For 15 years, the Baltimore Orioles were one of the biggest jokes in professional sports.
Their owner, Peter Angelos, became widely known as one of the worst in all of sports. Things got so bad that even a walk-out was organized at Camden Yards. At least fans still cared. As time passed, attendance continued to decline as anger simply turned to indifference.
Enter Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, two men who helped quickly turn around a once-floundering franchise. The Orioles made a stunning run to the playoffs in 2012, causing a swell in fan support as we were all again reminded how Baltimore is one of the great baseball towns in America. During this run, the O's even managed to lock up Adam Jones to a contract extension, proving that players once again wanted to be a part of the Orioles over the long haul.
The team elected to remain quiet in the free agent market in 2013, and the result was an O's team that came up short in the second half of the season despite a Ruthian-like year from Chris Davis.
Heading into a pivotal offseason, the Orioles appeared to have a lot of money to throw around at free agents. Attendance increased from 2012 even though the team didn't make the playoffs, MASN ratings continued to soar, merchandise sales were through the roof, MLB's new TV deal meant every team received about $25 million and the club dealt $10 million closer Jim Johnson in what amounted to a salary dump.
All indications were that the Orioles were ready to bring in a big bat, possibly a couple quality starting pitchers, and possibly make a trade to help solidify holes that existed in left field, second base, DH and the starting rotation last year.
Instead, the winter meetings came and went with hardly a peep from the Orioles. They signed Ryan Webb, a quality reliever to add to the bullpen, but stood on the sidelines and watched as other teams made moves to revamp their club. At the very same time, the O's quietly announced that ticket prices would increase. The club tried to squeak the announcement through on a Saturday morning with a home Ravens game and an impending snowstorm the talk of the town.
The fact that ticket prices are being increased is not a big deal. In fact, it's long overdue. The issue is the timing of the increase. The Orioles finally built momentum over the past couple of years, were re-building their trust with the fans, and now it appears that Angelos intends to pocket all the profits instead of making a World Series push and raising the prices of tickets to boot.
It's a major PR blunder for an organization that did a really nice job in 2012 with the "Buckle Up" campaign and the statue giveaways and ceremonies for the O's Hall-of-Famers. For a moment in time, it looked like the O's might be ready to stand beside the Ravens as model sports organizations. So much for all of that.
The O's, believe it or not, are at a crossroads. It's quite possible, even likely, that Matt Wieters and Chris Davis will both be gone via free agency in 2016. If they do lose those two, the O's might only have a two-year window to compete for a title before having to go into some type of rebuilding mode. Angelos either needs to allocate the money necessary for the O's to go out and turn this current club into a legitimate contender, or the O's should start trading away assets for top prospects to pair with Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. But that's a topic for another day.
The bottom line is that Angelos finally has the franchise trending upward, but by being greedy and deciding to pocket all the profits, is risking a fall back into the basement of the AL East.