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Baseball 2010

TOM BURGUM
Contributing Columnist
burgum@lbknews.com

The Orioles had a great Spring Training season in Sarasota and, for those of from the Washington-Baltimore area, just having the Orioles in town brought back memories. My first chance to enjoy Orioles baseball at Memorial Stadium on 33rd street was in the 1970s. It was a golden decade for Baltimore, and I suggest it was also a golden era for major league baseball.

The 70s was a “small market” era. Five different teams won the World Series: Oakland ran off three straight in ’72, ’73 and ’74; Baltimore had three Series appearances but won only in 1970, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’71 and ’79; The Big Red Machine of Cincinnati beat Boston in 1975 and the Yankees in 1976. The Yankees won in ’77 and ’78 proving there are ugly aspects to every decade.

Best of all, the ’70s, mercifully, was an era yet untouched by political correctness and baseball commissioners intent on removing any color from the game. There was color, and plenty of it, provided, at least in my memory, by Earl Weaver, manager of the Orioles, along with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner of the Yankees.

The Orioles of the ’70s had great players. The names of Boog Powell, Eddy Murray, Mark Belanger, Paul Blair, Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor and Rick Dempsey come to mind. But it was Weaver who set the competitive tone. He also set the tone for aggressive belligerence.

Weaver must have lead the league in ejections, but it was his ongoing feud with umpire Ron Luciano that provided the most memorable moments. Luciano, in his book, “The Umpire Strikes Back,” recounted the time he threw Weaver out of both ends of a double-header and how he considered this one of the highlights of his career. The two truly disliked one another, but Weaver later said that Luciano was, “one of the few umpires people have paid their way into the park to see.” It can be added that Weaver was one of the few managers people have paid their way into the park to see. Sorry, but you won’t see their like today.

The ’70s also featured the George Steinbrenner-Bill Martin sagas. In 1975, Martin replaced Bill Virdon in midseason. In ’76, the Yankees lost to the Reds in the World Series but the Martin-led Yankees beat the Dodgers in ’77. The Yankees had three managers in ’78. Martin was replaced by Dick Howser, who in turn was replaced by Bob Lemon. Lemon only lasted until mid-1979 when Steinbrenner fired him and brought Martin back. Martin was fired again before the 1980 season and Howser was rehired.

All of this was accompanied by Steinbrenner’s constant and public remonstrating and meddling with whomever was managing. Martin managed to keep a sense of humor despite all of George’s machinations. When asked in 1977 if the veracious booing in Baltimore bothered him, he reminded us, “Baltimore is the only city that threw rocks at both sides during the Civil War.”

The Earl of Baltimore, his Orioles along with George and Billy, well worth remembering.

Predictions

National League East: 1-Philadelphia; 2-Atlanta; 3-New York; 4-Florida; 5- Washington.

It’s the Phillies again. They have two premier starters in Roy Hallady, just in from Toronto, and Cole Hamels. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Worth and Shane Victorino will provide the offense, and Charlie Manuel, arguably the best manager in baseball, will see things are done right. Atlanta is too reliant on aging Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus to unseat the Phillies, but keep an eye on Jason Heyward. Atlanta could be a serious contender if this kid is for real. No one expects much from the Mets, and that is just about what they will get unless Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran manage to play more than 120 games. Sorry, but Florida and Washington won’t contend.

National League Central: 1-St Louis; 2-Cincinnati; 3-Milwaukee; 4-Chicago; 5-Houston; 6-Pittsburgh.

I’m not buying the demise of the Cardinals, not with two great starting pitchers (Wainwright and Carpenter); two superstar hitters (Pujols and Holliday); and not with Tony LaRussa pulling the strings. The Reds have a wealth of new talent that didn’t quite mature last year—it will this year. Milwaukee can hit and their rotation is better but not enough to catch St. Louis. Chicago is a bit short of everything, Houston is on the downhill and Pittsburgh is in rebuilding plan number 931.

National League West: 1-LA Dodgers; 2-Colorado; 3-San Francisco; 4-Arizona; 5-San Diego.

The Dodgers are the best of the West—forget the raucous divorce. The players don’t care. They have enough hitting to overcome an average mound corp. Most think Colorado will win the West but they won’t, not with Houston Street out indefinitely. The Giants are supposed to do it with pitching and defense but their defense is just average. Arizona and San Diego have far too many question marks.

American League East: 1-NY Yankees; 2-Tampa; 3-Boston; 4-Baltimore; 5-Toronto.

The Yankees are as deep as the Mariana’s Trench and they added Curtis Granderson, one of the most exciting players in the game. The Rays are either the second or third best team in the AL. They have enough to finish second with Matt Garza leading a solid rotation and Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria leading the hit parade. Boston can scramble all this and finish first if they hit better than expected, because their pitching may be the best in the majors. The Orioles and Blue Jays will fight to stay out of last place.

American League Central: 1-Chicago; 2-Minnesota; 3-Detroit; 4-Kansas City; 5-Cleveland.

The Twins aren’t going to win the division because they are moving from the friendly confines of the Baggie Dome and they lost Joe Nathan, their great closer. The White Sox have the best rotation in the division and, while ordinary in the field, they will play well enough to win. The Tigers, led by Justin Verlander and second-year rightly Rick Porcello, could surprise. It’s a weak division but not weak enough for either the improving Royals or the not-improving Indians to contend. (What a hateful thing to have to write.)

American League West: 1-LA Angeles; 2-Seattle; 3-Texas; 4-Oakland.

The Angels will win again. They have the best starting pitching in the division and their offense lost a little but not enough to keep them out of the winners circle this year. Seattle looked stronger with Cliff Lee, but he is out with a groin strain similar to the one that ruined him in 2007. Also, no one can win with Milton Bradley in the lineup. It’s a continuing mystery why some teams are still willing to take a chance on this guy. Texas always disappoints and it is doubtful Josh Hamilton can make it through the season. The A’s have some good pitching but their closer, Andrew Bailey, has elbow problems.

Playoffs:

Philadelphia wins in the National League, with the New York Yankees winning the American League crown. Philadelphia beats the Yankees and wins the World Series.

I make these predictions with complete confidence—complete confidence that no one will remember them in October.

Click here for all of Burgum’s columns.

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