Age before beauty as the O's fall apart

April 20, 1999

To: Orioles owner Peter Angelos

From: Kevin Cowherd, on behalf of O's fans

Re: This Hindenburg of a season

Dear Mr. Angelos,

Hoo, boy, this is getting ugly. As I write these words, your baseball team is 3-9 and dropping in the AL East standings with all the restraint of a sofa pushed from a 20th-floor window.

My God, does this team have problems!

For one thing, your starting pitchers appear to be throwing underhand. Then the bullpen comes in to put out the fire, only instead of doing that, they splash on a few gallons of Exxon Extra until it becomes a tenement blaze.

But it's not just pitching. The everyday lineup is composed of a lot of old guys with the mobility of the Washington Monument. These guys don't hit-and-run, they hit-and-nap.

There was a shot of the O's dugout during Sunday's televised 6-0 loss to Toronto and I swear there were a dozen guys with quilts around their shoulders doing needlepoint.

In any event, Mr. Angelos, the fans in this town are becoming increasingly frustrated, as you may have sensed from the tenor of the calls to sports talk radio.

Look, I'm with you -- sports talk radio is the home office for the get-a-life crowd. Some of these callers make those survivalist nuts look well-adjusted. But the baseball fans in this town are genuinely hot. Worse, they're totally embarrassed over the way this team's playing.

True, it hasn't yet reached the point where fans are coming to the ballpark with paper bags over their heads, the way they did in '88 during the 0-21 start.

But that's only because the team's on the road now. Once the anchors on ESPN start smirking and chirping: "And the Orioles problems continue. A brutal afternoon in Toronto ..." you know you're officially a civic embarrassment.

In the meantime, Mr. Angelos, people are looking to you to take some action, and fast.

One thing you'll probably do soon is can manager Ray Miller.

Oh, I know, I know ... you were quoted in yesterday's paper as saying Miller is "safe, period."

But this is what they kept telling Michael Ovitz at Disney, too. And then one day someone was handing him a mop and a bottle of Pine Sol and saying: "Take care of that spill over by the coffee machine, will you, Mike?"

If I were Ray Miller, I wouldn't be putting a down payment on a new house around here anytime soon, if you catch my drift.

Anyway, if I could presume to offer one piece of advice, it would be this: Be more like George Steinbrenner.

Let me explain:

As anyone who's ever been in his presence for more than 10 seconds knows, Steinbrenner is a big, fat blowhard.

(In another life, I was a sportswriter who covered the Yankees for five years. Once, during the World Series, I was rousted out of bed at 3 in the morning by a breathless team rep, who summoned me to a hastily called news conference in Steinbrenner's hotel suite. There the Boss held up a bandaged hand and announced he'd just duked it out in the elevator with a mouthy Dodgers fan to avenge the honor of the Yankees.

(This episode, of course, convinced me that Steinbrenner was not just a big, fat blowhard after all. He was nuts, too.)

But the thing about Steinbrenner is, he doesn't suffer losing gladly. And he knows how to shake things up, which often gets his losing teams back on track.

If I may say so, you, sir, do not seem like a big, fat blowhard. You seem genuinely concerned about the fans of Baltimore and willing to spend money to field a winning team for them, not just to see your name in the paper.

But it's time to shake things up on this team. And it's time to atone for -- forgive me -- your biggest screw-up as Orioles owner. That, of course, was letting Davey Johnson go as the manager.

Davey Johnson could show up in the dugout in the seventh inning with a monstrous hangover, a pitcher of gin and tonics in one hand and a Macanudo in the other and still find a way to win the game for his team.

(A personal note: You also screwed up big-time letting Jon Miller, the Picasso of the airwaves, get away. I don't care what he wanted -- I would have backed a Brinks truck up to his front door to keep him in town.)

Anyway, all that's water under the dam. Now it's time for action.

So here's what you do. When you finally ax Ray Miller, replace him with a manager who's experienced, decisive and can light a fuse under some of these catatonic players, a manager who has the stature to command their respect.

Then stop signing old, slow guys. Let's get some players who can actually steal a base, can hit-and-run. Wouldn't that be a marvelous change?

Finally, start playing the young guys in the Orioles farm system. Play the Calvin Pickerings and Ryan Minors and Jesse Garcias. The fans will put up with struggling young ballplayers as long as they sense the team is moving in the right direction. And it could all begin tonight, Mr. Angelos.

Tonight, the O's start a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Your team could get well against the Devil Rays, who have a lot of old, slow guys, too.

They have Wade Boggs at third base. Boggs is now, what, 56? And they have Fred McGriff, who might as well take a walker up to the plate. And Jose Canseco is their DH. He's been playing since, what, the year we launched the Apollo space program?

Yes, Mr. Angelos, your old, slow guys might even beat their slow, old guys.

But even if they do, it's time to do something with this team.

Sincerely, A fan

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