, however is it possible that kind of attitude has seeped into the Orioles’ organization?

I would submit that there are very few cases in sports where teams actually get complacent with losing. I’m sure that some people would point to 14 straight years of losing and say that there has to be some complacency in the organization, and they might have a point there. I’m sure that over the years there have been some players that have been complacent, and perhaps even laughed all the way to the bank about it. However I’m more concerned about the current team…

…I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a complacent Oriole today. Again, to the “14 straight losing seasons crowd” that might sound impossible. But keep in mind that we’re talking about a team that’s returning two gold glovers (Wieters and Markakis), and a gold glove runner-up (Hardy). Adam Jones, who didn’t win any hardware last year, was the Most Valuable Oriole (as well as a gold glover in 2009). I think that critics can sometimes conveniently forget that there were some positive things that occured with this team last year. Robert Andino has also turned into a very positive force on the team and within the clubhouse, after a rough couple of seasons to begin his tenure in Baltimore. In other words, he’s gotten better.

I will say this; when the current “core” group of players got together a few years ago, I agreed with MASN analyst Rick Dempsey who said that these kids had learned to lose together, and that would make them more hungry to learn to win. To this point, that apparently hasn’t happened. So perhaps a better question is not one of work ethic, but moreso is losing the only thing these guys know at this point? I suppose that the same could be said of someone like Brian Roberts, who’s never had a winning season as a pro. This is not to say that Roberts is a clubhouse cancer or anything along those lines; quite the contrary in fact. However in retrospect I think there is something to be said for only seeing and knowing failure.

One would like to think that failure would have helped to motivate these guys. I would again point out that many of them have been hurt over time, so perhaps it really hasn’t had the chance to motivate them as of yet. However this is where the charge of complacency seeps back into the conversation. You’re still getting paid, right? Does it really matter if you win or lose? To suggest that any professional athlete would feel this way is ludicrous in my opinion. (Yes I’m kind of suggesting it, however I’m doing so in a devil’s advocate kind of manner.) Incidentally, complacency is also true in reverse believe it or not. You might ask how too much winning could be a bad thing. It really depends on your mindset and how you deal with winning. When you’re constantly told how great you are and seemingly have very little difficulty in anything, you tend to forget what it takes to get to and remain at that level.

We can see this with the 2011 Boston Red Sox, who came apart at the seams last September. (Their lone highlight was Tim Wakefield reaching his 200th career win on September 13th.) Over several year the Red Sox became media darlings and they rarely if ever seemed to hear negative press about themselves. From the Orioles’ standpoint, they seemed to live in a fantasy world where nothing ever seemed to go wrong. (I”m not minimizing how good of a team they were/are, however just painting a cariacature.) Down the stretch, they seemed to assume that somehow they’d find a way to get what they needed to win in the end. Until last September, that was pretty much the case. However they became complacent in their ways, and that cost them a trip to the playoffs. After the season of course we heard about chicken and beer-gate, which very much personifies that attitude. I suppose what I’m saying is that the line between winning and arrogance is a very fine one, and it takes a special person to walk it properly.

My biggest reason for not believing there’s complacency in the Orioles’ clubhouse is Buck Showalter. An old-time baseball guy like him would never attach his name to complacency. However remember what I said above; perhaps these guys have only experienced losing to this point. That changed a bit on September 28th of last year when these same Baltimore Orioles taught the aforementioned Boston Red Sox a lesson in humility by knocking them out of the playoffs on the final day of the season. What I call the greatest closing act of all time was was headlined by none other than Robert Andino, who’s RBI-double (combined with Evan Longoria’s homer in Tampe) sent Boston packing. Andino and the O’s need to channel the energy of that classic moment and move forward with it this year to erase all doubts regarding complacency.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala

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