As the calendar flips toward the end of another summer season, and the scent of pumpkin spice and back-to-school supplies fill the air, a nation’s sporting eye turns to football.
But, first, can we take a moment to sit back and fully appreciate the trainwreck that is the 2018 Baltimore Orioles?
The Orioles, three-time World Series champion, seven-time winner of the American League and nine-time pacesetter of the American League East, have fallen on some hard times, particularly this season. Actually, let’s rephrase that: The rotary phone has fallen on some hard times. The Tyrannosaurus Rex has fallen on some hard times. The Baltimore Orioles have fallen down a winding staircase of hard times, pulled down the railing in a clumsy effort to stall the inevitable and landed in steaming pile of hard times.
Exactly how stinky are they, one might ask? Well, as of Monday, Aug. 20, the Baltimore Orioles had 38 games left in their season. At that point, they were 50.5 games out of first place, and 37 games out of the final Wild Card spot. They had won 37 games as of Monday, and lost 87.
Lots of teams realize in the last few weeks of a season that they have nothing of note to play for anymore, and the players who aren’t gunning for a lucrative contract the next year start planning their vacations. The Orioles have more than a month left of this moribund march through the 2018 baseball season, and their hopes for eternal glory were thwarted shortly after hearing “Take Me Out to the Ballpark” start on opening day.
Of course, it wasn’t always like this for the Orioles or their fans. Besides the accomplishments offered up earlier in terms of team success, the franchise also has a roster of baseball greats who have sported the team logo over the years. Names like Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray and Boog Powell patrolled the dugouts of Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards for years, providing great baseball and exemplary effort for the legions of fans who cared enough to support the team.
And, now? Well, it’s not so good. Kind of like the Hindenberg had a not-so-good flight, or Yoko Ono had a not-so-good impact on the Beatles.
Under Manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles have been on a nice little run over the past few years, climbing out of the dank cellar of the American League East standings and even finding themselves participating in the playoffs a few years. It was a most-welcome change from the “blahs” that had surrounded the franchise since a good stretch in the mid-’90s provided fans an oasis from the “blahs” that had engulfed the team since the mid-’80s.
Spoiled fan, not thankful for the recent run of relative success? Probably, to some level. I mean, yeah, there were plenty of times during the franchise’s dark years that I would look to the heavens and plead, “Just give me one fun year to root for this team in the playoffs and I won’t ask for anything again.”
Of course, I thought that would mean the team would revert to being bad after that fun stretch — not Bad-News-Bears-while-Walter-Matthau-was-still-drinking-in-the-dugout-bad.
Wow, that was a lot of hyphens. I think I got a cramp typing that.
Perhaps what makes this season most maddening, outside the unquestioned stinkage of their performance, is that it started with a little bit of hope. The Orioles signed a few veteran pitchers to strengthen a rotation that had long been their Achilles’ heel, and had plenty of firepower on the offensive side. The team featured sluggers like Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Adam Jones and, their crowned jewel, Manny Machado.
But they started slowly out of the gates. Then they slowed even more. The new pitchers seemed to toss gasoline onto a raging fire with every pitch, the old pitchers reverted to looking like they were throwing batting practice to a keg-league slow-pitch softball team and Chris Davis started striking out on pitches that weren’t even thrown in the same stadium in which he was playing.
Manny was Manny. He fielded like a magician, made throws that left vapor trails in their wake and, oh, he hit the ball. Hard. Orioles fans knew this was the last glimpse of Manny playing for the Orioles, as his contract was reaching its conclusion and the team’s decision-makers dedicated a lot of their budget to re-sign the aforementioned Davis, and Manny did not disappoint.
Unfortunately, even Manny couldn’t stop the Orioles from losing games 193-4 each night. The optimism Orioles fans held in the spring turned to outspoken anger at management for not securing Manny long-term and never addressing the pitching deficiencies with more than Band-Aids and hope, which was then followed by collective apathy.
The Orioles then traded Manny to the Dodgers for some prospects, scraping together anything they could get before some team dropped off a Brinks truck filled with money as soon as his contract expired, which would have left the team with nothing to show for their brightest star in a generation.
And here they are — firmly planted in stink, but once again playing the “Wait until next year” game.
And here I’ll sit — waiting until next year, believing things will change.
By Darin J. McCann