Give Orioles fans a today team to go with yesterdays

JOHN EISENBERG

October 11, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- You take planes from Baltimore to Minnesota to Toronto, but in one sense, you don't move. All three places are mad about baseball. No tickets available. Newspapers bulging with special sections. The talk everywhere on the streets.

There is a fundamental difference, though, so distinct that you almost become a time traveler, not just a frequent flyer. The difference: They were celebrating yesterdays in the Baltimore you left, and in Toronto and Minnesota the joy is today's.

Talk about a time warp. The Baltimore you left Monday had a nostalgia hangover from a stadium wake that made it legal for a few days to replace the grim present with the glorious past. Yet in Minnesota and Toronto, where the American League playoffs are being held, "yesterday" is a dirty word.

Minnesotans don't want to remember anything that happened before or after the Twins won the World Series in 1987. Lakers leave town, Vikings lose Super Bowl, Twins just lose -- that's it. And in Toronto, well, the Jays' history is darker than a Bergman film and the Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967.

As sports towns, these places are positively postmodern. They aren't conjuring memories, they're making them. Within 12 months, Minnesotans will watch the Stanley Cup finals, U.S. Open golf tournament, Super Bowl and Final Four in their state. An astounding 4 million fans bought baseball tickets in Toronto this year. And now comes the best of all -- the home team in the playoffs.

You get off the plane in these places and you watch and you listen, and this is the feeling that wells up inside you: It's terrific to have a past to celebrate, as we do, but there's just no substitute for a right now worth cheering.

This is the feeling that wells up inside you: It's time for the Orioles to make a better effort at putting a better team on the field. Spend more money, be more aggressive -- make an attempt to play the game as well as they sell it. Stop making long, lawyerly excuses. Get some better ballplayers. Try making new memories.

It's just no longer fair for them not to do more. The 150,000 who witnessed Memorial Stadium's Last Weekend are, like the entire attendance miracle of 1991, evidence of the city's remarkable baseball faith. Fans just don't get any better. Put them in the new stadium and give them a glimmer of hope in the standings, and we'd all be part of a happening.

To keep trotting out rotten teams, especially when the stands are guaranteed to be so full, is more than just cynical. It's an insult to the old Orioles who put on their uniforms Sunday. It's an insult to the citizens of Maryland who paid for the new stadium.

To befoul the first year of that palace-to-be with another rotten team would be a disgrace bordering on a civic crime, a soul-stealing at the very least. There oughta be a law.

You can't say the Orioles absolutely must improve themselves -- baseball is too unpredictable to make such a demand. But what can be demanded is a better attempt to improve. Demanded at the top of your voice.

No more filling holes with minor-league free agents or someone else's tarnished talent. No more bonehead trades done to appease the bottom line. No more "just a little bit short" in the free-agent stakes.

Look what happened in Minnesota. The Twins lost 88 games last year and did something about it. They anted up and took a chance, signed Jack Morris and Chili Davis, neither of whom came with a guarantee. And that was after they'd spent considerably to make sure they kept their stars, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett. Now they're in the playoffs. They created a right now.

And look at the Blue Jays. They got tired of losing the big one and took a chance, traded in the heart of their team for another one. It worked. It's what you have to do if you want to move up in today's market, where so much talent changes places every year. You have gamble some, be aggressive.

The Orioles are mostly innocent on those charges. They gambled a little on trading for Glenn Davis, but it's no gamble -- just dumb -- if they don't re-sign him. Bringing him back is the very least they can do this off-season. Whatever it takes.

They also need a starting pitcher. The manager says it. Everyone knows it. It has to happen. Frank Viola is a free agent. So are Tom

Candiotti and Mike Moore. Make a run at one. A real run. Not a "just short" run.

The money is there. The team will make killer profits in the new ballpark. The least it can do for a baseball-mad city is put some back into a team that desperately needs it. It just isn't fair anymore to find excuses. It isn't.

Hey, the Orioles have some of the same framework in place at the Twins and Braves, the noted worst-to-firsters. They've got some promising young pitchers, a couple of stars. But, like the Twins and Braves, they need more. Much more.

So c'mon, Orioles, do something. Give the people what they really want -- a today to go with yesterday, a respectable team to go with the new stadium, a jump-start for the dormant memory-making process. It's long overdue.

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