Pre-Opening Day distaste for Orioles out in left field

This Just In...

April 03, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

I DON'T WANT to rain on Opening Day, but have you noticed something in the air? (I mean, besides News Chopper 11 and the plane pulling the Katz Insurance banner.)

I might be wrong about this, but I doubt it: Callers to Baltimore talk-radio shows have never been as negative about the Orioles' prospects before the first pitch of a season. We're at an all-time high of pessimistic punditry. Tune in, you'll hear it.

Of course, talk radio is not always an accurate measure of public opinion. If it were, more of us would own .357 Magnums (without safety locks), live in a bunker in Idaho and eat endangered species. But when it comes to sports, the views expressed on talk radio generally cut across a wider spectrum, all politics aside. What I'm hearing this spring is a sarcasm about the Birds that's angrier and edgier than ever before.

You hearing what I'm hearing?

Now, your sports-talk shows have always had your know-it-all cranky callers and your curmudgeonly "experts" who speak in that deliciously sour voice that gives your otherwise homer-type programs a nasty edge. (Sorry. In the previous sentence, I broke into that annoying "your this/your that" thing. It comes from listening to too much talk radio. I won't let it happen again.)

But not even during those exhilarating years when Eli Jacobs owned the team did I sense bad feelings were epidemic before Opening Day.

Why the unusually high amount of negativity?

I'm no Margaret Mead. I'm no Faith Popcorn. But here's what I think:

The negative trend has less to do with factors best left to sportswriters for analysis -- the starting rotation, bullpen strength, the hue of Albert Belle's mood ring -- than some grander feeling of disenchantment. It's not a phase, not a temporary heartburn you can cure with a Zantac.

It's more chronic than that, a long-simmering mood disorder ranging from dark depression to mere ennui. It's been said that the Orioles in the Angelos era lack chemistry as a team, and the fans pick up on this, like children of an unhappy marriage.

You know what I'm saying?

You hear what I'm hearin'?

Hey, I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here! (Sorry, I inexplicably slipped into a Ratso Rizzo thing for a moment there. My apologies.)

Anyway, it's a drag.

I wasn't going to bring it up, especially here on Opening Day when hope springs eternal and Mike Hargrove begins his first season as manager -- the fourth guy to hold that job since 1995 -- but there have been hours of bad vibes on the local airwaves, and I've never heard it at this level in the 24 seasons since I converted from the Fenway to the Oriole Way. Not in the dreary mid-1980s did I hear such giddy anger. It's weird.

Compared to sports-talk radio in other major-league cities, Baltimore's has always been of the kinder, gentler variety, even during the rough times, like 1988.

But this year many callers -- perhaps the majority of them -- speak with New York-style surliness and hip sarcasm. Which suggests a quantum change in how hard-core fans regard the Orioles organization.

There's a certain level of rhetorical respect they no longer feel a need to maintain when they talk about the Birds.

What, short of a World Series, will change that I'm not sure.

All I know is this, hon: This here is Birdland. Even when there's little reason to be optimistic, you have to look on the bright side of things. (I know Albert Belle always does.) You've got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Immerse yourself in upbeat thoughts. And do what the hosts of talk shows have been telling us Bawlermorons to do for years: Turn your radio day-own!

A friendly Oriole

Descriptions in this space of unsatisfying or unpleasant encounters with Orioles, including an ornery Belle, during spring training (This Just In, March 29) produced more examples and a few counterexamples, including this one, from TJI reader Bruce Jackson:

"I visited Vero Beach, Fla., home of the Dodgers, for the Orioles-Dodgers game March 6. I sat in the third row behind first base. Eddie Murray was coaching first. At Holman Stadium, there is little fan protection; the chain link fence around the field is only three feet high.

"A mother and father sat in the first row with their sons, the boys standing to the home plate side of their parents. The boys' heads were just above the fence. Eddie walked over and suggested that it might be safer for the dad to sit on the left side of the boys to offer them a little protection.

In the bottom half of the inning, before the father made the change, a vicious one-hopper careened off the fence. The father moved over then.

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