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Kevin Gausman's Early Performance Conjures Memories Of Earl Weaver's Warning

April 20, 2017
Before the 2017 season began, many outlets, including PressBox, stressed that the Orioles would go as far as right-handers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy could take them.

And after watching Gasuman's first four outings -- during which he has recorded a 7.23 ERA through 18.2 innings -- I am reminded of a warning former Orioles manager Earl Weaver gave in May 1986. It was a cautionary tale that has stayed with me through the ensuing 31 baseball seasons, and it has everything to do with what is going on with Gausman's slow and inconsistent start.

When former Orioles manager Joe Altobelli was fired in May of 1985, Weaver came out of a 2.5-season retirement to take over the O's. But not even Weaver could make the magic happen that season, as the Orioles finished 83-78 and in fourth place in the American League East, which kept them out of the postseason for the second straight season.

Two of the brightest stars of that 1985 season were pudgy third baseman/catcher Floyd Rayford and switch-hitting power hitting outfielder Mike Young. Prior to 1985, Rayford's biggest season had come in 1984, when he hit .256 with four home runs and 27 RBI's. All Rayford did in 1985, when given the chance to play, was bat .306 with 18 home runs and 48 RBIs.

Young had become an almost everyday player during the last four months of 1984 and batted .252 while slugging 17 home runs with 52 RBIs. In 1985, with the everyday position handed to him, he struggled mightily the first couple months, and then hit the cover off the ball for the last four months. He ended the season with 28 home runs and 81 RBIs, while batting a respectable .273.

Going into 1986, many in the media had Rayford and Young penciled in for, at a minimum, a repeat of 1985 or, best-case scenario, improved production in 1986.

Early that season, I remember Eddie Murray got off to his slowest start as an Oriole. One day while talking to Weaver on the field (he was a pretty regular listener of my show back then), he said to me, "You keep beating up on Murray pretty good." 

I said, "Earl, that's because his production is down." 

He said, "Stan, I don't have to worry about Murray or [Cal] Ripken [Jr.], because at the end of the season, the numbers will be there, they have proven track records. You know who the guys I worry about are? These two guys (while pointing at Rayford and Young). They haven't proven they can do it."

And that leads us to the 2017 version of Kevin Gausman.

I have been pretty hard on Gausman for much of his tenure with the club. I have also been just as critical of the Orioles for the process they've used with Gausman, where it's clear to me that he has been rushed to the detriment of his development and the club's performance on the field.

But as was the case with Young -- of whom I had been critical during that 1985 season but whose performance for one brilliant stretch in early in 1986 muted the criticism -- Gausman has flashed his talent for part a season. Last year, his performance during the last two months was as good a stretch by a young Orioles pitcher since back in the days when many thought Erik Bedard was the real deal.

Bundy is off to a fast start, which further highlights Gausman's shaky beginning. Maybe Gausman's performance is nothing more than a bad first three of four outings, and he'll pick up the pace.

In 1986, Rayford saw his batting average drop from .306 to .176, while his OBP went from .324 to .231 and his home runs and RBIs dropped from 18 to 48 and eight to 19, respectively. Rayford played briefly for the Orioles in 1987 and was never seen in the majors again, despite the fact he was just 30 years old. 

Young hit just nine home runs in 1986, after having clubbed 28 in 1985. His RBIs fell from 81 to 42. Young upped his home run total in 1987 to 16, but drove in just 39 runs. He played briefly with Philadelphia and Milwaukee in 1988, and then had a cup of coffee with Cleveland in 1989. Young was gone from the big leagues after 1989 at 29 years old.

It's now up to Gausman to let his performance speak for itself in a positive way. Until he does that, Weavers' warning remains at the center of my mind.