ARLINGTON, Texas -- (Instead of the column that usually appears in this space, the editors have decided to run the audio portion of a TV show that recently appeared on an obscure cable channel late one night.)
"Greetings, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to 'Darkest Thoughts,' the exciting and challenging new game show in which you, the audience, tries to guess someone else's worst nightmare! OK, let's get depressed!
"Our subject for today is the Baltimore Orioles, who have recently experienced a drop in the standings after a surprising run during the first half of the season. The rules of our game are simple: The Orioles have submitted four of their dark thoughts, ,, and you have to guess which is the darkest. That's it!
"Remember, everyone who guesses correctly wins a copy of Bernard Malamud's intensely dark novel, 'The Natural,' in which Roy Hobbs strikes out at the end instead of hitting a home run like he does in the movie. Because as we always say here on the set: 'A dark day is sunny to us!'
"OK, let's get going. I have in my hands here a card with the four dark thoughts that the Orioles have submitted, and the one they circled as the worst. Away we go. . . .
"Number 1: The Blue Jays are not even playing well yet. Well, I think we can all agree that this certainly is a dark, dark thought. The Jays have not pitched nearly as well as last season, and there have been some injuries, yet they have been in first place ahead of the Orioles almost all year. That must be discouraging. If the Jays' pitching comes together with their already-potent hitting, the race is over.
"But, and just to help you out here, you can probably guess that the Orioles have darker thoughts than this. After all, they already have had a far better season than anyone anticipated. The development of Brady Anderson, Mike Mussina and Mike Devereaux insures that, as part of a developmental plan, 1992 is a success. This thought just isn't dark enough.
"That brings us to dark thought No. 2: Glenn Davis will never be healthy again. Well, from that rustling in the audience I take it that some of you are giving this serious consideration. And why ** not? We can understand how this possibility might keep the Orioles awake at night. It's not as if Davis hasn't given them reason to worry. He missed most of last season, and can't play first base this year because he can't throw.
"This is a very popular dark thought. Our staff researchers have heard about the fans in Baltimore willing not to ask Davis to sign an autograph if it will keep him off the disabled list. Dark stuff indeed. But with the team having fared so well this season basically without him, something tells me the ballclub has a darker thought out there somewhere.
"OK, No. 3: Clinton gets elected. Wait, that one must be a prank. Either that or the front office. . . . Well, let's just move right on ahead to dark thought No. 4: There is nothing wrong with Ben McDonald. Wow. I think we have a winner on our hands, don't we? I hate to give it away, but it's so obvious.
"As you may know, there has been a lot of concern lately about what might be wrong with McDonald, who has been hit hard this season and has a 23-19 career record with a 4.20 ERA. But what if there is nothing wrong with him, if this is simply the kind of major-league pitcher McDonald is going to be?
"Could the Orioles have a darker thought than that? No way. McDonald was drafted No. 1 in 1989 with the idea that he would be the linchpin of the rotation for a decade. Then, as you know, he was rushed to the majors and suffered a couple of injuries. This is his first full, injury-free year in the rotation, and he is struggling.
"Publicly, the Orioles will say that McDonald is young  and inexperienced [444 pro innings] and developing, so it is too early to worry. But we're talking about dark thoughts that rise up in the night here, and there are indeed some troublesome signs capable of scaring the Orioles if they think long enough.
"See, McDonald's famed fastball does not appear to have a natural rise that would make it harder to hit. Jose Mesa had the same problem. It's a terrific fastball and all, but hitters do not seem intimidated. They're hitting it. And if they aren't worried about it, McDonald's other pitches are not as effective. His off-speed pitches are getting hit hard this year. Not good.
"Well, I see a lot of hands in the air, and congratulations, all of you win a copy of 'The Natural.' You have guessed the Orioles' worst nightmare. Good going, and we're just about out of time here, so don't forget to tune in to 'Darkest Thoughts' again next week, when our subject will be Ross Perot."