Dabbling in dubious distinctions


October 06, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

Apparently, time flies whether you're having fun or not.

This is it. This is the last day anyone will walk through the turnstiles at Memorial Stadium to watch the Baltimore Orioles, unless, of course, the Maryland Stadium Authority got a contractor referral from the Montreal Expos.

Turn out the lights. The season's over.

It is the end of an era. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It is the autumn of hope. It was the summer of our discontent. It was a season to remember. It was a season to forget.

It should be obvious by now that I've been asked by the Orioles to throw out the last cliche as part of the final weekend festivities. This is where someone is supposed to fade in with "Thanks for the Memories," a wonderful, nostalgic song that is beginning to get downright irritating.

Nevertheless, this is going to be a very memorable afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Prizes will be awarded. Dozens of former Orioles will be lionized. The vice president of the United States will be in attendance. Earl Weaver will kick dirt on his shoes and be wrestled to the ground by Secret Service men. Just a fun day all around.

What a way to end 38 years on 33rd Street. And, what better day to hand out the fourth annual Golden Schmuck Awards, which are awarded each year for dubious achievement in the world of baseball. You had to figure this was all leading up to something. Well, here goes:

* Name That Stadium Award: To Baltimore Orioles owner Eli Jacobs and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who needed only four months to agree on a name for the new downtown ballpark. It's comforting to know that the two chief decision-makers in the stadium construction process can agree on something, though Schmuck Stadium seemed like a nice compromise to me.

* Condemn That Stadium Award: To the provincial government of Quebec, which spent more than $1 billion to build Olympic Stadium during the 1970s and now faces the prospect of closing it down. The stadium project was a nightmare of mismanagement and governmental bureaucracy. It cost nearly three times as much as Toronto's high-tech SkyDome (in 1991 dollars), and now it is falling down. Well, that's the way the ballpark crumbles.

* The Richie Phillips Award: Given each year to Major League Umpires Association director Richie Phillips for whatever heavy-handed publicity stunt he dreams up to keep his name in print. This year, he advised umpire Gary Darling to file a multimillion-dollar defamation suit against Cincinnati Reds manager Lou Piniella, who had told reporters that he felt Darling was biased against his team. If I had a couple of million dollars for every time a manager has criticized an umpire, I could rebuild Olympic Stadium.

* The Buck Starts Here Award: To each of the general managers who presided over the firing of a field manager this year. The numbers don't lie. Changing managers rarely makes a difference in the fortunes of a struggling team, though a managerial change often deflects attention away from the club officials who actually should be held responsible. Of the seven teams that changed managers, only one -- the Kansas City Royals -- made any significant strides after the change. But when the heat is on, look for baseball management types to go for the knee-jerk solution ++ every time. Maybe it's because a lot of them aren't very imaginative and aren't very smart and don't want anyone to know it.

* If You Don't Like the Way I Pitch, Stay out of the Fifth Row Award: To Reds pitcher Rob Dibble, who vented his frustration early this season by throwing a ball into the stands and striking a fan. Dibble's legendary temper flared again a few weeks later, when he fielded a bunt and threw the ball at Chicago Cubs outfielder Doug Dascenzo. He later agreed to seek counseling to help him maintain his self-control, but he remains one of the most volatile personalities in the game.

* Goodness Had Nothing to do with It Award: To the Pittsburgh Pirates, who may have looked like a team divided during spring training but took the National League East by storm. Remember the famous training camp run-in between manager Jim Leyland and outfielder Barry Bonds? The Pirates apparently forgot about it just in time to start playing championship-caliber baseball.

* The Hair Club Trophy: To New York Yankees general manager Gene Michael and manager Stump Merrill, for benching No. 1 solid citizen Don Mattingly in August because his hair was too long. The Yankees normally are too busy buying damaging information about their players to worry about personal grooming, but they made an exception for Mattingly, whose hair has been ducktailing out of his batting helmet for years.

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