Guest post by Frederick E. Taylor
Baltimore Orioles fans must feel very frustrated. Their once-great franchise has fallen on hard times—14 consecutive losing seasons, a serious decline in attendance, and no dominant players to reverse their misfortune. Losing records bring lower attendance and less revenue which result in smaller payrolls and fewer impact players. Is there any hope? Perhaps, but a realistic answer is obscured by five widespread myths about the Orioles.
- The Orioles are currently the worst team in baseball and maybe the worst team ever. Actually, the Orioles are not the only team experiencing a drought. It has been 19 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a winning season and, with the exception of 2003, it has been 18 years since the Kansas City Royals have had a winning season. The Boston Red Sox are perhaps the most dramatic example of losing streaks. Laboring under the notorious “Curse of the Bambino,” they had 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1920 to 1933. Remember that all teams, like all players, do not perform uniformly year after year. Some teams have more ups and fewer downs and other teams have the opposite. The Orioles are having it tough right now, but all teams have similar experiences from time to time.
- The Orioles have a cheap owner who is not willing to give his players adequate compensation.Actually, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has the 16th-highest payroll among the 30 major league teams and the 3rd-highest payroll in the American League East. The 2011 Orioles payroll exceeded that of the Toronto Blue Jays by more than $6 million and that of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays by nearly $45 million! The losing record of the Orioles has more to do with player performance than player payroll. Peter Angelos, like all owners, is certainly not perfect. An objective evaluation of his decision-making is impossible because it occurs in the inner councils of the organization and is not necessarily made public. Based on published data, however, Angelos is not cheap when it comes to player salaries.
- Orioles attendance is declining because fans are deserting them for the Washington Nationals. Since 2001, Oriole attendance has declined from about 3 million to 1.75 million, but about 400,000 of that decline occurred before the Nationals arrived in Washington. The attendance of both teams have declined since 2005—the Nationals by about 790,000 and the Orioles by about 870,000. Some fans may have deserted the Orioles for the Nationals, but the decline in Oriole attendance is largely a reflection of performance on the field.
- The Orioles are doomed to dwell in the cellar. Although the Orioles play in the toughest and richest division in baseball, they have a higher payroll than the Devil Rays and Blue Jays. The Yankees and Red Sox have the two highest payrolls by far, and yet the Devil Rays—with one-fourth the Red Sox payroll—finished ahead of them in 2011. The Orioles, with twice the Devil Rays’ payroll, should be able to do the same.
- The Orioles are bound to improve in 2012 and thereafter. One could point to the Orioles great showing last September. From September 7 on, they had a record of 14-7 overall and 10-4 against American League East teams. The Orioles won five of their six games with the Red Sox and were largely responsible for eliminating the Red Sox from the playoffs. Playing the role of spoiler was their consolation for an otherwise dismal season. The Orioles have improved a little each of the last two seasons, from 64-98, to 66-96, to 69-93. These increases are quite small, however, and at that rate it would take six years to have a winning record—there’s no guarantee that this will occur.
Frederick E. Taylor is the author of The Runmakers: A New Way to Rate Baseball Players, now available from the JHU Press. He was educated at the University of Rhode Island, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and Georgetown University, which awarded him a Ph.D. in philosophy. He worked in the Departments of Commerce and Defense and has taught at several universities.