Camden Yards short of 'slam' A big hit with fans, home no big advantage for team

September 29, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

In the end, Oriole Park at Camden Yards passed every test except one.

The test of home-field advantage.

When Camden Yards opened last April, it quickly became the rage of major-league baseball, a must-see tourist attraction, a delight to baseball purists everywhere.

And, for 11 games, it was the place where the Orioles were virtually invincible.

But there was a curious epilogue to last night's season finale at Camden Yards. In a year when the Orioles became the best road team in the American League, when they blossomed into a bona fide pennant contender, they were just five games over .500 (43-38) in their home park.

Of such mediocre numbers are pennant races lost.

"I don't put it on where we play, but how we play," said pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, the Orioles' resident philosopher, before last night's game against the Boston Red Sox.

"We were a little bit too inconsistent to overtake Toronto. At times we played as well as anybody in baseball. Several games this year we were one out away as a pitcher, one hit away as a batter, from winning a series two out of three, instead of losing it two out of three.

"That's how close this team is to being a pennant winner."

The Orioles started the season by winning 10 of their first 11 home games. Despite last night's win, they lost 16 of the last 28 at Camden Yards and 22 of the last 38. Since that 10-1 start, the Orioles are just 33-37 in their new palace.

Manager Johnny Oates says he is unable to explain that dreary trend.

"I've tried to answer this . . . and I can't," he said.

Sutcliffe presented the theory that losing catcher Chris Hoiles to a broken wrist in June was far more damaging than anyone realized. Hoiles, hit by an errant Tim Leary pitch, was on the disabled list from June 22 to Aug. 18.

"When we lost him, we held on, but didn't blow anybody out from that point on," Sutcliffe said. "He was the big bat in our offense. He would've led the team in home runs if he hadn't been hurt. He played the last month, but he shouldn't have [because of the wrist]."

Hoiles will undergo surgery next Tuesday for his wrist.

He still hit 20 home runs in 96 games -- behind Mike Devereaux's 23 -- but the Orioles experienced a power shortage in 1992 that became critical. Shortstop Cal Ripken skidded from 34 homers to 12. Designated hitter Glenn Davis, waging another battle with the disabled list, hit only 11. And first baseman Randy Milligan dropped from 16 to 11.

Conspicuous by his absence was a power-hitting left-handed hitter to pick up the considerable slack.

"When I look at this field," said Orioles coach Davey Lopes, "I say give me as many good left-handed power hitters as you can without hurting the lineup defensively."

When Lopes, a veteran of 15 major-league seasons, looks at Camden Yards, he sees a hitter's park.

"It's definitely a hitter's ballpark, regardless of what anybody says," Lopes said. "We just haven't been hitting and our power guys haven't hit as many home runs.

"It has nothing to do with the park. When Cal is right, when Glenn is right, it doesn't matter what park they're in."

Power outage?

There were 71 homers hit at Camden Yards in the first 33 games here. And there were 73 homers hit in the last 49 games, counting Brady Anderson's 20th and 21st of the season last night.

Another home run stat: Memorial Stadium averaged 166 home runs the last 10 years. This year, there were 144 hit at Camden Yards.

When it comes to home-field advantage, there is only so much Camden Yards can do for the Orioles.

"The only advantage is you have the last at-bat to do something," Lopes said. "The intangible is if the crowd is a factor, and if the team is geared for the ballpark. If you don't have those factors, then the only advantage is you hit last."

With the fifth-best attendance record in baseball history, the Orioles definitely had the crowd factor. Last night's sellout of 45,663 was their 59th in a row, tying the Toronto Blue Jays' one-year record.

"There are times when I'm in the coaching box [at first base] and this crowd has gotten me excited," Lopes said.

Said Sutcliffe: "Many times the crowd has picked up the intensity in the dugout, just by their response. Early in the year, they brought us back several times."

All that was left last night was next year. The 1993 opener against Texas is only 188 days away.

That's a lot of fans

Attendance comparison

1992 (80 dates*).. .. .. 3,567,819

1992 average.. .. .. .. .. .44,598

1991 (79 dates*).. .. .. 2,552,753

1991 average.. .. .. .. .. .32,313

Attendance at a glance

The Orioles' record home attendance is the fifth largest in major-league history, behind the 1991 Toronto Blue Jays (4,001,526), the 1990 Blue Jays (3,885,284), the 1992 Blue Jays (3,776,229 and counting) and the 1982 Los Angeles Dodgers

(3,608,881).

The Orioles closed out the season with a string of 59 straight sellouts.

The smallest crowd of the year was 35,526 on May 6 against the Minnesota Twins. That's more than 3,000 higher than the club's average crowd of 1991.

* One date lost to rain this year. Two games lost to rain in 1991.

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