I have a story about Brian Roberts. It’s about a night in August. Clad in his Friday blacks, the former Baltimore second basemen got all of a flat Dan Straily fastball in the 4th inning. That mistake pitch landed in the standing room section for a grand slam and I was in the nosebleeds, sandwiched between my father and girlfriend. Those two, well past their second or third Bud Lights, shot up from their seats and joined in the ruckus around them while I fiddled with my cellphone and smiled. Someone put a hand on my shoulder and asked me why I was so dormant, so composed.
That was Brian Roberts’ last great moment as an Oriole and I knew it. I was just trying to make poetic sense of it.
When the season ended, I assumed it would be the last we would see of Brian and his big, anti-climactic, hanging-around-like-Kimmy-Gibbler contract. The player who once flirted with a .300 batting average, collected 30-50 stolen bases, and worked pitchers as if they were Army recruits was now an aging fan-semi-favorite who was still good for a week’s stretch of singles. The business of baseball has changed considerably in the 4 years since Brian signed his $40M deal, and we’ve all trained ourselves to be more forgetful.
A rational man with a short memory span lets go of an elder statesman worth less than 1 win above replacement. A rational man with a long memory span does the same with some hesitance. However, an only-sometimes rational man with fond sepia-toned memories refuses to let a childhood hero go without throwing a tantrum.
So, tantrum it is. I want my Mommy and I want Brian Roberts back.
My generation of Orioles fans deserve a bronze statue of our own alongside the franchise’s legends. Growing up as a Marylander in the early 2000’s meant being born into mediocrity and then forced to accept it. We were 4 or 5 years old when Jeffery Maier did Derek Jeter the ultimate solid and just beginning to respect the finer points of the game when Cal Ripken Jr. hung his cleats up. We were bright-eyed kids in a baseball town left with the residual dust of bad club management. One of the few salvageable parts was a young second basemen named Brian Roberts who, as minor league call-up, was making an impact on the first team I ever loved, the 2003 4th-place O’s.
Every Orioles fan knows about Brian’s next 6 to 7 years of great baseball. He was a lightning rod who seemed to foul off 20 pitches an at-bat and catalyze every Orioles rally. Without consulting FanGraphs, I can confidently say that in 2005, Brian Roberts batted .750 and hit 45 home runs while swiping 900 bases. In actuality, it was .314, 18, and 27. But, everything he did seemed larger than life. He hardly seemed any taller or stronger than me, but he was slapping doubles every time I went to the park. He was my guy, and would remain my guy for a decade.
My little league coaches told me to be like Brian, to own the plate, take pitches, hustle to first base, and be a gentleman. What little league coaches couldn’t get across was that Roberts, even in his prime, hardly distanced himself statistically from the likes of Orlando Hudson, guys who seemingly contributed little to the game besides dope nicknames (shouts out to O-Dawg).
Brian Roberts, with his injury-plagued career, his flourishing on a squad of perennial basement-dwellers, his lack of full realization, his year on the bench while his boys breathed life back into his fan base, and even his landing in New York are all indicative of baseball’s dark side—the same dark side that laughs in your face while Derek Jeter trots around the bases, batted ball in Jeffery Maier’s glove.
To my generation of Orioles fans, the loss of Brian finally confirms to us that baseball is a compassionless robot. Granted, it’s an awesome compassionless robot, like Mecha-Godzilla, but it will still trample us without guilt. Advanced statistics, sabermetrics, Moneyball, that guy Jonah Hill played in Moneyball, or whatever you blame for this new era of super-informed, calculated baseball has sucked a little wonder out of the game. That might be okay, as change can be good and new mythologies can be written, but you can’t blame me for wanting to hold on to just a little bit of the past. Even if that means overpaying a veteran to struggle at second base just to trade him to a contender at the deadline.
I don’t believe Brian Roberts will be a productive player on The New York Yankees. He joins an infield composed of 3 fragile old men and 1 Kelly Johnson. I just wish he could retire having only played for 1 team, like they did in the old days. Then again, doing things like the old days put Brian Roberts’ worst teams in the positions they were in. I know it’s time to grow up and embrace this new mathematical, robotic age of my favorite game. It’s helping to even the playing field and casting baseball in a new, fascinating light. The nerds in Dan Duquette’s ears are the best way to keep up with teams like The Yankees, who continually prove their willingness to buy whoever they want. B-Rob could light the back of a baseball card up back in the day, but we were also still cool with Mel Gibson and Woody Allen back in the day. Things change.
So I guess the tantrum is over and it’s time to let go of Brian Roberts now. I’ll just bottle these feelings up until we trade Hardy. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.