I absolutely love the Baltimore Orioles.
I’ve lived through three distinct eras of Orioles baseball. The first is what I call the “Dark Ages”, which began as Cal Ripken Jr.‘s career came to a close. The second era was the, “I like our guys,” era, when Buck Showalter managed the Orioles to three playoff appearances and an AL East title in 2014.
The third era is the Mike Elias era, the one that began in 2019 and is running through present time. It’s been a rough road thus far, but that’s expected when you plan to get worse to get better.
A fanbase can handle a rebuild, especially when they see a light at the end of the tunnel. And while Elias and his crew have significantly bolstered the Orioles’ minor league system and pool of young talent, the wins haven’t followed.
That’s ok. Fans can stomach that. It’s easier to stomach when you still have an emotional connection to the franchise.
Part of that emotional connection has been severed. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, generally referred to as MASN, axed a majority of the Orioles’ on-air personalities, most notably play-by-play broadcasters Gary Thorne and Jim Hunter.
Thorne played a significant role in my young adult years, which is the only time I remember the Orioles being any good. Showalter was improving the on-field product and Thorne was the perfect narrator for their rise to power.
He served as the Orioles’ primary play-by-play guy since 2007. Thorne called a ton of games for bad Orioles teams and by the time the team was good, nobody deserved fun baseball more than Thorne.
He enjoyed the wins as much as we did. Thorne was never a fanboy, but you felt like Thorne was in the passenger seat with you as the Orioles won the most games in the AL East from 2012-2014. Baltimore’s 2014 AL East title was magical, in part because of Thorne.
You can listen to some of Thorne’s best calls below.
It’s not just Thorne. When he wasn’t available, Hunter reliably stepped in. Hunter offered this belter of a call back in 2017.
MASN parted ways with other broadcasters too. Orioles legends Rick Dempsey and Brian Roberts will no longer be a part of Orioles’ broadcasts. Mike Bordick, the team’s secondary color analyst and former infielder, is also out. Pregame show analyst Tom Davis is also gone.
I understand that the Orioles are in cost-saving mode. The team isn’t good and the COVID-19 shutdowns have killed ticket revenue. But parting ways with pieces of your organization that fans are emotionally attached to is not how you build a fanbase.
It’s how you destroy it.
The Nationals are already encroaching on the Orioles’ historical territory. Even though the Nats were laughable for many years, their team is solid and the fanbase is growing. A World Series championship will help with that.
The Angelos family, owner of the Orioles and therefore majority owners of MASN, are asking fans to do something they may not be able to do. How do you buy in when a franchise guts the on-field product, lets their most talented player in ages go for pennies on the dollar — yes, we’re talking about Manny Machado — and then removes people that fans love and connect with on a nightly basis during the season?
Oh, and let’s not forget the Orioles’ shameful request that Trey Mancini, who survived cancer last year, defer his 2020 salary to 2021.
What the hell is going on?
I love the Baltimore Orioles. But they sure are making it hard to keep that passion. It’s been a brutal offseason, and there’s no sign that the short-term future is going to get any better.
Remind you of any other sports team?