With that out of the way, I want to talk about an article that popped up in the Baltimore Sun over the weekend. Perhaps you saw it. It interviews current Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel about his perception of this year's Orioles team, compared to the 2003 Tigers, for which he was also a coach. You had to figure as soon as Samuel was promoted that something like this was going to come up. It's not a surprise, nor is it in poor taste, nor is it particularly disingenuous. What jumps out at me though, are the comments flowing from Samuel himself:
"The  season was not as tough as the record showed," said Samuel who worked under Detroit manager Alan Trammell. "Going into the season, there was a meeting that the staff had and they said, 'Hey guys, we have to teach. We don't expect to win. We have to teach.' We stayed positive every day and brought in guys early and saw that the guys wanted to improve. It was more about teaching. Everything — offense, defense, pitching — we had to constantly tell these guys about."
Uh, what? Are you telling me that the eye-gougingly painful baseball season that was 2003 in Detroit was "not as tough as the record showed?" If anything, it was even worse, salvaged only by winning 5 of 6 at the end of the season to stave off infamy. And don't go around telling me that there were no expectations for that team either. Granted, expectations for the Orioles this season were extremely high by comparison, but there was a lot of enthusiasm in Detroit in 2003, as Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish all made their return to the Tigers' coaching staff. "The Oriole Way," it wasn't, but there was the thought that their collective experience could help push the Tigers back towards the realm of respectability.
The Sun article goes on to note that "three years later, the Tigers went to the World Series," and claims that the the Tigers brass credits the 2003 team for laying the groundwork. Samuel gets in it too:
"There was nothing more gratifying than to see the success even though you were not there," he said. "You know you had something to do with it. We knew that we didn't have enough to compete and we were trying to find out who were the guys that we were going to stay with when we were a championship-caliber team. What we were doing that year is we were trying to weed things out, like 'OK, we can win with this guy, we cannot win with these guys.' It was like an in-season tryout that we were doing and it paid off."
I'll let you look up exactly who was on that 2003 team, but let me just consolidate some information for you. Of the 43 players that suited up for the Tigers in 2003, Six were on the World Series team:
- Jeremy Bonderman
- Brandon Inge
- Ramon Santiago (who was traded and reacquired in 2006)
- Fernando Rodney
- Nate Robertson
- Jamie Walker
What I'm saying is this. The 2006 team was not successful because of the trials and tribulations of 2003. 2003 was an abject failure that did nothing but make the Tigers realize that they had no young talent in their system whatsoever and had to go out and acquire the likes of: Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, Kenny Rogers and draft Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya and develop Curtis Granderson. 2003 wasn't growing pains. It was a death march and wake-up call for the franchise.
So don't you go revising history on this Tigers fan, Juan Samuel. Don't tell me it wasn't as bad as it looked. It was. It was that bad.
As for the Orioles vs. Tigers comparisons: This Orioles season is so much worse. The optimism in Baltimore prior to the season was palpable. Adam Jones was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner (somehow). Nick Markakis had another 100 RBI season. Matt Weiters was full time. There was a bevy of pitching prospects and young hitters that had late season success with the big league squad. People were excited. That this team has fallen so flat is inexplicable. The players with track records have failed. The highly regarded prospects have failed. Management has failed. There is a full-blown baseball crisis in Baltimore, and unlike Detroit where 80-90% of the team was not even major league caliber, these Orioles, individually at least, are actually good. That's why it is so baffling.
If things continue to not get better (or, god forbid, get worse), you'll see more and more comparisons to that 2003 Tigers team. As that happens, don't get sucked in by the revisionist history that says "3 years later they made the world series!" Comparing those two teams is like comparing Apples and Poverty.
For the record, the Orioles have too much major-league proven talent and highly regarded youth to continue losing at this clip. As horrible as their pitching is, there is no way it is worse than a team who's Number 1 was Nate Cornejo who led the team's starting pitchers with an ERA of 4.67. Or that they're team batting average is going to be .240.
Don't worry O's fans, things will turn around. You actually do have the building blocks in place to be competitive in the future. It's just too bad that everybody was convinced (myself included) that this year was supposed to be the Great Leap Forward. That's one of those claims you make after the season is over. You know, revisionist history and all.