This year's Orioles are a model of dysfunction

September 08, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

IN THE WAKE of Hurricane Katrina's deadly assault on the Gulf Coast, I've tried to cut back on my whining about life's little problems.

Regular unleaded's selling for $3.43 a gallon?

Oh, well. What're you gonna do?

Stock market's flat? 401(k) is doing nothing?

Sorry, nobody's freaking out about it here.

See, I look at it this way: My house isn't standing in 10 feet of fetid water right now.

I didn't spend five days in the Louisiana Helldome with my terrified family wondering what would get us first: thirst, hunger, heat, the stench or the thugs preying on the crowd like timber wolves.

And I'm not slumped on a cot in the Houston Astrodome with my life shattered, surrounded by 24,000 other poor souls with their lives shattered.

So what have I got to complain about?

Not much. Not much at all.

But that doesn't mean I can't get ticked off about the little things in life. (Look, I haven't become some kind of Zen master. It's not like I don't have any emotion. I'm just trying not to whine as much.)

And if you live in this town and love baseball, you've got to be really ticked off at what's happened to the Orioles.

My God, what a screwed-up franchise this is!

What a breathtakingly dysfunctional team!

If the Orioles are a family, as a few of them still insist, they're the Sopranos of baseball. Whatever can go wrong, will.

Here is my absolute favorite Orioles story of the past few days:

Sammy Sosa, the great Chicago Cubs slugger who came here, contracted amnesia and immediately forgot how to hit, gets a lesion on one of his toes.

Fine. The way he looked at the plate, it was probably a blessing in disguise.

So the O's put him on the disabled list. He goes off to have treatment.

Then he promptly - are you ready? - disappears.

Yes! Gone! Poof!

The Orioles have no idea where he is. They leave messages for him. But they don't hear back.

Apparently, he contacts the trainer, but the trainer doesn't get the message and ... well, it starts to look like something out of a Seinfeld episode.

But is that perfect or what?

Does that say it all about this team?

So the O's are left playing "Where's Sammy?" and answering all these embarrassing questions from reporters about how maybe their players should be wearing GPS tracking devices when they get injured.

(Sosa is apparently back with the team now. Well, he was as of this writing.)

Anyway, the larger point, of course, is that this is one really troubled team, and that September in Baltimore stinks once again for Orioles fans.

For the eighth straight year, the Orioles are losers and Camden Yards is so quiet you could bring your kids to do their homework.

OK, let me be brutally honest here.

I was one of the thousands of fans who jumped on the Orioles bandwagon when they got off to such a hot start in April.

I was one of those fans who got all wound up and thought: This is it. We finally have a winner.

Oh, I didn't think the team was a lock to win the division title. But I was sure they'd contend. I thought they'd be in the race the whole way.

Baseball in this town would be exciting again, I thought.

Summer would be fun.

September would matter.

Right, didn't exactly nail that prediction, did I? You don't want me to pick your Lotto numbers.

But for the first three months of the season, the Orioles played with heart and guts and all sorts of wondrous talent.

Man, they were fun to watch.

Then July came and they imploded. They dropped in the standings with all the restraint of a car pushed off a parking garage roof.

Then Lee Mazzilli was fired and Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids, and things got even worse.

Not long after that, Sidney Ponson was being pulled over for drunken-driving again and that was it: The Orioles were officially a civic embarrassment.

And a national laughingstock.

It's so sad to see what's become of this team as it stumbles through another meaningless late summer. It's sad to see how many fans have been turned off - maybe permanently.

OK, end of the gloom and doom portion of this column.

In Monday's column, I'll tell you what the Orioles could do to win back at least some of the affection of their fans.

It would only be a small gesture. But it's something that would help from a PR standpoint right now, not when this Hindenburg of a season finally comes to a close and the front office takes a wrecking ball to this team and again tries to build a winner.

God knows this team needs all the good PR it can get.

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