- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

It’s been a rough week for the Washington Nationals. Outscored 41-22 on the opening homestand, pelted with impunity by Pedro Martinez and fresh from a Jose Vidro-Tony Tavares blowup over RFK’s homer-killing dimensions, Washington is once again first in war, first in peace and last in the National League. Fans who waited hours for warm beer and cold hot dogs at the home opener can at least observe that the thousands of empty seats around them are a harbinger for excellent seating options this season and, hopefully, shorter concession lines.

And yet it could be a whole lot worse. As it happens, Manager Frank Robinson knows this better than any other man in the game. That’s because he skippered the worst start in the nearly 140-year history of organized baseball. The improbably bad 1988 Baltimore Orioles busted the record for awfulness by losing their first 21 games. In that season of futility, the Orioles would end up losing two of every three games and finish 34.5 games behind the division-winning Boston Red Sox.

Opening-day manager Cal Ripken Sr. was fired after the hapless O’s dropped their first six games. Robinson — optimistic-sounding upon his promotion — spent two presumably agonizing weeks trying to win by all possible means, but he just couldn’t do it. A media laser-light trained itself on the unprecedented rottenness of the ‘88 Orioles. “Orioles’ 14th Straight Loss Makes History in Baseball Frustration,” read the headlines.

At least the players were able to develop a darkly prescient sense of humor about it. “Someday someone will look up the record and have a good laugh,” the O’s now-forgotten catcher Terry Kennedy told a reporter. “It’ll be funny then, but it’s not funny now. This is what the 1988 Baltimore Orioles are going to be remembered for, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” How true.

So Nats fans left shaking their heads at this abysmal 2-8 start in which Brandon Watson got shipped to the minors and ace starter Livan Hernandez was reduced to mutters by Mets home runs can at least thank the baseball gods on this small account. The cursed 1988 Orioles — even with the likes of Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Fred Lynn and a rookie named Curt Schilling — went down in history as the real incarnation of the Bad News Bears. This year’s Nats are merely bad.

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