Oh, of course, it's fans who are to blame

July 15, 1996|By John Eisenberg

The Orioles were finishing off a catastrophic weekend, getting swept by the Yankees in a four-game series to fall 10 games out of first place.

The $48 million team was coming apart like a cheap shirt made in a Third World sweatshop, buttons popping, seams fraying.

What was the front office doing?

Complaining about the fans.

How about that for keeping their eyes on the prize?

Look for the grounds crew and the peanut vendors to get blamed next week.

Anyone but the players, some of whom run hard on routine ground balls.

It all came down in the sixth inning of the Yankees' 4-1 victory yesterday at Camden Yards. Joe Foss, the Orioles' vice chairman of business and finance, convened reporters in a media lunchroom to complain about Orioles season-ticket holders selling their seats to Yankees fans over the weekend.

No mention was made of the club's inconsistent pitching and poor clutch hitting.

Just those dad-blasted turncoat fans.

They were the root of the club's problems over the weekend, apparently.

"There just seems to be such a pronounced amount of Yankee fans [in the park] in this series," Foss said. "It was particularly obvious in the first game [Saturday] night. It sounded like there were more Yankee fans than Oriole fans in the stands."

The Yankees fans would have been quieter if the Orioles had managed more than an occasional clutch hit, but Foss still wanted it known that the Orioles didn't sell those seats to Yankees fans -- and anyone who did was, well, a meanie.

"Based on the location [of the Yankees supporters], it's obviously season-ticket holders who have resold their seats," Foss said. "That is certainly their prerogative. But we would hope that our fans, when they are unable to use their tickets, would resell them to people in the Baltimore-Washington area . . . people who would love to see this game and support the !B ballclub."

In other words, now the Orioles not only want you to take out a second mortgage to buy a ticket, they also want you to ask prospective buyers a round of questions before reselling.

Are you going to cheer for us or them? Are you going to bring a banner? Will it be funny or sarcastic? How funny?

Maybe the club should print a guide for fans to use when reselling. You know, a list of helpful hints.

Sample: "If you are planning to sell a ticket to a Yankees fan, ask him if he is a) relatively rational and polite, given where he lives, b) typically obnoxious, or c) an animal who would prefer to get ejected from the ballpark? (Don't sell to the latter!!!)"

It's time for another sports team to come to town when the Orioles start complaining about their fans.

Time for the Orioles to lose the luxury of taking their overwhelming popularity for granted.

Ding, ding, ding.

Smug alert.

At Camden Yards yesterday, the Orioles played to their 10th straight sellout and 24th in 49 games this season.

They lead the American League in attendance, as they did last year despite having a losing record.

They have drawn more than 15 million fans in five years at Camden Yards.

All to watch a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1983.

A team that comes in under expectations every year, almost as if it were allergic to success.

A team that is rolling over and barking right now, right on schedule.

The season-ticket holders are the core of the constituency that continues to support the Orioles despite such repeated failings -- a constituency that has transformed the Orioles from a mediocre franchise into one of the most valuable in any sport.

These are the fans who had an unbelievably galling rise in ticket prices stuffed down their throats after the '94 strike, and still came out to watch.

They should be able to do whatever they want with their tickets without hearing about it from the Orioles.

What is this, a police state?

Naw, just a state of panic.

The Orioles should thank their fans, not criticize them for selling out to the other side.

As if that was what caused the club to flame out over the weekend.

Yes, there were a lot of Yankees fans in the park over the weekend, and yes, they did make a lot of noise.

Yes, there is no doubt Camden Yards is a quiet place, certainly quieter than Yankee Stadium.

Big deal.

Camden Yards would get louder if the Orioles ever gave the fans something real to cheer about, but that's not the point.

The point is that the Orioles look ridiculous dragging their fans into the mix when the team is falling apart.

A major-league front office should do better than that.

Don't pin all the blame on Foss; he works for an emotional owner who surely was galled by the sound of those Yankees cheers in Camden Yards all weekend.

But the way to stop those cheers isn't to try to govern the fans' behavior, as if that were possible.

The way to stop those cheers is to put together a team that can beat the Yankees.

Oh, well.

Maybe next year.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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