Game remains, but emotion is yanked out

October 08, 1997|By John Eisenberg

Not to sour the sweet baseball high our city is experiencing, but, let's face it, the American League Championship Series just isn't the same without the Yankees.

A series against the Indians? That's just baseball, regardless if the Orioles win or lose.

Who cares about that?

Honestly, what good is a World Series title if you don't get to zap the Evil Empire along the way?

Just kidding.

But a series against the Yankees would have been about more than baseball, that's for sure.

It would have been, well, personal. Like the way Don Corleone got personal in "The Godfather."

The Orioles and the Yankees playing for the AL pennant would have been baseball as blood sport, complete with higher highs, lower lows, more trips to the pharmacy, less sleep, the vague whiff of a nuclear event and, of course, the ever-present fear of getting ripped off.

America at its best, in other words.

The fans wanted it, the Orioles wanted it, anyone in town with a sense of adventure wanted it.

"We were looking forward to going up to Yankee Stadium and doing to them what they did to us last year," Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone said yesterday. "The Indians are a super team, and the series will be tough. But we'll miss the rivalry with the Yankees and all the things that came with it."

After the Indians' victory in their Division Series with the Yankees, we can only imagine what might have happened in a rematch of last year's ALCS.

Imagine "The Battle of the Bosses, Part II," with George Steinbrenner and Peter Angelos whipping out their yardsticks to measure the lengths of each other's limousines, wallets and general overall importance.

Imagine Jeffrey Maier prowling the right-field stands again as the most dangerous little truant in New Jersey history, which is saying something.

Imagine Jimmy Key and David Wells starting Game 2 against their old teammates.

Imagine Yankees fans trying to take over Camden Yards as Orioles fans get so puffed up with fear and loathing that they can't even see their shoes.

Imagine Irabu!

"I kind of had my mind set on the Yankees," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said during yesterday's workout. "My mind, my heart, the whole thing. But I'm not heartbroken it's someone else. The Yankees are a heck of a club. They've got a lot of weapons. It would have been a tough series. Probably some freak thing would have affected the outcome again."

Like what?

"Like Jeff whatever his name was, I forgot what his last name was," Johnson said.

See?

You just don't get 12-year-old overnight heroes falling out of the stands when you play the Indians.

You might get an occasional mascot falling off the bullpen wall and tearing up his knee, as the Indians' mascot, Slider, did during the 1995 ALCS.

But aside from that, you're going to get only baseball, nine innings, nine men in the lineup, 90 feet between the bases, you dTC know the drill.

It's fine and interesting and the national pastime and all that, but, sorry, it can't begin to compare to seven searing chain-saw bouts.

"I know all of you guys are going to miss the Yankees," Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said yesterday to reporters at his locker.

No doubt about that, he was told.

"So," Palmeiro said, "is that why we're playing, to make better stories for the media?"

Well what else?

He waved his hand.

"Forget the Yankees, man," he said. "They're out of it. They're gone."

But not forgotten.

"It's hard not to miss them," Orioles outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds said. "To play them again for the chance to go to the Fall Classic, well, that would have been great. Not to take anything away from Cleveland. They're a very, very formidable team. I tip my cap to them for getting here."

Of course, these aren't the strutting, dominating Indians led by Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton.

Those guys were easy to boo, easy to get worked up over -- easy to root against.

Where are they when you need them?

These Indians are almost cuddly, with old Orel Hershiser, young Jaret Wright and good-guy Sandy Alomar leading the way.

They're just a baseball team, not a concept.

Who can hate them?

They couldn't care less that the Orioles were angling for the Yankees, of course. They just care about their own house, and playing the Orioles is very much a personal matter for them, after the way the Orioles upset them in the playoffs a year ago.

"Maybe we can go out there with a chip on our shoulders," first baseman Jim Thome said.

As for Cleveland's fans, well, playing Baltimore in any sport has become just about as personal for them as playing the Yankees is here.

Something about that little football stadium rising up south of the ballpark.

They get the high ground on that one, friends, there's no avoiding it.

Of course, Art Modell's team is our problem now, not their problem.

A three-touchdown lead?

Anyway, we took their team, we took the pennant they deserved in '96, and now we're trying to take another.

That's personal.

So were the Yankees around here, after the Great Camden Yards Sweep of '96.

The playoffs are no less important with the Yankees gone, but they're just baseball games now.

Little Jeffrey will watch them at home and go to sleep at bedtime.

A shame.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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