- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.

It’s been a good trip for Baltimore Orioles fans every few years, the run up to this beautiful little town to honor one of their own.

Even through the tough times since 1983 — the last time Orioles magic resulted in a World Series championship — an excursion to baseball’s Hall of Fame every so often at least would reaffirm the tradition of the franchise.

Frank Robinson was inducted in 1982, followed by Brooks Robinson in 1983. Then came Jim Palmer in 1990 and Earl Weaver in 1996. Tomorrow there will be another celebration of the “Oriole Way” when Eddie Murray is inducted.

But after tomorrow, baby, the end is at hand. There is just one more pilgrimage for Orioles fans: the big one, in 2007, when Cal Ripken is eligible.

What a year that will be — Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire. Better start your plans now. Think I’m kidding? The Hall of Fame already has started its preparations, asking these greats what kind of hotel accommodations they think they will need.

But that’s it. Done. There will be no more Cooperstown road trips in the foreseeable future to celebrate what the Baltimore Orioles used to be — unless you think Jerry Hairston or Sir Sidney Ponson are Hall of Fame candidates.

You will just have to settle for the plaques and artifacts inside Cooperstown to remind you this franchise once was the crown jewel of baseball. There won’t be any living, breathing symbols of that standing on a stage here on a Sunday afternoon talking about what it meant to be a Baltimore Oriole and thanking the fans who shared in their greatness.

“The Oriole Way was a way of playing,” Murray said earlier this year. “Everybody did their job, and we all cared about each other.”

That concept is only found these days in an appropriate place for such an ideal — a museum. After Ripken in 2007, there won’t be any evidence it existed except in places where curators are responsible for keeping the memory alive.

It didn’t have to be this way, of course. There could have been at least two more Orioles to follow Ripken to Cooperstown, two more trips up here for induction weekends on the horizon.

One of them may not have been part of the Oriole Way, but he played the best baseball of his Hall of Fame career during his five years in Baltimore, and there would have been some satisfaction if Rafael Palmeiro had stayed. He would have wound up the greatest hitter in club history. He likely will pass 3,000 hits to go along with his 500 home runs — in a Texas Rangers uniform, which is the baseball cap Palmeiro surely will wear when his time comes in Cooperstown. Just think: Of the four players who have 500 home runs and 3,000 hits — Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Eddie Murray and Palmeiro — two could have gone into the Hall as Orioles.

The other one is the most painful one, though, because he was the last symbol of the organization, a player developed in the farm system for which the Baltimore Orioles were once known. Mike Mussina has never said what team he would represent when it comes time to don his cap on stage at Cooperstown, primarily because it would be presumptuous of him, at this stage of his career, to consider his prospects publicly. But someday he will be there. If you don’t think so, then you weren’t paying attention for the past 12 years.

Mussina came up through the Orioles organization and spent 10 years in an Orioles uniform. He liked the idea of being an Oriole, dreamed of someday breaking Jim Palmer’s pitching records and having his name at the top of the list of great pitchers in the organization. But it’s likely Mussina’s situation will be similar to that of Roger Clemens, who spent most of his career with the Boston Red Sox but has said he will go into the Hall as a New York Yankee. In New York, Clemens earned his World Series ring and was part of a championship atmosphere, and that is what he wants to celebrate when his time comes.

I suspect Mussina will be the same case. He may see both his greatest individual and team glory in a Yankees uniform, and the further the Orioles appear in the rearview mirror, the more distant the emotional connection. If I’m laying money, I would think that when Mike Mussina’s time comes in Cooperstown, he will be wearing a Yankees cap. And that may be too much for Orioles fans who enjoyed watching him work at Camden Yards to swallow, and they will likely stay home for that ceremony.


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