Orioles not paying huge debt to fans


December 11, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

You're mad. You're furious. You're talk-show-spewin' Eli-bashin' steamed. And you should be.

You stood in line at Camden Yards last weekend. For hours. In the cold. Buying tickets for games to be played months from now. Because there won't be any left soon.

It worked out OK. You got your tickets. You were happy. Then you had to pick up the paper and read about the Orioles becoming the official ice sculpture of the winter meetings.

You think the ground froze during yesterday's snow? You should see the Orioles when the agent for (fill in the name of a desirable free agent) starts talking.

They don't move a muscle.

They move so slowly, they make a Sam Horn triple look like Carl Lewis going for the gold. Their next twitch will be their first. They're the freeze-dried front office. You'll be seeing the ads soon: The Orioles: Official Team of the Alaskan Glacier.

Don't get me started.

Anyway, you're mad about it, and you should be. The Orioles are insulting you in the worst way. They're taking you for granted. No team in baseball is treating its fans more disdainfully. More cynically.

You have filled their new ballpark they didn't pay for. You have accepted their obnoxious rise in ticket prices announced in the middle of a pennant race. You have stood in line for tickets in December.

They should be wrapping Ruben Sierra in a bow and giving him to you for Christmas, just to say thanks. Just to give you more of the bang you deserve for your ticket buck.

Instead, you're getting the sight of them freezing at the winter meetings. You're getting Roland Hemond, with a miraculously straight face, saying that Sherman Obando might make a difference in right field. It's so outrageous that it borders on fraud.

Please understand. No team with as many customers, or as much money, is spending less than the Orioles. Atlanta and Toronto are the other two teams that drew at least 3 million fans last season. Neither was exactly frozen this week.

At least there was a good laugh when the Orioles claimed they were interested in Andre Dawson. They wanted him, all right -- but for half of the $7 million he turned down from the Cubs. It's called making a show of being interested, so your fans won't think you're frozen.

Not that the Orioles are completely frozen, mind you. Prices will drop as the winter progresses. They'll wind up giving you a Tom Brunansky or a Candy Maldonado or someone else who costs a tenth as much as Sierra. You watch.

It's an insult to your intelligence. The Orioles are one big player away from being a serious contender. You know it. They know it. What the Blue Jays do this winter doesn't even matter. The Orioles have one of the best young rotations in baseball. Put a big hitter in right field, and this team can run with anyone.

Sure, it'd cost. But we're not talking about filling five holes with big-money parts. Not talking about "going free agent" as much as fitting one into a nearly finished puzzle. Just like the Twins and Jays did before they won the last two World Series.

And anyway, the Orioles have plenty to spend. Their payroll was low again last season, and their rise in attendance was the highest. Their operating profit was estimated at $18.4 million in a Sun story in June, before the season sold out. Is this hard to figure out? Sierra belongs here.

What's amazing is there are people around town who actually think the Orioles are wise not to invest in a Sierra. Something about big-money free agents flopping. Are they kidding? What else do they want the club to do with all this money? And so what if he flops? At least an effort was made. As things stand now, they're not making the good-faith effort warranted by the demand for tickets. They're abusing their mandate. Not that they care.

Don't blame Hemond. He was happy to spend money when Bill Veeck let him in Chicago. No, don't blame anyone on this score until you reach the top and run into Eli Jacobs. Yeah, the one who keeps getting sued by banks.

The truth, of course, is that the Orioles aren't going to do anything as long as Jacobs is trying to sell the team. That's why they're frozen. It makes no sense to add cost when you're trying to sell.

The news today is that Jacobs has finally called Boogie Weinglass back, and let's only hope that he sells, that he doesn't have his heart set on some ridiculous price. No sale would be a nightmare. It would mean at least another Year of Living Dangerously Cheap. It would mean the Orioles continuing to give you copper when you deserve gold. Of course, why should they bother to make you happy when they already have your money for next season?

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