Striving for an Oriole-Free Environment

PETER A. JAY

January 03, 1993|By PETER A. JAY

This is the season of personal challenge, of setting difficult goals to meet in the year to come. Mine, one in which other Marylanders may wish to join, is to break my Orioles habit once and for all.

It won't be easy. My own dependency has been established over 38 years, and a resolution to end it cold turkey isn't made lightly. For me, as for others, the Orioles are woven so deeply into my life that the prospect of doing without them is frightening. But addictions can be broken.

Many people who give up smoking explain that they simply concluded that it wasn't worth it -- that the reasons for not smoking so overpowered their desire to continue that stopping became less stressful than continuing. That's why I'm giving up the Orioles, and why I suspect a great many others will too, over the next few years.

L I'll be doing it not for my health, but for my self-respect.

Many of the old reasons for supporting the Orioles are no longer valid. They're not a local team any more in any real sense. The current owner, like his immediate predecessor, is an unappealing out-of-towner with out-of-town interests. I don't necessarily object to giving his baseball corporation my dollars in exchange for a few hours of entertainment, but why should it have a claim on my heart?

Under Jerry Hoffberger's ownership of the Orioles, which hindsight now reveals as a golden era, although the players usually weren't local, the best ones came up through the Oriole system and developed local ties to Baltimore. That's no longer true.

The recent departure from the organization of coach Cal Ripken Sr. and second baseman Bill Ripken, two Aberdeen guys and lifetime Orioles, may or not may prove to have affected the team on the field, but it had great symbolic significance. It made the team even less local, and less likable.

The sportswriters continually berate the Orioles ownership for its reluctance to pick the most famous and expensive players from the free-agent market, but they miss the point. It's more fun to watch a developing team, with players you've watched move up, than one composed of off-the-shelf stars. Besides, experience has taught us that off-the-shelf teams seldom do as well as expected, and home-grown ones often do better.

We may well be on the brink of a great collapse in popular support for professional megasports. This won't please the franchise owners, the players and their agents, and the governments that gain tax revenues from sports, but it will be a sign of a healthier society, and it certainly ought to be encouraged.

What's needed to hasten such a collapse is not a boycott, which is a collective action with specific objectives such as lower ticket prices. Something much more personal, more individual, is in order. The goal ought not to be to force the Orioles to change their policies, but to make their policies irrelevant to our own lives.

There are plenty of ways to do this. For my part, I plan to stop listening to the games on the radio, watching them on television and reading about them in the paper. When the Orioles come up in conversation, I'll just say I don't follow them any more.

I'm occasionally invited to games by friends, and I don't intend to refuse such invitations in the future. That would be petty, and I'd pointlessly deprive myself of pleasant company. But I'll try to watch as though I were watching the Tigers play the Royals -- with interest and appreciation, but without emotional involvement.

None of this will be easy, at least at first. It would be presumptuous of me to say that my own attachment to Baltimore's baseball team is as deep as anyone's, but it is deep, and it goes back a long way. I started going to Orioles games in 1954, the year major-league baseball returned, and have been pretty regular ever since.

After that first awful season, I got into a brawl at school with a kid who laughed at the new team. When my father sold some horses to Clint Courtney, a popular Orioles catcher in those early years, I thought it was the most important event to take place in Harford County since the departure of the Booth family.

When I played high school baseball -- an infielder with a good glove but no bat -- I was inspired and reassured by the example of Oriole shortstop Willy Miranda. Then, later, there was a period when I often used to go to night games at Memorial Stadium by myself. I'd ride the 35 miles home on my motorcycle, replaying each inning in my head as the headlight bored into the thick summer darkness.

In 1966, I couldn't get off work to get to that first World Series, but I saw the first game -- the only one the Orioles won -- in 1969. In 1970 and 1971, I listened to the Series from halfway around the world on Armed Forces Vietnam radio. In 1979, I was there. In 1983, I didn't go, because we had a new baby daughter at home, but I watched every pitch on the tube.

These are memories I don't intend to relinquish. In fact, I expect they'll be all the brighter without continued exposure to the glare of big-time sports. And I don't intend to give up baseball either. There's some pretty good amateur ball in Havre de Grace every summer, and it isn't that long a drive to Frederick.

My simple little New Year's resolution is just to direct my attention away from the deeds of Mr. Eli Jacobs's baseball-playing employees and to offer encouragement to anyone else trying to do the same.

Peter Jay's column appears here each week.

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