Fact: Despite all the injuries and inconsistencies, the Orioles are in first place. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Matt Wieters’ season would end in May, that 88 games into the season, J.J. Hardy would only have two homers, Chris Davis would be flirting with the Mendoza line, and Manny Machado would be suspended for purposefully chucking his bat onto the field, I’d have told you the Birds were cooked. But the O’s celebrated Independence Day by pulling a half-game ahead of Toronto and, at the time of this writing, stand two games in front of the Blue Jays at the top of the division. Despite all predictors, the beer has gotten very, very cold.
Fiction: The last time the Orioles were in first place on the Fourth of July was in 1776. They went on to take the World Series when Reds manager Lord Charles “Cool Papa” Cornwallis surrendered to O’s manager Earl Weaver. Eddie Murray hit five home runs in that series and his mustache, which was the DH, added another three.
Fact: Ahead of the 1966 season, the O’s traded Milt Pappas and a couple of guys you’ve never heard of for Frank Robinson. That season Robinson won the Triple Crown and the MVP while leading the Orioles to their first World Series win, cementing not only the greatest trade in Orioles history, but one of the greatest trades of all time.
What is now becoming clear, however, is that the Adam Jones deal was Baltimore’s second-greatest trade. The O’s sent the oft-injured Erik Bedard to Seattle for five players, including George Sherrill, who had an All-Star season as the Orioles closer, and starter Chris Tillman, who is about as close as the Birds get to having an ace, which is nice. But more importantly, they got Adam Jones, who is not only the best player the O’s have got, he’s also the best teammate, which may be even more important. Sure, the All-Star games (four), Gold Gloves (three) and Silver Slugger awards (one) are great, but giving fans a player to cheer for and teammates a leader to follow is even greater.
Fiction: The third-best trade was for Glen Davis.
Fact: Speaking of Adam Jones, his celebratory pies to the face have become one of the most fun Baltimore sports traditions in a long time. Unfortunately, the shaving cream pies were burning players' eyes and they apparently need those to see the ball and stuff, so this season, the team switched to real pies from Dangerously Delicious, which makes for a much better motivator. Those things are delicious and 6 bucks a slice, which is pretty steep even for a guy like Nick Markakis, who's pulling down close to 95 grand per game. Nothing motivates like free pie.
Fiction: Adam Jones’ pie ploy is a smashing success, but many forget that, during his two seasons with the club, former Oriole Albert Belle implemented a far-less-popular celebration. After an O’s win Belle would leap from his ambush spot in the dugout and bum rush the game’s MVP. After playfully wrestling his teammate to the ground, he’d drag him down the tunnel and stuff him into a locker full of live ferrets, where he would remain trapped, afraid and, save the hundreds of biting ferrets, alone until the third inning of the next game. Having a great performance the night before an off day was particularly dreaded.
Fact: Three Orioles, Jones, Wieters, and Nelson Cruz, were voted All-Star game starters, the most of any team in the American League. The Birds have come a long way from the team that sent only the mandatory one player for nine out of 10 seasons between 2001 and 2011.
Fiction: While the election of Wieters, who went on the DL with a season-ending elbow injury after playing in just 26 games, may raise some eyebrows, the biggest controversy in O’s All-Star history came in 1993 when Camden Yards played host to its lone Mid-Summer Classic. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, who was the skipper of the AL club, famously snubbed Mike Mussina when he kept the O’s ace on the bench and out of the game. Looking back, the slight was a blessing in disguise. Mussina and famous opera singer/umpire Enrico Palazzo avoided an international incident when they foiled Gaston’s attempted regicide. Gaston knew his target, the Queen of England, never missed an Orioles game and hoped to murder her as she began her drunken seventh-inning O’s cheer from atop the dugout in what was later revealed to be a bizarre plot to achieve Canadian independence. Gaston would spend the rest of his days rotting in prison with the knowledge that his plot failed and that Canada had been independent from British rule since 1867.
Fact: The offseason acquisition of free-agent left fielder/DH Nelson Cruz has been a spectacular success. The slugger is on pace to hit 50 home runs and 129 RBIs, numbers very close to what the struggling Chris Davis put up last year, which is all the more exciting because the O’s got Cruz so cheap. Cruz’s base salary is a super-low (by the insane standards of professional sports) $8 million for the season and he will likely make another $750,000 in incentives. With incentives, that works out to a low, low $175,000 per home run.
By comparison, however, the median cost for an actual home in Baltimore is $104,000, so for every time Cruz takes one deep, he could buy your house, a brand-new Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, and 235,261 Chicken McNuggets. At .6 ounces per nugget, that is 8,822 pounds of “chicken.” If he were to use that Tacoma, which has a payload capacity of 1,335 pounds, to take his McNuggets home, it would take him 7 trips. Perhaps a house, a truck, and 7 truckloads of nugget (which doesn’t include sauces, so he’ll be eating those nuggets dry, proving money isn’t everything) is a bit tough to wrap your noodle around. In more relatable terms, if I were paying Cruz’s salary using only the money I make from this column, it would take me over 67 years per homer and I’d be 3,406 years old by the time I paid him for the whole year.
Fiction: I will totally have my student loans paid off before then.