Recapping the 2005 Baltimore Orioles
Orioles ’05: It can’t get any worse
By DAVID GINSBURG, AP Sports Writer
October 3, 2005
BALTIMORE (AP) — A 74-88 record and fourth-place finish in the AL East doesn’t begin to define the humiliation experienced by the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles have lost more games and finished lower in the standings, but this was their most embarrassing season since the franchise moved from St. Louis to Baltimore in 1954.
Instead of ending a run of seven consecutive losing seasons, Baltimore became the first team since the 1978 Oakland Athletics to go from 14 games over .500 to 14 under in the same season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Orioles spent 62 straight days in first place, a run that ended on June 24. By July 28, they were in fourth.
“It was like a roller-coaster,” catcher Javy Lopez said. “You went to the highest part and then dropped down to the lowest part. It was sad.”
If that was their only sin, the Orioles would merely be considered to be a team that overachieved in the early going before finally being exposed as pretenders during an unforgiving 162-game schedule.
But the 2005 Baltimore Orioles will be remembered for far more than their collapse.
Rafael Palmeiro. Sidney Ponson. Sammy Sosa. Lee Mazzilli. None of them finished the season with the Orioles, but before leaving they managed to tarnish the reputation of this once-proud franchise.
Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days on Aug. 1 after testing positive for steroids, ruining a fine season in which he became the fourth player in baseball history to get 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Upon his return, he struggled with his role as a villain and went 2-for-26 while being hounded by the media and jeered by the fans.
Palmeiro was ultimately sent home to rehabilitate knee and ankle injuries. After it was disclosed that he cited a vitamin injection given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada as a possible reason for his positive drug test, Palmeiro was told by the team not to bother coming back.
Ponson had his contract terminated following his second arrest this year for drunk driving, and Sosa’s lone season with Baltimore was a bust. After hitting .221 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs, he was sent home in early September with a curious toe injury and never asked to return.
Mazzilli, meanwhile, couldn’t keep the team together after injuries to Lopez and ace Erik Bedard ruined the makeup of a club that for two months played better than the New York Yankees and defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
“I thought in the middle of the year, when we lost Javy and we lost Bedard, it was just a killer,” closer B.J. Ryan said.
After Baltimore lost 16 of 18 to drop to 51-56, Mazzilli became the first Orioles manager fired in midseason since owner Peter Angelos bought the team in 1993.
Sam Perlozzo, who took over as interim manager, expects to learn this week if the “interim” tag will be removed for 2006. But Angelos first must decide on the status of executive vice president Jim Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan, whose contracts expire after this month.
If the Orioles decide against bringing back Perlozzo, who went 23-32 under difficult circumstances, then Lou Piniella is an option for a team eager to distance itself from a rocky past.
Piniella, who accepted a buyout from Tampa Bay, said of Baltimore’s collapse: “When you win with the frequency that they did, you’re playing with a lot of confidence. That adrenaline takes you a pretty good ways. All of a sudden you start losing, and maybe you start doubting yourself a little bit. Outside of that, it’s a nice ball club with some nice talent over there.”
This offseason will be critical for the Orioles if they hope to win back the fans and end their club-record run of successive losing seasons. Baltimore will likely lose Ryan to free agency and won’t ask back Sosa or Palmeiro, so their shopping list will include an outfielder, a closer, a first baseman and a solid starting pitcher.
Most of all, the team needs to purge memories of a dismal 2005 season. Some might argue that the 1988 team, which opened with 21 straight losses and finished 54-107, was worse. But that season didn’t feature the humility of having a potential Hall of Fame star banished for steroid use, or the tease of being in first place for two months.
“We just shut it down all of a sudden and started playing bad baseball,” outfielder Luis Matos said.
When they were winning, the Orioles got clutch hitting and solid pitching. Leadoff hitter Brian Roberts was having the best season of his life batting ahead of Melvin Mora, Tejada and Palmeiro, and even Sosa was getting a few big homers in the No. 5 spot.
Then, when the weather started getting hot, the Orioles cooled.
“When you score a lot of runs — and we scored a lot of runs early in the year — that makes up for a lot of things,” Ryan said. “It allowed everybody who was going out there to pitch to relax. Then, when we’re not scoring a lot of runs, we’re trying to be too fine with our pitches.”
Ryan had 36 saves and a 2.43 ERA, but several others in the bullpen struggled, including Steve Kline, Jorge Julio and Steve Reed, yet another player that didn’t make it to the end of the Orioles’ horrific season.