The year is 1997. What is significant? It is the last time that the Baltimore Orioles had a winning season. For several years they rode their aging stars, from Cal Ripken to Mike Bordick, B.J. Surhoff, and Brady Anderson, each year coming up short. Other stars like Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Armando Benitez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roberto Alomar left the team when it was apparent that the O's were not heading in the right direction. How did they know? When you have that many All-Stars on one team and you only win 70 some games, something is wrong.
The Orioles turned to a strategy that proved to be equally unsuccessful. They tried spending on big names and proven veterans like Albert Belle, Will Clark, Jeff Conine, Charles Johnson, and Delino DeShields, but they mostly underperformed and were unable to make up for the pitching staff's ineffectiveness.
In 2001, the Orioles attempted to dump their high-priced veterans and bring in a more youthful team to add on to their existing core of Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson, and Jerry Hairston. Their moves proved largely unsuccessful (this is an understatement), with the only notable additon being Melvin Mora. They gave young players like Chris Richards and Josh Towers a chance to make a name for themselves, but their success was shortlived and the Orioles began a tradition of starting out strong and collapsing midseason. This would become a very long tradition.
Failing to accomplish much, the O's turned to a new ideology, one that made the least sense of all. They filled their roster with overpaid, average veterans like Omar Daal, Deivi Cruz, Ken Singleton, and Marty Cordova. They were a team without a superstar and lacking young talent. Fortunately, several pitchers developed or emerged into definite talents. Sidney Ponson had a breakout season, joined by Jason Johnson, Rodrigo Lopez, Jorge Julio. But they proved to be one year wonders or inconsistent major leaguers. Ponson became famed as the husky Aruban knight with severe drinking problems. Julio was known to walk the bases loaded before getting the save. The O's continued to tease fans with glimpses of talent, but they never convinced anyone that they were close to competing.
The team took an aggressive approach to the 2004 season. They signed stars Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada, and Rafael Palmeiro. Rookies Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard became cornerstones in the rotation and B.J. Ryan proved himself as a dominant reliever and future closer. Melvin Mora established himself at third base, Brian Roberts showed he was a reliable second basemen, and Luis Matos and Jay Gibbons flashed with potential. Somehow, they still couldn't manage to win. They made even more headlines in 2005 by trading for slugger Sammy Sosa and raced to first place early on. They stayed atop the AL East for several months, until the yearly downfall kicked in; this time it was worse than ever. Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for steroid use, days after collecting his 3000th hit. (Kind of awkward going to games the rest of the season and seeing a huge "Congratulations Raffy" sign.) Several Orioles have since been linked to steroids: Palmeiro, Roberts, Tejada, Hairston, Gibbons, and Larry Bigbie. The O's have become living proof that steroids don't work. After Palmeiro's suspension, the Orioles had one of the worst collapses in history. They went from 14 games above .500 to 14 games below and lost B.J. Ryan after the season.
The Orioles have recently turned towards a rebuilding mode. They traded ace Erik Bedard and superstar Miguel Tejada to restock their minor league system. They let go of fading veterans (Ramon Hernandez and awful hitter/clubhouse leader Kevin Millar) and failed projects (Daniel Cabrera). New GM Andy MacPhail seeks to create a team that is competitive in 2010. Despite his efforts to build a winner around Jeremy Guthrie, Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Adam Jones, experienced O's fans have to wonder, is this going to be enough?