Talk of the town: Orioles’ sorry start

is it too soon to give up on them?

April 22, 2010|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles' season is just 13 games old, but is it too early to consider it a lost cause?

At this rate, the Orioles will finish with a record of 12-150. That's where the team is headed, off a 1-12 start and a 10-game losing streak.

How bad are things going for this ballclub? Consider:

*The lineup is riddled with injuries from top (leadoff man Brian Roberts) to cleanup hitter (Miguel Tejada) to bottom (relief pitcher Michael Gonzalez). And it's only April.

*The Orioles have already set a franchise record for lowest single-game attendance at Camden Yards (9,129). Fans wear bags on their heads and scream nonchalance.

*Infielders lose pop-ups in the sun. Outfielder Adam Jones muffed a fly ball while blowing a bubble with a mouthful of gum. And the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are just around the bend on the schedule, licking their respective chops.

*The Orioles' $66 million man, slugger Nick Markakis, has driven in just one run this season.

*And over the weekend, Orioles owner Peter J. Angelos denied a report that Hall of Famer and former Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. asked to join the front office and offer his assistance.

Shades of 1988, when the Orioles lost 21 straight to start the season – a major-league mark that may never be broken.

"You couldn't do that again if you tried," Mike Boddicker said of that horrid start, 22 years ago. Boddicker, then the Orioles' top pitcher, thinks he knows what the 2010 team is going through. In 1988, as the losses mounted, he said, "We'd look at our lineup and say, ‘How can this possibly be happening?'

"It was bad. It was ugly. Every game, guys would look around and think, what's going to happen now? Who's going to screw up today?"

That's the defeatist attitude that the current Orioles are battling, mental health experts say.

"When they're in a close game, they're waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia. "When you're in a slump, you get tentative, lose focus and look over your shoulder. Do that, and it's hard for your natural talent to come out.

"When the other team gets a base hit in the ninth inning, you click into a ‘here-we-go-again' attitude. Major league, Little League, it's the same thing," Fish said.

What the Orioles need to do is to turn that negativism on its head, he said.

"They have to relax and say, ‘We trust ourselves. It's a tie game. Bring it on!' Because the odds are certainly in their favor now (to win)," Fish said.

That the Orioles weren't seen as contenders could help them emerge from their funk, said Eric Morse, a sport psychiatrist who worked for the Orioles from 2002 to 2004.

"The expectation wasn't for this team to come in first. A .500 season would be more realistic," he said. "Are (the Orioles) behind in achieving that goal? Yes, but with a 162-game season, it's still very do-able."

Others agreed.

"Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint," said Rick Schu, the Orioles' third baseman in 1988. "Once the Orioles get to .500, all of this will be forgotten."

A break-even season? It didn't happen 22 years ago. That team finished 54-107.

"Yeah, we tried to put that out of our minds," said Schu, now the hitting coordinator for the Washington Nationals."But I remember that the fans were awesome. I'd come (in a trade) from Philadelphia, and if the Phillies had started out 0-21, we'd have had to go onto the field wearing Kevlar. Not in Baltimore."

Schu vividly recalled the scene in the clubhouse when the Orioles finally won a game that year, on April 30 in Chicago. Even that celebration was bittersweet, he said.

"The governor (Harry Hughes) sent us a basket of Maryland crabs," he said. "I sat there with Billy and Cal (the Ripken brothers) and, for the first time in my life, ate hard crabs – and cut every finger on my hands."

Not to worry about the start of the 2010 Orioles, Schu said:

"They've got one win. They're already better off than we were."

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