Baltimore Orioles: Presidential first pitches for President’s Day

Today the Baltimore Orioles will hold their first team workout with the full squad. Grapefruit League play of course will begin on Friday in Sarasota as the O’s take on Tampa. But today is also a Federal Holiday: President’s Day.

So as a baseball writer and a lifelong civics and history buff, I write this column every year – combining the two. Any game in which the President of the United States throws out the first pitch is special. Usually this happens on Opening Day or in the World Series. It can also happen in the All-Star game – or any other game for that matter.

The tradition began in 1910 with President William Howard Taft throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day for the Washington Senators. The 100th anniversary of this event was commemorated in 2010 when President Barrack Obama threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park in Washington DC. In between those two bookends, every President has done the honors at least once.

And if you think about it, that’s quite an accomplishment given that Washington didn’t have baseball for so long. Of all of the gentlemen who have done it, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did the honors more than any other. And that makes sense given the fact that he was President for longer than any man in history. He was also in a wheelchair for most of his adult life, adding to the fact that it’s impressive he did it every year. But that in and of itself is no excuse for his first pitch hitting a Washington Post camera on Opening Day, 1940. C’mon Mr. President, command the ball – don’t throw it!

After baseball left our nation’s capital, Baltimore was able to host the “Presidential Opener” a few times. Not only that, but President Jimmy Carter’s lone first pitch as President came in the World Series in 1979 at Memorial Stadium. President Ronald Reagan came to town on Opening Day in 1984 and 1986, as did President George H.W. Bush in 1989. (Reagan also threw out the first ball in a World Series game at Memorial Stadium in 1983.)

President Bush returned to Baltimore on Opening Day 1992, however that came at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The inaugural game at the ballpark, in fact. I remember it very well; the President, a former Yale first baseman, threw the ball off the plate and in the dirt. He would later say that was exactly what he wanted to do – slider low and inside to a right-handed hitter. I always thought that was a pretty quick comeback on his part.

President Bill Clinton came to Baltimore twice to open the season with the first pitch, in 1993 and 1996. And President George W. Bush became the first sitting President to toss out the first ball in Washington DC when baseball returned in the form of the Nationals. His successor, President Obama, gave a great quote about our national pasttime in 2016 in Cuba attending the historic Tampa Rays vs. Cuba game (quote courtesy of Michael Memoli, Los Angeles Times):

There is something about baseball that is so fundamentally woven into our culture. And in some ways, at a time in our lives where everything’s a mile a minute and kids are on their phones all the time and there’s just this constant stream of information, there’s nothing like going to a ballpark and just everything slowing down a little bit.

The rhythm of the game gives you a sense of appreciation about all the blessings we have. It’s still a family game in a way that is really hard to match.

He couldn’t be more right. And a great part of that is due to the relationship that baseball has with America’s Chief Executives. No other sport can brag of Presidential participation like baseball can. Hockey games will sometimes mirror this tradition by having a ceremonial drop of the puck, but let’s be real – it’s a baseball thing. And it’s mainly a thing because the President of the United States is involved.

Which brings us to the current time period. I know that Baltimoreans and people in countless other places would love for the President to come and do the honors in their city. It’s a non-partisan tradition that celebrates America’s pasttime, and America herself. But let’s not kid ourselves, it really belongs in one city and one city only. So to President Donald Trump or anyone in the Trump Administration who’s willing to listen, in closing I say one thing. The President of the United States should throw out the first ball on Opening Day in Washington D.C. every year.

Party affiliation and politics aside, that needs to start happening again. Yes, that means that the Washington Nationals should always open at home, and the sitting President should be there to do the honors. If he wants to do it in other cities on other days over the course of the year, fine. But I’ll say it again: The President of the United States should throw out the first ball on Opening Day in Washington D.C. every year!

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Baltimore Orioles: Important spring training for the infield

For the first time in awhile, there are some questions facing the Baltimore Orioles’ infield going into a baseball season. And not all of them concern on-field matters. Some do, and we’ll start there. We knew that the Orioles would probably have a new shortstop in 2018; we just didn’t think it was going to be Manny Machado.

I don’t think fans should worry too much in terms of the quality of play. While Machado hasn’t played shortstop consistently in over five years, it’s his natural position. It’s why the Orioles drafted him – make no mistake about that. However the Grapefruit League schedule is going to be really key to getting Machado ready for the season, as it’ll give him a chance to face live bullets…in games that don’t count. The switch sounds simple enough, but the throw to first is different, the angles are all different, and the double-play duties are different.

Which brings up to the hot corner; Tim Beckham has vociferously said that he’ll be fine at third base. But it’s not a position at which he’s spent significant time. Now I know the emphasis that Buck Showalter puts on defense; they wouldn’t have made this move if they didn’t think Beckham could handle it. And with the way that he embraced Baltimore, the Orioles, the fans, etc. when he was traded here, you can’t help but give the guy a shot.

