- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Here's a very easy question to start your day: What do Washington and Baltimore have in common besides traffic, crime and grime?

The answer, of course: Neither has a major league baseball team.

I tried to watch the new-look Orioles on TV the other night. Couldn't do it. Felt like a kid on his first day in a new school. Who are these people?

Chris Richard? Melvin Mora? Trenidad Hubbard? Carlos Casimiro? Brook Fordyce? John Parrish? Luis Matos? Ryan Kohlmeier? Not to mention all the other "prospects" who will be arriving from Rochester and Bowie when major league rosters expand in September.

And this is only the beginning, folks. By next season, manager Mike Hargrove may be putting field attendant Ernie Tyler in the lineup. Ernie is the senior citizen who scoots up every now and then to give the home plate umpire a new handful of baseballs. He has been with the Orioles ever since Cal Ripken was a glint in Senior's eye, and at least you can tell him without a scorecard.

There's no way Mike Mussina is going to re-sign. Moose began 2000 with a 136-66 record, and his .673 winning percentage was the highest in baseball history among right-handers with at least 200 decisions. This season he's an unlucky 7-11 because of invisible hitting support, and he's already ripped management for getting scorched in its fire sale.

Mussina will be 32 when another season starts, and surely his goal is to pitch in a World Series. With the Orioles, it might not happen until he's 52.

Brady Anderson probably will be gone, too. There has been talk that the club might release him because of his huge salary, which would seem cruel and unusual treatment for a guy who has played 13 seasons for you. But at 36, Anderson has slowed noticeably in the field, and his production at the plate has fallen w-a-a-y off since that rabitty 50-home run season in 1996.

Which brings us to … the Franchise.

Cal hasn't played since June 28 because of back problems. Although he says he feels better and hopes to be back in the lineup at mid-month, it seems increasingly unlikely that he'll return to this bum outfit for a 20th season. And, really, why should he?

Ripken is, with apologies to Brooks Robinson, the greatest player in the Orioles' 47-year history one who is headed for Cooperstown as surely as anybody ever was. In his first full season, 1982, he was the American League Rookie of the Year. In his second, he was the AL's MVP at 23 as the Orioles won the World Series. The Streak, 2,632 games of it, will never be broken. Most importantly, his decency and work ethic personify Baltimore's blue-collar nature. He is, in every sense of the word, a hero.

So why hang around and sully all that by associating with a bunch of loud losers on the field and a front office that doesn't know where it's going and doesn't seem to care as long as the three-piece suits keep filing into Camden Yards (and leaving in the sixth inning when the batteries in their cell phones run down)?

Cal won't, not at age 40 and counting. He's gone, along with the Orioles' traditional and largely glorious past. There's just one more thing he can do for his fans put together a group to rescue the club from the Angeloses, Peter and John.

With these players departed, and Scott Erickson possibly out for all of 2001 following "Tommy John" surgery, the only familiar face in next April's Opening Day lineup could belong to ta daah Albert Belle. That would serve Peter Angelos right for signing the surly, underachieving mini-slugger in the first place. That is, unless Hargrove is smart enough to turn Belle into a DH, so angering the erstwhile Joey that he agrees to waive the no-trade clause in his atrocious $13 million-a-year contract. Think about it, Grover.

The guy I feel sorriest for, next to Cal, is club vice president Syd Thrift a lifetime baseball man I first met in 1956 when he was lining the field as coach at Mount Vernon High School. The Angelos family has made it known that tearing up the Orioles was Thrift's idea, so who do you suppose will get the blame when the immediate results are discouraging.

Syd says he has "a plan." Retirement, maybe?

But blame for the Orioles' downfall can't be placed solely on one man, or even on one ownership. It has resulted from years and decades of neglecting the farm system, erasing or chasing good baseball people away and signing the wrong free agents as quick fixes that didn't fix anything. And it's going to take years and maybe decades to get back.

Truth be told, Washington could have an honest-to-goodness major league team before Baltimore does a prospect we all should embrace. The Orioles had their chance to solidify their status as one of the game's premier franchises, and they blew it. Big time.

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