With Palmeiro here, city has chance to win back its respect

December 14, 1993|By Bill Tanton

While listening to the newest Oriole, Rafael Palmeiro, at his Camden Yards news conference yesterday, I kept thinking about Howard Stern.

That's right -- Howard Stern, the radio shock jock.

Stern and Palmeiro have nothing in common except for one thing. Both are making a ton of money -- Stern as a $4 million a year broadcaster-author, Palmeiro as the possessor of a new, five-year, $30.35 million contract with the Orioles.

As Rafael talked about the coming season -- "I hope I can make a difference in winning something big here," he said -- I couldn't help thinking of some dialogue from Stern's radio show that morning.

Stern, not much of a sports fan, and his sidekick, Robin Quivers, were talking about the NFL games that had been played over the weekend.

"The Giants beat -- who was it, Robin? -- the Indiana Colts?" Stern said.

"The Indianapolis Colts," she answered. "I used to follow them when they were the Baltimore Colts."

"Me, too," said Stern.

"I feel sorry for the people in Baltimore," Robin said. "Those people revered the Colts, and the owner took the team away in the middle of the night. The people woke up and the team was gone.

"Baltimore has been trying ever since then to get a team back. And just recently Charlotte and Jacksonville got teams and Baltimore was left out."

Well, I feel sorry for Baltimore's sports fans, too. A lot of people do.

But when Stern says those things to his audience, which he claims numbers 16 million nationally, it only underscores our city's sports woes.

Which is where Rafael Palmeiro comes in.

Baltimore has a great baseball franchise. Period.

Palmeiro, who played here numerous times as a member of the Texas Rangers, said so yesterday.

"This is a baseball city," he said. "Here, you have major-league baseball and that's it. The fans are great. It's hard for a player on another team to play before 48,000 crazy people every night.

"In Texas, as soon as the Dallas Cowboys went to training camp, they began to take over the sports page."

All of which is true, of course.

For a baseball player, this makes Baltimore a wonderful place to play -- especially a left-handed hitter like Palmeiro with "that right-field wall [318 feet down the line] right there, staring me in the eye," as he put it.

Baltimoreans have put up with a lot. Besides losing their NFL team a decade ago, they long ago lost their NBA team. Even their minor-league hockey team bailed out for Maine this year.

And then there was that ungodly mess this fall in Chicago, where the NFL insulted Baltimore and Maryland -- and left us still without pro football.

Left unsaid by Palmeiro was the fact that Baltimore's Orioles, while wildly successful at the gate, haven't been in the playoffs for 10 years. They haven't won anything big.

For the past two seasons, they were in the race until September and then fell out of sight.

Is Palmeiro -- he of the 37-home run, 105-RBI career-best season in '93 -- the player who can cure that? Orioles owner Pete Angelos and his many partners are betting a lot of money that he is.

So Palmeiro says he hopes his presence will help the Orioles win something big, and a city and state are hoping with him.

In the back of the room on the sixth floor of the warehouse, looking on as Palmeiro talked was Orioles manager Johnny Oates. He wasn't disputing anything Palmeiro said.

"I've known Raffy for a long time," the smiling Oates said, "since he was with the Cubs and I was one of their coaches [in 1986 and 1987].

"Having him here makes that third spot in the batting order very interesting. You could lead off with Anderson, bat Devereaux second, Palmeiro third with Ripken or Baines fourth, depending on whether a left-hander or right-hander was pitching. Then you've got Hoiles, and the kid who's just learning to play [Jeffrey Hammonds]. And the third baseman.

"That's a pretty good lineup, and it's all because of that guy you build around in the third position."

At Harborplace, a short walk from Camden Yards, former Channel 11 newsman Rich Hollander, who is a huge baseball fan, was talking about Palmeiro.

"I hope he can help put the Orioles over the top," said Hollander, now a cable TV operator. "Baltimore needs something."

Of course, it does. It needs to win something big. Even Howard Stern and Robin understand that.

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