The elephant in the room obviously is also Machado’s contract situation. Namely, it expires after the season. He’s expected to hit free agency, however the Orioles apparently have been in close contact of late with his agent about an extension. For what it’s worth, he’s saying all the right things (quote courtesy of Roch Kubatko, MASNsports):

Obviously, this is the only organization I’ve ever played for and the only organization I know, so I could definitely stay here, play for this organization, play for the crowd, play for the fans. This is all I know. It’s a great organization that I’ve always played for and gave me an opportunity to come up here and play in the big leagues, but at the same time, there are some things that are out of my jurisdiction, out of my hands. What I can do is go out there and give them the best season I can and see what happens.

The Orioles also have to deal with the Jonathan Schoop situation, which came out of Orioles’ FanFest a few weeks ago. To be specific, Schoop opted not to show up – at the last minute. Later we found out that it was due to his salary situation (regarding arbitration) not being resolved, and at the time he said that his agent advised him against attending.

You might say that the fans are ultimately the ones who suffer when business and baseball intersect. It wasn’t a popular decision with the fans, and manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette both voiced frustration with Schoop as well. However to his credit, Schoop is trying to make amends (quote courtesy of Brittany Ghiroli, mlb.com):

Every fan, I’m going to sign for them and give them something back. I’m glad it’s over and I can focus on baseball now so I can focus on being out there and helping the team win.

Personally I think that Schoop may want to reevaluate who represents him if he was advised against going to an event as innocent as FanFest. And one that means so much to the Baltimore community at that. (I said at the time that if Tim Beckham – a guy mind you who had just been traded to the Orioles the previous summer – could show up and be excited for the fans on his birthday, there was no reason why Schoop needed to miss FanFest. Regardless of what his agent said.) However my hope is that fans quickly forget about that and view it as a blip on the radar once the Grapefruit League season starts next Friday. Once Schoop smacks a ball out of Ed Smith Stadium or turns a double-play with Machado, all should hopefully be well.

Similar to the year when Toronto tried to pick off Dan Duquette as their GM, there have been a lot of distractions this off season. And for all of the wrong reasons. However the Orioles hope that come Friday when games begin, all of that melts away. Needless to say, the upcoming slate of spring games are important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

Baltimore Orioles have been burned by boldness

Many fans question why the Baltimore Orioles are so timid on the free agent market. Especially with pitchers. Fans see other teams making big splashes, and in essence taking big risks. And often times they pay off.

But the Orioles aren’t big on dishing out contracts like other teams do – for pitchers, that is. That’s not to say that they’ve never done it. Ubaldo Jimenez‘s contract just came off the books starting this year. And while the Jimenez contract was an anomaly in that it was a large contract dished out to a free agent pitcher, it was also one that most national pundits lauded. Many people, myself included, felt that the Orioles made a good move in getting Jimenez…

…and contrary to what fans think, it wasn’t a total disaster. People shouldn’t forget that there were a few big games down the stretch (such as the 2014 AL East-clinching game) that Jimenez started and in which he came up big. When the bright lights were on, he tended to show up big. But the overall story of his tenure in Baltimore is lackluster.

And that’s one of the reasons why the O’s aren’t willing to go after the likes of a Jake Arrieta, because they don’t want to commit a lot of money and years to a guy who may or may not produce. Now that’s not to say that finding starting pitchers in the Rule 5 draft is the way to go either, but one can’t totally blame them for being timid when it comes to signing free agent pitchers.

Baltimore Orioles: Is Andrew Cashner a good signing?

The Baltimore Orioles wowed their fans with their most exciting day of the off season yesterday when they announced they had signed Andrew Cashner. Okay, perhaps there was a hint of sarcasm there. However the fact is that Cashner will be on the Orioles for at least the next two years, possibly three. The two years guarantee him $16 million.

So…what does or should the fan base think of this? I’ve heard mixed reviews, although nobody’s out there saying this is the greatest or worst ever signing. I think that the best way to classify it is as just “a signing.”

Cashner posted a 3.40 ERA last year with Texas, which was down from 5.25 the year before with San Diego and Miami combined. He also only gave up 15 homers last year, playing his home games in Texas where the ball flies – similar to at Camden Yards. In fact, some of his career’s lower ERA’s have come with hitter’s park’s being his home field.

Detractors of course would point out that throughout his seven years in the majors, Cashner’s only had one winning season. He was 10-9 in 2013 with San Diego. This is far from a marquee signing, however consider the alternative. Ubaldo Jimenez posted a 6.81 ERA for the Orioles last year, and 5.44 the year before. So if Cashner lives up to last season’s numbers, that should be a good thing for the Orioles.

