With most professions, reaching the 20-year mark is almost always a joyous occasion — one considered an achievement worthy of special acclaim.
Maybe a lapel pin denoting service time or a watch to mark the occasion, even if it comes from the costume jewelry case. Perhaps even a retirement party to celebrate a new beginning.
In case you hadn’t noticed, baseball is not one of those professions.
Instead of thanks for a job well done, the recipient all too often gets the proverbial pink slip — and the not so subtle advice about how to avoid the door hitting the backside on the way out. And the process, which usually comes this time of year, not far removed from the holidays, can be vicious. It’s almost like somebody dials up 1-800-GOT-JUNK and starts pointing.
In case you also missed this memo, that’s kind of what happened with the Orioles in recent weeks, when general manager Mike Elias’ long anticipated purge of what was left of the front office and scouting staff finally took place. It was expected to be thorough, and it was. It also figured to be painful, and it didn’t disappoint. But it also raised a question about whether the future reward will be worth the pain.
Dean Albany, who served in various scouting capacities, and Tripp Norton, who held various positions within the baseball operations department, qualified as 20-plus year employees with the Orioles. Because of their local ties, especially in Albany’s case, those are the departures that caused the most anguish — and more than a little criticism.
A Brooklyn Park, Md., native, Albany has been deeply involved in every facet of amateur baseball in this area for more than four decades. He played for and became a protege of Walter Youse, and later coached and managed the local powerhouse that played under the names of Leone’s, Johnny’s and Corrigan’s before becoming Youse’s All-Stars, mainly because of Albany’s efforts.
Because of his close connections to amateur baseball at all levels in the Delmarva area, Albany’s departure was easily the most surprising. In addition to his scouting duties, which included serving as a national cross-checker, he also ran the Orioles RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program since its inception.
Ultimately he became a close confidant, and right-hand man, for former manager Buck Showalter and also maintained a close relationship with former general manager Dan Duquette. Even though he also had a connection with Elias when both were East Coast scouts, it is probably a reasonable assumption to think Albany’s connection to the outgoing regime played a significant role in his dismissal.
If, in fact, that is the reason he’s no longer employed by the Orioles, it will not alter Albany’s feelings. He can’t hide the obvious disappointment, but he insists he will never be bitter.
“It’s been 20 great years,” Albany said within hours of getting his notice. “There are no regrets — I will always love the O’s.”
Those in the game say it will be only a matter of time before Albany and Norton hook on with another team. Both are highly regarded within the industry, but it will be an easier transition for Albany.
“[Scouts] can work from our home, but for guys like Tripp it’s a life-changing deal — he has to move his family,” Albany said.
Even though he has firm roots here, Norton admitted the family aspect was the toughest to deal with.
“It was a tough day,” he said shortly after getting the word, “especially telling my son. He’s devastated … but we’ll be OK and hopefully land something soon.”
Albany said he has talked to “a few teams” but is in no rush to change his orange and black allegiance.
“I worked for seven general managers here, and in a few years there will be another,” he said, leaving no doubt about his feelings. “I’m not burning any bridges just because Elias wanted a change. I wear my Orioles stuff all around town, and always will — the O’s will always be my team, no matter what.”
One somewhat delicious irony came up shortly after the dismissals were announced.
“With all that the Nationals and Orioles have going on with the MASN dispute,” said one outsider (as opposed to the over-quoted insider), “wouldn’t it be ironic if Dean and/or Tripp ended up over there — and eventually getting a ring?”
Knowing his excitement level, and what proved to be premature anticipation, when the Orioles had their near-magical run in 2014 before finally losing the ALCS to the eventual World Series runner-up Kansas City Royals, I can only imagine how Albany would handle a ring that didn’t have an orange-and-black tinge.
At the very best, it would be bittersweet. But that’s as bitter as Albany will ever get when it comes to the O’s.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Issue 257: September 2019