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Truth, Justice And the Oriole Way

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Monday, March 3, 2008; Page E01

VIERA, Fla.

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The Orioles have finally wised up and given up.

"We took the cover off. There's no more spin," Baltimore Manager Dave Trembley said here this weekend. "The word came from [team president] Andy MacPhail. 'It is what it is.' So just tell the truth."

That took long enough, didn't it?

After 10 straight losing seasons, the Orioles claim that they will no longer live in a continual state of denial. Camden Yards will no longer be the home of quick fixes and overhyped expectations, followed by 30-run debacles. There will be no more pandering to selfish veterans and clubhouse lawyers, though a few are still on the premises. The future will not be now. Instead, it will be "someday," when a proper patient organization -- like the old '60s-to-'80s Orioles -- ultimately is rebuilt.

Instead of preseason predictions, bravado and self-delusion, the Orioles claim that they have faced facts. From now on, they vow to restore their shattered tradition from the bottom up, rather than from the owner's suite down. To prove their seriousness, and burn their bridges behind them as well, the Orioles have traded their biggest stars, former MVP shortstop Miguel Tejada and elegant southpaw Erik Bedard, for nine players, most of them prospects. Soon, Brian Roberts, a favorite of boss Peter Angelos, may be dealt, too, perhaps to the Cubs for what MacPhail says he craves -- prospects "in bulk."

Will it work? We'll see. No team can be entirely safe from owner Angelos, who combines impatience and poor people skills with permissiveness toward stars and an inability to make decisions in a timely manner. However, after the magnitude of last season's collapse, he seems finally to have gotten the message. Night after night, the word "rebuild" might as well have been flashed on the scoreboard. The Birds' 69-93 record alone did not do the trick. The final straw was the loss for '08 of both closer Chris Ray and setup man Danys B¿ez to major arm surgeries. After that, what choice was there?

So, the team that is often spoofed with the Jack Nicholson line, "You can't handle the truth," has finally tried to look in the mirror. Helping that process, the Orioles had the great good luck to land MacPhail as team president just before the decimated team fell apart on the field -- absorbing double-digit, late-season losses by the bushel. Ironically, those embarrassments, coupled with injuries, finally allowed the Orioles to admit what everyone else in baseball already knew.

The Birds were an utterly broken franchise, top to bottom -- one that needed to clean house, get a new attitude and turn to youth.

"We should have done this two or three years ago," one Oriole said this weekend. Or maybe five.

Such franchise-culture transformations take time, probably years. Last summer, I greeted Sam Perlozzo, his managerial days numbered, with a simple, "How's it going?" "Same as always around here," he answered. "The inmates still run the asylum."


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