Root for home team, hope for new owners


December 29, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

The Baltimore Orioles are proving to be one of the most cras organizations in major league baseball and, as you know, you've got to sink mighty low to distinguish yourself among that bunch.

Look at the way the Orioles treated first baseman Randy Milligan. For years, Milligan performed as one of the team's steadiest players. More importantly, he was one of the few Birds to reach out to the community, particularly the area's black community.

Just this year, for example, Milligan and his wife, ReNee, launched a charitable fund to benefit inner-city youngsters. This Thanksgiving, he contributed 100 pairs of children's athletic shoes to homeless advocate Bea Gaddy's annual drive. Next month, he will hold a fund-raising affair in honor of Harlow Fullwood, one of the city's most successful black businessmen.

Nevertheless, the team has tried to deal Milligan for each of the past two years and, earlier this month, it declined to offer him a contract for the 1993 season. Milligan may be back, of course, because the team may need him. First baseman Glenn Davis is damaged goods and young David Segui is unproven. But even so, it is clear that steady performance and civic involvement count for nothing with the Orioles. Business, after all, is business.

Or, consider the sly, underhanded way team officials apparently treated their one superstar, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. They waited until Cal had signed a contract committing him to the team for the next five years before firing his father, third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., and releasing his brother, second baseman Bill Ripken. Of course, I don't know. The Orioles may have made it clear to Cal that they would ax his family before he signed. But I doubt it.

Then there is the tasteless way the team insisted that its name be tacked onto the spanking new stadium that we taxpayers built. I do not fault the team for not naming the stadium after retired Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, however. Public response to that idea was so hostile that I almost feel like apologizing for daring to suggest that we name such an important edifice after a black man.

Now, the team is said to be for sale to the highest bidder, which should be a blessing, since crass behavior, like classy behavior, generally starts at the top of an organization and works its way down.

But we all know that the new owner may whisk the team away at any moment, or blackmail us for further favors, or prove even more obnoxious than the current guy. All we can do is hold our breaths, cross our fingers and pray.

We had better get used to such dilemmas.

Most of us were trained to be loyal to something: to root for the home team, fly the flag, vote the party line, sing the corporate tune. But the 1990s so far appears to be the decade of betrayed loyalties, just as the 1960s was the decade of hope, the 1970s the decade of turmoil, and the 1980s the decade of greed.

The movie "Roger and Me," which illustrated the corporate indifference of General Motors to the community of Flint, Mich., will be the signature story of these days and times.

Our lives today are in the clutches of maverick executives who have no sense of responsibility to anything other than their corporate balance sheets. Community means nothing to them. They are hit and run artists, corporate gunslingers who manage for the short term.

The recession and the corporate down-sizing that followed raises the same question for every worker: Whom can you trust? How can you protect yourself? Above all, how can anyone put down roots, start a family and plan for the future?

We could all become gunslingers, of course. That is what happened to professional sports. Once athletes learned team owners felt nothing for them, they became equally ruthless in pursuing their own self-interests.

Or we could cling to the blind faith that the bad guys always lose out in the end.

In the meantime, I suggest we all be a lot more selective about who gets our loyalty and what our loyalty means. Randy Milligan and each of the Ripkens will manage to survive the capriciousness of their employer. We will find a way to survive the capriciousness of ours.

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