Book it: '05 all-time O's low

October 02, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

It's finally going to be over. Today, in St. Petersburg, Fla., baseball's Siberia, the worst year in the Orioles' 52-season history in Baltimore comes to an end.

Don't even try to debate that. Don't bring up 1988. Seventeen years after that benchmark of futility, that record-breaking stumble out of the gate, that season of misery, there are still fans around here who look back at that fondly, even whimsically. You can laugh about it now, and could even laugh about it then. And what happened the next season made the story of 1988 a little sweeter, or at least made it less of a nightmare.

Find something sweet about this year. Right now, 17 years from now, 17 years after that. Better yet, find something funny. I'll spot you Raffy's earplugs. But besides that, even by 2039, will anybody be looking back fondly at 2005?

This was so bad, it made 1988 seem out-and-out joyful.

At least then, once the pain of that 0-21 stomach punch had subsided, the city could accept its fate and deal with it. It was a waste of time to get angry; the train had gone too far off the tracks too fast to think too hard about what went wrong. All one could do was make the best of it. In '89, the franchise made more of it than anyone could have imagined.

Did this season offer Baltimore that option? No. Baltimore got the reverse. It got the worst tease it's ever received. It was the kind of tease that will ruin every good start the Orioles have until they return to the playoffs, whenever that might be.

How will you react the next time the Orioles are in first place in April, or May, or even June? The next time they're 14 games over .500? The next time they have four All-Stars? The next time they take an early-season series from the Yankees or Red Sox and shut those well-traveled fans up?

"Yeah, right. Just like '05."

You'll say it. You'll be entitled. Next year could start off with that 1989 feel, yet nobody will be saying, "Why not us?" We'll all be saying, "How will our chain get yanked this time?"

Will it be a deluge of injuries? A couple of DUIs? An incredibly shrinking slugger? A flunked steroid test completely out of the blue? A tainted statistical milestone? A franchise player thrown under the bus by an accused teammate? A manager knee-capped and his replacement lame-ducked?

It's almost impossible to remember back when being around this team was lots and lots of fun. Yet it was just three months ago. Camden Yards was back to being an attraction for people besides tourists.

There was Cinderella talk, MVP talk, Manager of the Year talk, contract extension talk, Hall of Fame talk, trade-for-that-final-piece talk. Lots of no-respect talk, too, because the national media was overlooking the Orioles again.

Even Parkway Series talk, now that the Nationals were down the road. It was early, and it was ridiculous, but for a while, fans from Northern Virginia to southern Pennsylvania were giving the standings of both leagues a look every morning and staying up for West Coast scores plenty of nights.

It was smelling like a legit rivalry, with all kinds of nutty subplots (Frank Robinson managing the other side, for instance). In baseball, what can beat that?

The Parkway Series talk got buried fast, though, and it was the Orioles' second-half stink bomb that got it buried. At this rate, the Nats, who still don't have an owner, whose games still aren't on TV, who still play in a decrepit ballpark and who did their own second-half fade, will be playing meaningful October games before their neighbors to the north will.

In fact, the Nats played spoilers, or tried to, against the Phillies at RFK this weekend. The Orioles had a chance to be spoilers the final two weeks. See how well that turned out.

Their shame was witnessed by the whole country. This became the most negative dateline in baseball; when a story carried the city's name, everybody knew it was going to be bad news. Does any city need that less than this one?

Even the invading rival fans felt let down. Two Fridays ago, a couple of New Englanders at an Inner Harbor sports bar full of Sox fans lamented that when they had made plans for that late-season trip to Baltimore, they assumed it would carry heavy playoff implications.

Because of the Big Tease, they had expected a showdown. They barely got a show-up.

So now, on the final day of the regular season, the Orioles are playing the Devils Rays (with their own lame-duck manager and in their dump of a dome), hanging around 90 losses and locked into fourth place. They are as far removed from relevance as a team could be. Maybe as far removed on the final day as a former first-place team has ever been.

The Orioles' final record and place in the standings will never reflect what this season truly was.

The worst ever.

But at least it's over. So ... how 'bout those Ravens?

david.steele@baltsun.com

Points after -- David Steele

Somebody eventually had to make a joke about "disaster relief" - waiting for the right time, when sensitivities weren't quite as high. So it might as well have been Brian Billick, and it might as well have been about the Jets. Good line, to.

At the rate established last week, by Halloween every player in the NFL will be out for the season. And Maurice Clarett still won't get a call. Of course, he could always hit up Michelle Wie for some cash to tide him over.

NBA training camps open tomorrow. Good thing because my luggage just made it back from San Antonio. Something tells me, though, they should have just kept it there, because we're coming back next June.

In most places, the politician cozies up to the local sports team owner, hoping the winning glow will rub off. Around here, it's the other way around. That figures.

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