Sometimes bad karma is all you're due

October 18, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Bad karma.

That, in a nutshell, explains the Orioles' defeat in the American League Championship Series to the Cleveland Indians. There is indeed such a thing as sports karma. Some teams and cities seem to have more than their share of bad sports karma. In that respect, Baltimore and its professional sports teams are a match made in bad karma heaven.

How else to explain the Orioles' Game 6 loss by a score of 1-0? They got 10 hits. Cleveland got three. Still, Dem O's found a way to lose a game. Shades of 30 years ago, when the Orioles' Steve Barber threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers in Memorial Stadium, and Dem O's still found a way to lose the game.

I sat in the stadium that day, a lad in his teens, wondering if the Orioles were engaged in a campaign to deliberately torment their fans. A few years later, the Orioles lost the 1969 World Series to the New York Mets in five games. In that series, mediocre Mets players made all sorts of spectacular plays that they never managed to duplicate. The New York victory was hailed as an upset. In fact, it was a fluke.

But the Mets weren't the only team to benefit from Baltimore's bad sports karma in 1969. The year started with the New York Jets beating the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, probably the greatest fluke in sports history. The National

Basketball Association's New York Knicks then swept the favored Baltimore Bullets - who had won the regular season NBA Eastern Conference title - in four straight games. The Mets' victory over the Orioles closed out a year of insults and bad

karma.

In 1971 and again in 1979, the Orioles lost the World Series in seven games to the same team - the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bad karma had reared its head once again. By then the Bullets had moved down to Washington, and the Colts had been sold to a managerial incompetent by the name of Robert Irsay, who would move the team to Indianapolis in 1984. Baltimore has had more than its share of rotten luck when it comes to professional sports.

Baltimore sports fans probably want to know why. Who knows? Douglas Turner Ward, in his classic play "Day of Absence," satirically lampooned a Southern town whose black citizens had one day suddenly disappeared. The town suffered the predictably disastrous effects of the loss of a portion of its population it had taken for granted but very much needed.

"Have any other towns reported their nigras missing?" the beleaguered town's mayor asks at one point.

"Things are status quo everywhere else," he's told.

"Then what the hell are they picking on us for?" the mayor fumes.

Baltimore sports fans could ask the same question: Why are the bad sports karma gods picking on us? Why not more deserving places? Like New York or Washington, for instance?

Bad sports karma, it seems, is not an equal opportunity deal. It doesn't afflict all in cycles. It just concentrates on a select few. The Chicago Cubs have a history of futility that is now legendary. The Boston Red Sox alternate between being also-rans and contenders, but have consistently fallen short of bringing that World Series title back to Beantown.

Sometimes the rotten luck gets downright weird. In 1960 the Colts trailed the Detroit Lions 13-8 with only seconds left in the game. Quarterback John Unitas faded back to pass and threw the ball in the end zone, where halfback Lenny Moore made a spectacular diving catch for a touchdown. The Colts led 15-13, and more than 50,000 fans at Memorial Stadium figured the game was in the bag.

On the next play Earl Morrall, Detroit's quarterback, threw a touchdown pass that won the game for Detroit. The Colts lost their remaining games and failed to repeat as NFL champions.

In that 1969 Super Bowl game against the Jets, the Colts' quarterback threw several interceptions that turned the game in New York's favor. His name: Earl Morrall. The guy did in the Colts twice, once when he was playing for them.

Cleveland fans are no doubt gloating about Baltimore's latest experience with bad sports karma. We did jack them for their beloved Browns two years ago. And we should have known better, considering what Irsay did with our beloved Colts. Cleveland Indians 1, Baltimore Orioles 0 in 11 innings may indeed be a case of bad sports karma. But in this instance, it's bad karma that's justified.

Pub Date: 10/18/97

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