It was a pretty good year for the Orioles, wasn’t it? I think we can say that, even though as I write this article the most recent photos in the editor connected to “Orioles” involve Edwin Encarnacion hitting a walkoff home run in the wild card game. There was also the fact that the starting rotation was even worse than a pessimistic prediction could have made.
When you get down to it, as disappointing as it all ended, 89 wins and a postseason berth make for a pretty good season. That’s good news for a little blog like Camden Chat, because more people being interested in the Orioles means that more people will stop by. You get a lot of big, impactful storylines going on over the course of a playoff season.
This is not about those posts. I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that the best posts get nice traffic, but the kinds of stuff that blows up into bonkers traffic is not the best-written content. It’s just the stories that, mostly by luck and maybe a little bit by good writing, touch a nerve with people.
With that in mind, the five biggest 2016 Orioles stories, as determined by cold, unfeeling page views on Camden Chat:
Post date: September 20
What happened: Not long after July 31 trade acquisition Steve Pearce was shut down for the season, Orioles GM Dan Duquette admitted to Orioles reporters that the O’s knew that Pearce had physical limitations when they traded for him. This was a frustrating revelation.
How it looks now: The Orioles trading for Pearce was still a bad move that they should have known better than to make given the information that they acknowledged they had at the time.
The Orioles may have made the trade worse by sticking Pearce in the outfield, where he had not played in Tampa Bay all season. It seems clear that Pearce making outfield throws aggravated the forearm injury they knew he had been nursing. The Rays were not desperate/dumb enough to play him out there. The Orioles were.
Pearce got hurt and then couldn’t hit or field. This trade solved no problems. It’s effectively how they spent the money they saved by dumping a draft pick and Brian Matusz’s salary on the Braves. They also traded away possible future backup catcher Jonah Heim, who can catch (reportedly) but has yet to hit.
Post date: April 20
What happened: You may recall that back in February, there was a kerfuffle in Birdland as a Baltimore beer social media guy boldly proclaimed that the Orioles were getting rid of Natty Boh at Camden Yards. A pliant Orioles press quickly passed along the party line from the team about this, which was that the team would still serve Natty Boh at the stadium.
Then, after having Natty Boh in the stadium for the first homestand, fans arrived for the first game of the second homestand to find that Natty Boh disappeared with no prior notice from the team.
How it looks now: For all the angst about this at the time, does anyone still care? I went to plenty of games this year and there was not a single one of those games where I thought to myself, “Man, if only I could have bought an $8 Natty Boh can right now, I’d be having a better time.”
After all, as was brought up many times during the earlier dust-up, the beer isn’t even brewed in Maryland or locally owned any more. People had other stuff to worry about than the beer at Camden Yards... like the Orioles starting rotation being one of the worst in baseball.
The Orioles said a lot of things in February that were uncritically reported by the O’s media at the time, and that those things they said about Natty Boh still being served at Camden Yards proved to be false by the end of April.
At no point have the Orioles publicly provided any kind of transparent accounting of what actually happened with all of this. One reading of their actions may be that they hoped they could just avoid acknowledging what they had done and eventually people would forget about it and stop caring. If that’s so, I guess it worked.
Post date: July 31
What happened: After the salary dump trade to the Braves, Matusz was immediately DFA’d by the Braves and eventually signed a minor league contract with the Cubs. The Cubs season played out in such a way that, in late July, they summoned Matusz for one start. The possibility that Matusz might actually pitch well was too much for me to bear, so I wrote about it.
How it looks now: Matusz gets the last laugh in the sense that he pitched for the eventual World Series winner and I assume gets a ring for that.
I also get the last laugh because on the morning of July 31 I published this sentence:
For sanity’s sake, the only thing I can do tonight is root for Matusz to give up six runs in three innings.
On the night of July 31, Matusz pitched and ended up with this stat line:
3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO, 3 HR, 1 HBP
Matusz has yet to sign a 2017 contract.
Post date: July 14
What happened: The one actual big story on this list. No surprise that people were very interested in this tidbit. ESPN’s Jim Bowden casually dropped into a random column that rumor, with his source being, he said, Machado himself.
How it looks now: This is still shrouded in mystery. What were the contours of this offer? Did Machado’s agents ask for something crazy, like half a billion dollars? Did they ask for something that sounds outrageous but probably isn’t, like $400 million?
Did they make a more reasonable, possibly still unpalatable to the Orioles offer in the realm of $350 million? Why did the Orioles apparently not counter the offer? Why haven’t there been ongoing talks? Was there in fact any offer at all? Bowden is a guy with something of a checkered credibility due to one notorious incident in the past.
The media crowd that told us that the Orioles had signed Dexter Fowler and that Natty Boh would still be served at Camden Yards has provided no answers. All we know is that the Orioles have still not signed Machado to an extension and now there’s only two more seasons before he becomes a free agent. There’s still time for the sides to come together, if they both want to. Do they both want to?
Post date: July 18
What happened: The Orioles trailed the Yankees, 2-1, in the top of the ninth inning. The tying run was on first with two outs. Ryan Flaherty was at the plate against hard-throwing Aroldis Chapman, and he had an 0-2 count. What does one do to psyche oneself up for that potentially final, decisive pitch? This:
This might be my favorite gif ever. pic.twitter.com/Jdd7qAFPIj— Ranting Oriole Bird (@RantingOriole) July 19, 2016
Is this specifically addressed towards Chapman, as if Flaherty’s daring him to try to throw 102 mph right down the middle? Is Flaherty talking to himself because of the importance of the situation? Does Flaherty just go around saying “Come on, motherfucker” at the plate all of the time and this is just the first time anybody noticed?
How it looks now: I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. What I do know is that I loved this when it happened and I still love it now. It’s just so perfect.
Much like that ubiquitous “This is fine” two comic panels with all the fire, it contains all the tell-tale signs that everything is going horribly - the two outs in the ninth with the O’s losing, the 0-2 count, the fact that it’s Ryan Flaherty at the plate.
However, the GIF itself does not contain the final resolution. You can look at it and convince yourself that Flaherty will do it: That he will take out Chapman with the trash and hit an improbable home run on the next swing.
In fact, Flaherty hit a broken bat grounder and the game ended with an Orioles loss. I know that. I watched it happen. But when I look at the GIF, I don’t have to think about that.
This was the most-viewed post on the site this year. It received the most Facebook traffic. It received the most Twitter traffic. It received the most traffic from everywhere and everything. The people love Ryan Flaherty. Maybe he’ll get that clutch home run next year.