- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

What in the name of Lenn Sakata are the Orioles doing these days? Besides preparing to lose, I mean?
Let's see if I've got this right. Owner Peter Angelos and his minions finally pulled the trigger last season, trading just about every veteran except Brady, Cal and Al for prospects. This virtually guaranteed a few seasons in last place or thereabouts, but at least the O's were looking to the future.
Then last week the club signed free agents Mike Bordick, 35, Pat Hentgen, 32, and David Segui, 34. Say what? Clearly, this is the worst youth movement since George Allen's Ramskins in 1971. Who's next in Charm City, Jim Palmer? What the heck, he's only 55, and he hasn't tried a comeback for a decade or so.
And let's get Mike Hargrove out of there as manager who needs a whippersnapper of 51? If the O's are going to bring back Palmer, they should get ancient adversary Earl Weaver, too, and he's, what, 70? Didn't somebody say experience is the best teacher?
Actually, you couldn't blame the Orioles for going back to the past, because it's much brighter than the present or future. And does anybody outside of uniform or the Angelos family still care about that future? I know I don't.
Sportswriters start as fans, and I suffered with the mostly mediocre Washington Senators, both versions, for 23 years before Robert Short shanghaied the expansion club to Texas in 1972. No baseball crank (as fans were called a century ago) switches allegiances easily. Not until 1979 did the bug nip me again.
After years of straggling behind the Yankees and Red Sox, the Orioles started that season 51-16 and dashed to the American League pennant. In this pre-cable era, I found myself sitting on my back porch most nights listening to Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell on the radio. Both were superb broadcasters, and suddenly I was agreeing wholeheartedly with Chuck's signature cry: "Ain't the beer cold?"
The occasional busman's holidays to Memorial Stadium were fun, too, especially when it was "Three-Buck Night" for unreserved grandstand. Compared to ramshackle Griffith Stadium and antiseptic RFK in Washington, Memorial was a gem. You could always find parking space on a nearby street. Those white houses behind the outfield stands were an attractive landmark. And when they played the national anthem and everybody yelled "O," the hairs on the back of your neck stood at attention.
The Orioles won only one more pennant after that, in 1983, but they added a World Series triumph, and stars Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken personified the Oriole Way a time-honored methodology of doing the little things right, on and off the field, to assure big triumphs. If the O's didn't always finish first, they usually came close. Winning, too, was the Oriole Way.
One morning in November 1983, my son and I turned on ESPN at 6 a.m. for the announcement of the American League's Most Valuable Player. Sportscaster Greg Gumbel began, "It must have been especially difficult for voters this season because the two top candidates came from the same team. But there can be no quarreling with their choice of … "
Then Ripken's picture flashed on the screen, and the hollering from our TV room liked to wake the dead.
The next spring, in Miami, our favorite player learned that my son was celebrating his seventh birthday as the two posed for a picture. "Well, I gotta go, Patrick," Ripken finally said, starting to walk away.
"Wait a minute, Mr. Ripken, you forgot your bat," the kid said.
"That's your bat now, Patrick. Happy birthday."
And so we became Orioles fans for life, or so I thought. But in 1993, Angelos bought the club and commenced driving off some of baseball's best people who didn't happen to agree with him. Manager Davey Johnson left, and GM Pat Gillick, and assistant GM Kevin Malone, and broadcaster Jon Miller, and lots of others. Now the Oriole Way seemed to mean something different to heck with winning and to heck with the fans.
Star players left, too, because Angelos made no real attempt to keep them. Rafael Palmeiro re-signed with Texas. Roberto Alomar went to Cleveland. And last month Mike Mussina, one of baseball's five best pitchers, became a Yankee after Angelos procrastinated at negotiating his new deal a frequent bit of folly. But what the hell? The Orioles still had Jason Johnson.
I hope this doesn't cause Angelos too many sleepless nights, but when Mussina posed for pictures in pinstripes, I gave up and began looking for a new team. It hurt, but you have to do what you have to do. Just before Christmas, I ordered a Red Sox jacket. The Bostons haven't won a World Series for 82 years, but they might get their next before Baltimore does.
The Orioles who are they? Oh, yes, a once-great team destroyed by lousy, arrogant leadership.
Baltimore will lose lots of other games and lots of other fans next year, deservedly so while King Peter rules without sense or sensibility. A franchise that spent its first 52 years as the godawful St. Louis Browns might be headed back that way again.
And good riddance.

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