The 2018 Orioles failed in just about every way that a baseball team can fail on the way to a 47-115 record. They could not pitch. They could not hit. They could not field. They could not do much of anything except lose. That’s why most of the architects of that team are now jobless and new GM Mike Elias is here to oversee the necessary rebuild and overhaul of the organization.
The problems are many. The O’s need to improve their talent acquisition by scouting better, drafting better, trading better, and making international signings. They need to improve their development pipeline by actually developing pitching prospects and getting the best out of their players. They also must remove a curse placed upon them by one of their own.
On September 3, 2017, the Orioles beat the Blue Jays with a 5-4 walkoff victory in the 12th inning to pull themselves to within 1.5 games of the second wild card spot. Mark Trumbo delivered the game-winning single. After a stagnant summer, the O’s seemed like they might be going somewhere good.
During the post-game interview with Trumbo, as was the occasional custom, teammate Adam Jones arrived with a pie, which he smashed into the face of Trumbo. Since it was an exciting late-season win with a playoff chase on the line, Jonathan Schoop followed up with another pie to the face of Trumbo.
Every other person we ever saw receive a pie to the face took it with good humor. Trumbo unleashed the death glare captured by USA Today photographer Evan Habeeb above and abruptly truncated the interview.
Within minutes, the pie-to-the-face ringleader Jones tweeted “No mas pies.” No one with the team ever blamed Trumbo directly, but it’s not very hard to connect those dots. So began the curse of the pie.
From that day forward, the Orioles collapsed completely, finishing the season with a dismal 5-20 record to miss out on a playoff spot by 10 games. The offseason brought no relief. It was clear at the end of April, when they had an 8-20 record, that there was something missing from this O’s team. They never found it as the season went along, looking every bit like the worst team in MLB. The curse clearly remains.
As rational people, we know deep down that there are no curses or superstitions involved in the game of baseball. There are no baseball gods out there to reward the virtuous and loyal fans, the players with good stories, or any of that, nor do they exist to punish the wicked and unworthy. Four Red Sox World Series titles this century stand as a testament to the fact that the unworthy may triumph repeatedly.
You can’t jinx a no-hitter or a perfect game by talking about it. Neither can any TV or radio broadcaster. Mentioning a pitcher’s scoreless innings streak or consecutive saves streak does not guarantee that the next batter will hit a home run. Wearing the same pair of socks to every game does not influence the outcome.
In the same vein, of course a player shutting down a fun post-game tradition does not consign a team to go 52-135 over the next seven months of baseball games. As ever, correlation does not equate to causation.
Believing these things are true nonetheless is part of the fun of being a sports fan. The case of Trumbo’s curse is cut and dry. Yes, the real reason that the Orioles were so bad is that Dan Duquette had failed to stock the farm system, repeatedly signed or traded for bad pitchers, could not develop the pitchers he had, let the Orioles lag behind in analytics, and so on. They had a bad plan and then on top of that plan they had bad luck.
The real reason is ALSO that Trumbo, instead of saying, “Hey, just don’t pie me any more” on that September afternoon, caused the whole tradition to end abruptly. Obviously, the baseball gods do not look kindly on fuddy-duddies. To break the curse, he must be made to pay the price for his transgression. That’s just science.
Next month, the Orioles will host their traditional FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center. With that is a prime opportunity to deal with the Trumbo pie problem directly. He must be pied in the face.
The options for how to remove the curse are constrained only by the imagination. The Orioles might find inspiration in something classic like a dunk tank, except for pies to the face. Hit a target with a baseball and a pie is delivered. This could be a day-long endeavor, available to all willing to stand in line and make a donation to the Orioles charity.
They could even make breaking the curse the main attraction, with Trumbo, protected by a poncho and goggles, on the receiving end of pie after pie at the center of the main stage. For extra curse-shattering power, invite Adam Jones back as a surprise to deliver the last of the pies. Along with breaking the curse, this would simply be more fun for everyone (except Trumbo) than just about every other panel that they would usually have at FanFest.
There are no baseball gods, but just in case there are, we should try to keep them happy anyway. While Elias and company are trying to clean up the mess, they should not overlook the benefit of breaking the Trumbo pie curse. Some things just must be done. Sorry, Trumbo. You shouldn’t have made them stop the post-game pies.