Financially, $16 million over two years isn’t that much. The contract could pay him up to $41 million with bonuses and if he ends up staying a third year. Many fans will say that the Orioles will be forever betrothed to contracts like these to players as such. However keep in mind that they took a risk with Jimenez – and were burned big time. The same is true with others as well.

So again, this is “a signing.” I don’t see Cashner winning a Cy Young, but I think he’ll at least be solid. Time will tell. As I’ve said before, the upcoming Florida Grapefruit League season is going to be a big one for the Orioles this year.

Baltimore Orioles: Andrew Cashner makes three

Another free agent has fallen, and this time it’s to the Baltimore Orioles. They’ve signed RHP Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16 million deal. Cashner is now the third starter in camp.

I wouldn’t print your World Series tickets quite yet, however the fact is that Cashner’s another pitcher in camp. His deal also includes a vesting option worth $10 million for 2020 if he reaches 340 innings over the two years. If he reaches 360 years, it becomes a player option.

As time goes on we’ll try to figure out if this is a good move or not. Cashner’s hardly a top line starter, but he’s a warm body in camp. The O’s now have three prospective starters in camp. It appears that at least one slot is going to be filled internally by the Orioles. So…is there another free agent signing out there to be had?

Time will tell on all of that. But for now the news is that Cashner’s coming to Camden Yards – well, first to Sarasota.

Baltimore Orioles: Is business ruining sports?

As the Baltimore Orioles carry on training down in Sarasota, the clock continues to tick when it comes to free agents. And not just for the Birds – there are lots of free agents that need homes, and time is running shorter and shorter. Grapefruit and Cactus League play begins at the end of next week. Heck, the MLBPA is holding it’s own training camp which is closed to the public and to scouts in Bradenton, FL.

Whether teams are colluding not to sign anyone or the Players Association is colluding not to have anyone sign is another story. The big story is that lots of guys aren’t signed. This of course has to do with payrolls, and more broadly with the business of the game. But…do fans really want to hear about that? Do they really care?

The savvy ones do for sure. In fact the savviest of the savvy are actually fascinated by it. However that doesn’t attest for Johnny Fan Boy sitting in the bleachers who just wants to watch baseball. All he sees is a bunch of rich millionaires who may well be good players, but who are holding out and splitting hairs over whether they’re going to make $15 or $17 million.

That type of attitude tends to turn people off. And while there are a lot of other types of factors involved as well, don’t be so sure that the same isn’t true in the NFL. Have ratings not gone down the past two seasons or so? So what does this all mean? That everyone should just play ball and not worry about the rest of it?

That’s a tough sell to players and coaches. All the public sees and knows is that these guys make a heck of a lot more money than most people. They travel on charter flights which in terms of amenities is probably leaps and bounds ahead of flying first class on a commercial airline. They stay in the nicest hotels in every city, and eat at the best restaurants.

But there are other things that the public doesn’t see or chooses not to see. The travel schedule is grueling, especially when you finish up with a night game in one city and have another one in another city the next night. In terms of money, players also pay fees to their union, which comes out of their pockets. That and they all pay clubhouse fees towards the services they get in the locker room.

I suspect that the pros far outweigh the cons. But even still, the general public doesn’t want to hear about the cons. All they know is that millionaires are squabbling over pennies. However the fact is that if your attitude is I don’t care about the money I just want to play, you’re going to get exactly what you asked for. You’ll play, and make no money. Why should a team pay you the big bucks when you just said they didn’t have to?

So there has to be a happy medium somewhere. Because the same fate that’s befalling the NFL right now could happen to baseball as well. People could stop showing up or stop watching. That would be hard for me to imagine, but stranger things have happened.

Baltimore Orioles avoid arbitration with Kevin Gausman

The Baltimore Orioles and Kevin Gausman agreed to a contract yesterday for 2018. Or a salary, that is. The contract will pay Gausman $5.6 million in base salary, with the possibility of up to $200,000 in incentives. In the business world that translates as a bonus.

This means that all seven of the Orioles’ arbitration-eligible players have agreed to deals. Gausman’s arbitration hearing was scheduled for today in Phoenix, however that’s no longer necessary. This is a good thing for the Orioles, because first off Gausman doesn’t miss any time. However secondly, it also means that the front office did their job in coming to agreements with players. Any year you don’t have to go to arbitration is a good year.

Gausman and Bundy are the only two starters in camp right now. But that will change. Gausman was the team’s Opening Day starter last year, and my prediction is that he’ll also get the starting assignment on Opening Day here in 2018. This is an important Spring Training for him, because the Orioles really need him to step up and have a quality season in 2018.

All the more reason to be happy that Gausman’s signed and in camp. Now that his salary is set they can focus on fundamentals. And on whomever else ends up trickling into camp in terms of starting pitchers.