Matthew Taylor: On Hardy's extension, fun and clubhouse chemistry

The big news from the weekend, aside from the Orioles turning a nine-game losing streak into a two-game winning streak, was the team's agreement on a three-year extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy.

You wouldn't expect to hear a player say anything negative about the organization that just gave him more than 20 million reasons not to. You don't anticipate much more than clichés following this type of contract announcement. This is baseball after all, the sport where players take it one game at a time and try not to look ahead because the season is a marathon, not a sprint.

With that in mind, the following Hardy quote stood out to me if only because it appears to be an oxymoron given the current state of baseball affairs in Birdland: "I like all the guys in this clubhouse. I like the coaching staff. I just think overall I've had a lot of fun here, and there's been years I didn't have a lot of fun playing. That's a big thing for me, to have fun, and all these guys allow me to do that."

Fun? It's not a word we fans in Baltimore are used to hearing unless it comes at the end of a sentence that begins "This isn't." The O's currently have an underwhelming 38-54 record, and all signs point to a 14th consecutive losing season.

Hardy's comments are incongruous not only with the team's performance but also - and even more so - the reputation of the O's clubhouse in the recent past.

In his book "Living On the Black," John Feinstein chronicled the 2007 seasons of aging New York pitchers Tom Glavine of the Mets and Mike Mussina of the Yankees. Mussina, a former Oriole, spoke in only slightly veiled terms about his time in Baltimore.

"I've been on teams that began circling days on the calendar trying to get the season over with from the All-Star break on," Mussina told Feinstein. "Believe me, it's not fun. And it really wouldn't be fun here."

Mussina had yet to experience a non-playoff season with the Yankees at the time he made those comments. Provided he wasn't engaging in hyperbole the pitcher would have been making reference to a time during his stay in Baltimore from 1991 to 2000.

Says Hardy: "I've had a lot of fun here."

Said Mussina: "Believe me, it's not fun."

More recently, writer Chris Jones, who used to cover the Blue Jays, referred to the 1999 Orioles as having "the worst single clubhouse in the history of baseball."

Here's a sampling of Jones' thoughts:

"I don't want to overstate this, but there were nights when I believed the 1999 Baltimore Orioles had been purposefully assembled to destroy the will of others to live. A springy Labrador puppy could bounce into that locker room and it would immediately turn into a pile of burnt hair and ashes. ... It was a sour, pitiless collection of mostly angry men, marching like orcs through an interminable season."

Okay, now that's hyperbole.

Nevertheless ...

Says Hardy: "I like all the guys in this clubhouse."

Writes Jones: "The worst single clubhouse in the history of baseball."

Is it possible that the attitude in Baltimore has changed even if the results haven't? As a fan, there's really no way to know the answer. When it comes to things like team chemistry and the atmosphere of a clubhouse, we have to go on what we hear from the guys with their shoe-leather boots on the ground. Usually the truth comes out only years later.

Until I hear differently further down the road, I'm inclined to believe Hardy when he says he's having fun in Baltimore. Nothing says it better than his signature on a dotted line that extends his stay.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds will appear this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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