Baltimore Orioles: It started with Adam Jones
With the Baltimore Orioles still one day away from their first game in the 2014 playoffs, it’s safe to say that we’ve done a lot of reflecting in Baltimore of late. We’ve talked about what people were doing in 1997 when the Birds last won the division, and many of the things that have happened since then. So bearing that in mind it might well be fair to look back on when the current “age” of Orioles baseball began. When did this team go from a laughingstock to a winner? There are probably two different questions there; the O’s became a winner in 2012. But when did “this” really begin?
I would submit that the seeds of what’s happening right now started in February of 2008 when new Orioles’ GM Andy MacPhail traded pitcher Erik Bedard to Seattle in exchange for George Sherrill, Tony Butler, Kam Mikolio, Chris Tillman, and…Adam Jones. Tillman’s body of work in the last two seasons speaks for itself also, and Sherrill represented the Orioles one year in the all-star game. However at the time Tillman was also only a prospect and thus an unknown commodidy, who wouldn’t come to the big leagues until mid-year 2009.
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owever the big prize in that trade was Adam Jones. Going soley on memory, there were a lot of Orioles fans who were upset with the trade at the time. Bedard was the best pitcher to come through the Orioles’ farm system since Mike Mussina. Furthermore, MacPhail seemed to embrace the fact that the team would be bad for a couple of seasons. However at the same time as he aquired Jones, he also began restocking and streamlining the farm system, which would eventually produce the likes of Matt Wieters, Manny Macahdo, Jonathan Schoop, Caleb Joseph, Brian Matusz, and Zach Britton.
But this is more about Jones, and the shot in the arm that he provided to the organization. The process wasn’t without it’s hinderances; Jones quickly became one of the more critiqued players in Baltimore. Admittedly, some of the criticism was fair. However some folks also talked in depth about the “routes that Jones took to fly balls,” among other things. His biggest weakness was (and probably still is) the slider in the dirt. However any decent hitter is going to strike out – nature of the beast.
That aside, I would also submit that Jones in time has come to mean almost as much off the field to this team, fans, and community as he does on the field. His numerous all-star appearances, Most Valuable Oriole awards, and dramatic home runs tell us that he’s a great player on the field. However Jones very quickly became a part of Baltimore and became very visible around town. He eventually came to embody the spirit of the Orioles and the city. That most certainly came to a head a couple of weeks ago when he lapped around Camden Yards celebrating the AL East title with fans, and giving them his signature pie in the face.
Speaking for myself, it became very clear that Jones “got” Baltimore very early on. Eventually he’s come to make his home here and to totally ingrain himself in the Baltimore community. And that says something about Jones and where his priorities lie. Players in this era don’t normally move to th.e cities where they play; in fact, Jones is from San Diego – why would anyone want to move from a place like that to Baltimore, MD full-time?! Someone who “gets” Baltimore. And incidentally, Baltimore “gets” Adam Jones also.
As time wore on, Jones made the players around him better as well and became a team leader. And as Jones matured as a player, the Orioles slowly added pieces around him; Wieters, Tillman, Machado, J.J. Hardy, Machado, and others. But perhaps the most important piece was Buck Showalter in August of 2010…another guy who “gets” Baltimore and that Baltimore “gets.”
And we know the rest of the story by now; MacPhail stepped down after 2011, and Dan Duquette was brought in. The Orioles returned to the playoffs in 2012 for the first time in 14 years, and two years after that they were division champions. But the whole time this has been “Adam Jones’ team.” The Orioles didn’t ahve the greatest personnel (perhaps with the exception of Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis) in place prior to now, however they also didn’t have a team leader the caliber of Jones. His dynamite personality bleeds onto the field, and he plays with that same type of fire.
Time will tell if Jones and the Orioles will get the ultimate dividend for their efforts this year. However it’s been a fun road from 2008 seeing Jones turn into the leader that he is today. Good leadership is tough to find in sports or anywhere. Does Jones screw up on occasion? Yes, which just shows us his normal side. But he also takes accountability for his mistakes, which sets the example for the rest of the team and the rest of the organization. And that’s an intangible that can’t be measured on a team. And that attitude comes from his signature catch phrase…”Stay Hunrgry.”