- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

Some people never learn. People like Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, the two former pitchers who pretend to be running the Baltimore Orioles instead of Peter Angelos.

Sammy Sosa? What in the name of Albert Belle do the Orioles want with Sammy Sosa — an erstwhile slugger who leaves Chicago in a state of disgrace and is so far over the hill he probably can see clear to the nearest retirement community? And it could get worse for Sammy considering Major League Baseball’s semi-resolution to do something about its steroid problem.

I don’t know, of course, that Sosa has used illegal substances of any sort. But I do know that he went from averaging 32 homers over his first five full seasons to hitting 66, 63, 50, 64 and 49 in the next five before last season’s flop/drop to 35 and a .253 batting average.

Nobody improves that dramatically midway through his career just because he’s “seeing the ball good,” to use a horsehide bromide — not Sammy Sosa, not Mark McGwire, not Barry Bonds. Some other force has to be at work, perhaps divine intervention, if you don’t believe these players and a lot of others used steroids.

But back to the Orioles, who still haven’t learned you can’t turn a lousy team into a winner simply by signing “name” free agents. It didn’t work last season when the O’s added Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez and brought back Rafael Palmeiro, even though Tejada had a sensational year. It didn’t work as long ago as 1985, when they sought to reinforce an aging team with Fred Lynn, Lee Lacy and Don Aase. And Lord knows it didn’t work in 1999, when they practically mortgaged Camden Yards to sign the sweet-tempered Belle.

Flanagan should know better. He first pitched for the O’s in the mid-to-late ‘70s, when they were owned by Jerold Hoffberger and fielded a contender every year while stressing continuity and a strong farm system that taught “the Oriole Way,” meaning intelligent, fundamentally sound baseball.

Edward Bennett Williams, an owner nearly as impetuous and imperious as Angelos, saw the O’s win pennants in 1979 and 1983 while the old methods still prevailed. But when the ship began taking on water in ‘84, EBW opted for a quick fix rather than rebuilding from the ground up. So did successors Eli Jacobs and Angelos. As a result, one of baseball’s proudest franchises hasn’t shown up in the World Series for 21 seasons and hasn’t even produced a winning team for seven.

All the Sammy Sosas in the world won’t solve the basic problem in Charm City — a club with lousy leadership in the owner’s box, the front office and probably the manager’s seat with unproven Lee Mazzilli.

And Sammy, at 36, is far removed from the charming guy who in 1998 staged a most memorable, if possibly enhanced, home run duel with McGwire. That guy blew kisses to the Wrigley Field faithful and tapped his heart to demonstrate his affection for them. But lately his charm has worn extremely thin. In 2003, he drew a seven-game suspension for using a corked bat. Last season he spent a month on the disabled list with a back injury caused, the Cubs said with a straight face, when he sneezed too hard. And on the final day, he fled Wrigley just 15 minutes after the first pitch — an unforgivable action that left the club and manager Dusty Baker determined to deal him.

All they needed was a sucker.

Sammy may provide a few of his home run hops this season, but we should remember that the Orioles went after him only in desperation after failing to land Carlos Delgado or a staff ace. The word has spread around baseball that Baltimore is not a good place to play because the O’s are chronic losers and Angelos is a chronic meddler. Except that Sosa apparently didn’t get the word.

With 13-year-old Camden Yards no longer a drawing card and the fledgling Washington Nationals operating next door, the Orioles’ economic and competitive picture looks gloomier than ever. Instead of trying to hold up MLB for an exorbitant payoff because of the Nats’ presence, Angelos should concentrate on repairing his own house.

Signing Sammy Sosa is hardly the best way to restore the Orioles’ faded glory. The best way would be for Angelos himself to sign a piece of paper selling the club to somebody, anybody else.

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