Manager aside, Orioles questions keep popping up

May 28, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

You're not going to be happy with me. Here it is, the morning after a long, hot holiday weekend, you're probably sunburned and tired and cranky from sitting in all that traffic, and you open your paper and turn to the sports section and, bingo, I'm throwing a pop quiz at you.

Yessir, a popperoo! Hoo boy. I'm sorry. I really am. But hey, as Frank Robinson can attest, life isn't always fair. So, grab the nearest No. 2 pencil, find a desk and pull your thinking cap over your ears. Here comes the official 1991 Orioles Culpability Exam (post-Frank edition):

1. Who deserves the blame for the Orioles going 0-4 since Frank Robinson was fired?

a) the manager

b) the hitters and pitchers

c) the media

2. Whose fault is it that the Orioles have scored only nine runs in the four losses?

a) the manager

b) the hitters

c) the people at the bat factory

3. Whose fault is it that Ben McDonald went on the disabled list with a sore elbow on the day of new manager John Oates' first game?

a) the manager

b) Ben's mommy and daddy

c) life in general

4. Whose fault is it that the bullpen has blown leads in two of the four losses under Oates?

a) the manager

b) the bullpen

c) John McGraw, who became the first manager to use a pitcher in relief, in 1908

5. Whose fault is it that the Orioles' doctors have X-rayed so many bones lately that they are taking on a bluish glow?

a) the manager

b) fate

c) medical science

OK, put down your pencils and let's see how you did. I won't assign any grades. Let's just put it this way: If your answer to any question was a) the manager, you are either a talk-show caller or a member of the Orioles' front-office. And you're wrong. Oates does not deserve the blame for 0-4. It's not the manager. Wasn't, and isn't. Not with this team.

No, Oates is a competent baseball man who inherited a team in need of much more than new managing blood. Such as: better pitching, better hitting and better health -- great places to start, eh? Without that, the new manager will fare no better than the old one.

I do hate to keep bringing this up, but it's just that the firing of Robinson seems more and more ridiculous as time passes. Another loss last night. Another limp night at the plate. The Orioles are getting better pitching and still can't win. Do you blame the manager? Of course not. This is a slumping, injured team with big problems. The people in the front office should be ashamed for scapegoating Robinson. They really should.

What were the reasons he was fired? Seriously, what do you hear? That he didn't look excited enough in the dugout? That the players didn't like him? That they'd quit believing in him? That he never gave them roles? Please. It's all a bunch of fluff. Cheap psychology. Baseless.

If the players looked dour at the end of Robinson's tenure, it's their fault. They're pros. They should be ready to play no matter what's happening. If they didn't know their roles, it's because they hadn't played well enough to deserve one. (Ever notice how Cal Ripken seems to know his role?) If they quit on him, whose fault is that? Don't you blame the quitters? And anyway, Robinson wasn't a rant 'n' raver. He didn't demand too much.

Listen to this. In the seven-plus years since the Orioles last won the World Series, they have fired three managers and finished in the upper half of the American League East exactly once. That's such a notable stat it bears repeating: once in seven years in the upper half of baseball's worst division, probably once in eight years after this season. And yet three managers have lost their jobs.

One of these years maybe the club will get around to realizing what's wrong. It isn't the managers. It wasn't Robinson. It isn't Oates. It wasn't Joe Altobelli. It wasn't Cal Ripken Sr. (Gracious, he had Eric Bell and Ken Dixon in his rotation. He had no chance at all, none.) No, John McGraw himself couldn't have won with the players who have passed through here the past eight years.

Who remembers Floyd Rayford playing third? Jeff Stone leading off 1988? Ken Gerhart in center? Doug Sisk closing? Those are the lowlights, of course, but the basic point is not to be missed: This team has been trying to fill holes for years at almost every position. Think of it: only at shortstop and second base -- and at closer since 1989 -- has there been any consistency. That's no way to contend.

No, the scapegoating has been badly misplaced. The front office has taken this team in one too many directions. First it was the failed free agents and empty minor-league system of Edward Bennett Williams' years. Then the nobody-home teams of 1987 and 1988. Then the pitching-and-defense-and-youth course that coincided with the miracle of 1989, which led to the false assumption that the rebuilding was further along than it was.

Now the club is not quite so young, the defense and pitching are not so hot and the owner has a lock on his wallet. "How would Matt Young look on this team?" Throw in some huge injuries and slumps to start the year and, well, it leads us to the extra-credit portion of today's quiz: The Orioles have lost four straight to the Yankees and Indians because:

a) the Yankees and Indians are terrific.

b) the Orioles are not.

Got it?

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