Go to bat for all Orioles

May 26, 2000|By Arnold H. Sampson

PLAYERS with names like Cal Ripken, Jim Palmer, Rick Dempsey, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell probably deserve all of the accolades and admiration that they have gotten over the years. Their names and names like theirs have become synonymous with the Baltimore Orioles.

However, players with names like Harold Baines, Eddie Murray, Reggie Jackson, Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle and Armando Benitez made significant contributions to the team's record that have mysteriously managed to become somewhat lost somewhere in the mix of Oriole achievement.

Whether it is intentional or not, those men and other men of color appear to have been treated as minor contributors in the achievements that the Orioles have made with respect to pursuing championships, competing in pennant races and the beneficial impact that the team's presence has on the city.

Baltimore's players of color -- any color -- have been viewed as incidental and transient talent, who were often cast as bad boys, problem children and minor participants in whatever the Orioles did right.

They did, on occasion, get momentary "notoriety" for something the Orioles did wrong or when they did things that the media considered personal wrongdoings, the unforgivable sin of which might be described as "slights of the media."

This is the impression one gets after thinking about the pattern of product endorsement contracts (or lack thereof), the players' turnover and the glaring lack of positive media references about the achievements of brown and black Oriole team members.

Despite all of the presumed performance incentives, not a single black or Hispanic player has truly excelled here -- at least not in the hearts and minds of a large percentage of the public. That there has not been an enduring Orioles star of color, despite all of the scouting, recruiting, bonus possibilities, trades and big price tag contracts, defies the laws of statistical probability. Frank Robinson, may be the one exception, thanks to his extraordinary record. Either the Orioles are miserable at recruiting or something is terribly wrong on their team.

In contrast, the New York Yankees field a great team, season after season, and attract national attention and ardent fan support, along with a fair number of titles. Even with the strong images of DiMaggio, Gehrig, Berra, Whitey Ford and other Yankee greats, it does not feel, at least to this writer, as if the Yankees are a "white" team.

On that team, if you can play, you get your proper respect, irrespective of skin color, accent, country of birth -- even if you have problems with the law, drugs or tend not to cooperate with the press. One cannot help but wonder if this has anything to do with how successfully that team has formed a synergy which enables them to consistently win.

What do you think the impact would be if black and Hispanic players concluded(even subconsciously) that, in the eyes of die-hard fans, they can "do no right" and will only be recognized in the press and the local media when they "do wrong"?

Wonder if, in some deep region of their brains, they resign themselves to the Orioles being only be a stepping stone, a temporary holding pattern, until they can get themselves signed with a team that has a more appreciative set of fans? Fan appreciation has to be a major incentive for stellar performance. Great athletic achievements are not the product of money alone. If the team does not acknowledge you and the fans look past you, why give your all? So, maybe the smart ones may not be giving their all, even if this occurs subconsciously. Under circumstances that look like this, who would?

This is not being stated as an absolute fact. Every Oriole supporter is entitled to his or her own opinion. But there seems to be a lot of evidence to support this notion.

Secondly, this is not intended to demean the contributions of any players, regardless of their cultural or reference group. So this is not a protest of the indisputable accomplishments of stellar Caucasian players. Instead it protests what appears to be a consistent discounting and downplaying of the records and feats of the Oriole players who are not Caucasian.

Finally, if this is true, it is probably relatively "innocent."

This situation is worthy of some thought for several reasons. First, it may explain why true and consistent greatness has eluded the Orioles as a team. Secondly, if the Orioles have developed into a "half-a-team," passing itself off as a whole one, this may be denying real fans the league or world champion they deserve. Thirdly, if it is true that unequal recognition and acclaim is standard operating procedure, it is simply unfair to the men affected by it.

Do we want to win, or what?

If Baltimoreans want a great team, Baltimoreans must give credit and generous recognition where it is due and compel the Orioles to do the same thing. One also cannot help but wonder if a better image for the team's minority athletes might not trickle down into a much needed, stronger, sense of self-respect for minority males living in the Baltimore area.

Arnold H. Sampson, a Realtor, is a lifelong Baltimorean.

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