O's refute claims

Latest bad news bares sorry state of O's again

October 02, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG

When Baltimore awakens to bold headlines screaming the worst about the Orioles' best and most popular players, as it did yesterday, the toll exacted by the franchise's nine straight losing seasons becomes especially clear.

The headlines were startling, but unless Congress intervenes and subpoenas Miguel Tejada, Jay Gibbons and Brian Roberts - three of the major leaguers whom former Oriole Jason Grimsley reportedly fingered as performance-enhancing drug users in a federal affidavit - we'll probably never know whether Grimsley was right. The players' angry denials reduce it to an old-fashioned "he said, she said" in the cloudiest of settings.

A lifetime of passed drug tests? Doesn't mean a thing with sophisticated masking agents so available today. An obscure pitcher pointing fingers everywhere? Means just as little without hard evidence to back up his claims.

Game of shadows, indeed. Getting to the truth will be next to impossible unless someone with subpoena power steps in. And maybe he or she will.

But in the meantime, the biggest blow for the Orioles will be the hit their image takes, as if it weren't low enough already.

Even though they don't know if Grimsley is onto something, plenty of fans surely opened their newspapers yesterday and shook their heads in dismay. Look, more trouble for a troubled franchise.

The truth, or lack of it, was lost amid the perception that this once-proud organization can no longer stay out of harm's way.

Can you blame anyone for feeling that way? The Orioles have piled the disappointments on thick lately. The Rafael Palmeiro catastrophe. The Sidney Ponson debacle. The Sammy Sosa-as-savior concept. The never-ending changes in the front office. The seven, eight, nine straight losing seasons. Now, this embarrassment, barely a week after an organized fan protest that made national headlines.

Fans around here have rightfully gotten into the habit of expecting the worst from their baseball team.

But what if the Orioles were winners, not chronic losers? What if they were starting a playoff series tomorrow instead of wallowing in another fourth-place finish?

Yesterday's headlines would have generated a different reaction, that's for sure.

Winning breeds support. Winning breeds faith - blind faith, for that matter. Winning makes it possible for fans to overlook whatever blemishes mar their team's surface.

Major league baseball broke its overall single-season attendance record this year; a lot of fans across the country either don't care about steroid use or have become numb to it. For whatever reason (and more than one, I'm sure), people are more interested in who wins than who is using steroids and hGH. Ask them about juicing and they'll tell you they like cranberry at breakfast.

But the drumbeat of steroid revelations and accusations has packed a harder punch around Baltimore because, admittedly, no franchise has had to endure more of them than the Orioles, and also because, well, the Orioles have done absolutely nothing to offset them.

One of the oldest political tricks is to change the story whenever the headlines are working against you. A succession of losing seasons doesn't change the story one bit. To the contrary, it just reinforces the story that a team can do no right. The Orioles ended 70-92 this year. Bad news has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If anything, yesterday's headlines should make it that much clearer to the organization that the time has come to start moving drastically to try to win back the fans' faith. Go out and overspend for a slugger to bat cleanup. Get some major league relievers in here to protect leads. Be creative. Be bold.

Either change the story or expect even more empty seats next season.

Sadly, the organization hasn't gotten the hint before, after other bad news, even with the startling decline in attendance that has been going on for some time. There was, it seemed, still no sense of urgency, no concern that a deadly case of defeatism was setting in.

Just as sadly, until the organization demonstrates it has indeed become alarmed enough to do something to start winning back the fans' faith, there's no reason to expect such boldness.

Meanwhile, the Grimsley case will drone on for weeks, even months, now that some of the names are out. Grimsley was right about one of them, former Oriole David Segui, who has admitted using hGH. That doesn't mean Grimsley was right about all of them.

You can believe whichever side you want, for whatever reason, but irrefutable hard evidence is going to be as fleeting as a knuckleball on a windy day.

And either way, with fans around here already accustomed to depressing headlines, the story will be widely summed up as just more of the same, blah, blah, what a mess. If I'm the Orioles, I'd be alarmed about that.


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