Fans stay at home, send wrong signal

AL notebook

Baseball Week

September 11, 2005

Maybe Orioles fans thought they were making a statement Tuesday when they stayed away from Camden Yards for the 10-year anniversary celebration of Cal Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game played.

When only 20,729 bought tickets - and even fewer bothered to show up - on a weekday school night game against the Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps they were trying to show owner Peter Angelos their dissatisfaction with the team's inferior product.

It's an understandable sentiment, but it's too bad that fans couldn't put that aside for a night to honor Ripken, one of the franchise's greatest players. Especially considering this reality: Ownership sees the sagging attendance not as an indictment of performance but as justification that the Washington Nationals have eroded the Orioles' fan base. So stay-at-home protests seemingly have the opposite effect of what is intended.

For the record, the Orioles (14th in attendance with a 31,908 average) have failed to reach the 3 million mark for the fourth consecutive season. They've drawn 2.26 million fans through 71 games, so they won't touch last year's 2.75 million. Still, it's impressive support for a stumbling franchise. Heck, Orioles fans back a consistent loser better than Chicago White Sox fans support a World Series contender.

Facing the last-place Kansas City Royals at home, the American League-leading White Sox drew just 14,571 fans to U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday - even though the Sox were on a five-game winning streak. The next two nights, also against the Royals, brought in a pathetic 18,513 and 17,701, respectively. The team is second in the majors in winning percentage and 17th in average attendance (28,722).

The White Sox players aren't happy.

"We know all the bad factors: Kansas City, a Tuesday night, school's started, football season, but we're also in first place and they tell you in April that if you win, they will show up," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said.

"It's a little bit frustrating. When we have a big crowd, it helps, whether [fans] realize it or not."

Intriguing free agent

Here's a name that could help bolster a pitching staff next year: Orel Hershiser. The current Texas Rangers pitching coach's contract expires this season, and though manager Buck Showalter wants him back, Hershiser hasn't decided yet.

Hershiser, who wants to be a manager or general manager someday, may look for an organization with more future opportunities.

A little less clutch

New York shortstop Derek Jeter has made the final out of a Yankees loss with the tying run on base or at the plate seven times since June 1. He had never previously done that more than four times in a season during his career.

Quick hits

Scratch Orioles killer Dmitri Young off the potential free-agent list. He picked up his 500th plate appearance of the season Thursday, triggering an $8 million option with the Detroit Tigers for 2006. ... Kansas City's Jose Lima is 5-14 with a 6.60 ERA, but he has added $1 million to his $2.5 million base salary thanks to games-pitched incentives.

League notebooks are compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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