BALTIMORE – Caleb Joseph has never been one for moral victories, and a historically-bad MLB season did nothing to change his mind.
Joseph’s Baltimore Orioles were inept from the outset and finished the year with a 47-115 record. The former Lipscomb standout refused to sugarcoat the franchise’s worst season since its inception in 1901.
“It’s been a disappointment to say the least,” he said. “We lost a historical amount of games. It’s quite a different atmosphere [from what] I’ve been used to in Baltimore.”
Joseph drew national media attention in mid-September when he spoke his mind to The Athletic’s Dan Connolly. By that point, Joseph’s frustrations had nearly boiled over.
“I’ve never seen sports teams survive seasons like this without people losing jobs, period,” Joseph told Connolly. “Players, you name it. It’s a privilege to be here, but you don’t lose a record number of games and not expect some retribution. Everybody. Every single locker in here should be thinking, ‘You know, I should be fired because I sucked. Period.’”
The 32-year-old catcher did not back down from his previous statements, but he emphasized that he’d like to be part of the team’s solution following a fire sale that included trading top players like Jonathan Schoop, Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton and Brad Brach.
“There was a lot that was on my mind that day,” Joseph said of his candid September remarks. “I feel strongly about this organization. This is the only organization I’ve known. I want to fight for it. I had some things to say that were potentially controversial, but I’m a hard worker, and I feel like we can turn it around.”
Joseph credited Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand for helping him develop a “team-first” mentality during his college career. The Bisons went on to win the 2008 Atlantic Sun championship, which Joseph still lists as “one of the greatest moments” he’s ever experienced on a baseball field.
“That [mindset] was instilled in me when I met Coach Forehand,” Joseph said. “I was an ‘I’ guy – all I cared about was me. I had to have some really long conversations with him to learn that it’s better to be a team guy. And I haven’t changed since.”
Along with team struggles, Joseph had his own slump in 2018. He was even sent down to Triple-A Norfolk in late May after admittedly “pressing” at the plate.
“That was a shock,” Joseph said of his demotion. “Uprooting my family was probably the hardest part. But you have two options. You can either go down, get mad and not produce, or you can suck it up, play your best and make it back to the big leagues.”
Joseph chose the latter option by hitting .273 in 24 minor league games. The Orioles recalled him in mid-June just in time to join his younger brother, Corban, who the team promoted on June 15.
“It’s something that we weren’t sure could ever happen,” the elder Joseph said. “That’s been one of the highlights of the year. Getting to share the field with your brother is quite an accomplishment.”
The pair became one of nearly 100 sets of brothers to wear the same MLB uniform at the same time. Both brothers were selected in the 2008 MLB Draft, but the odds of becoming pro teammates seemed unlikely until Corban signed a minor league contract with the Orioles in 2015.
“It’s something we’ve always dreamed about,” Corban Joseph said. “For me, I’m just taking it in and enjoying every minute. I got to pinch hit for Caleb, so I’m going to be able to hold that over his head for a long time.”
Caleb Joseph finished the year with a .219 average in 82 games. The Orioles currently have two younger catchers in Austin Wynns and prized-prospect Chance Sisco, leaving Joseph’s future in limbo.
Joseph is due for his third round of arbitration and is under Baltimore’s control through the 2020 season. That’s because Joseph has “Super Two” status, which allowed him to go to arbitration a year early in 2016. But the team could decide to trade or release Joseph before reaching arbitration.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “When you lose  games, people need to be prepared for anything.”
No matter how contract negotiations with the Orioles turn out, Joseph said he would like to play at least five more seasons to accrue 10 years of MLB service and earn a pension from the league.
“Lucky for me, I have more of a younger body,” he said. “As long as I can produce, I feel like there will be a job waiting for me. [Catchers] are really hard to find and develop.”
Joseph will soon return to Middle Tennessee for the offseason and settle into a new house with his wife, Brooke, and their two young children. He’ll also workout at Lipscomb and move on from his losing season by watching his favorite NHL team win games.
“Lots of Predators games – that’s my team,” Joseph said. “And I’m not one of these bandwagon fans that just jumped on a couple years ago. I’ve been going since 1998. I’ve always loved hockey, so I’m really excited about that.”
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison/Creative Commons