O’s fans not so forgiving 22 years later

“Fantastic Fans” replaced by Yankees faithful

April 27, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

The fan-scape has changed a bit since May 2, 1988, so it would have been naive to think that 47,000 orange-shirted crazies would show up for Tuesday night's series opener against the New York Yankees.

If you don't remember that date, you're probably too young to remember that the Orioles returned home from a dismal road trip with a 1-23 record to a packed house at Memorial Stadium. They were welcomed back by a surprisingly upbeat crowd of 50,402 on "Fantastic Fans Night" at the old ballpark on 33rd Street.

Oh, how the baseball world has changed since.

There was a decent enough crowd for Oriole Park on a Tuesday night, but it wasn't particularly orange. The ballpark draws a high percentage of Yankees fans every time their team comes to town, and that didn't figure to change now that our Bronx betters are the defending world champions.

This is not a rant against them. I'm happy they're willing to keep the local merchants afloat until the Orioles get back onto their feet, something I'm confident will happen in my lifetime. This is more a look at the way Orioles fans have changed since, and it's not any criticism of their decision to show up at the ballpark in steadily decreasing numbers over the past 12 years.

Life was just different in 1988. The Orioles were only four full seasons removed from their last World Series victory, over the Philadelphia Phillies. They were also only four years removed from the most traumatic incident in the history of Baltimore sports.

The Colts' infamous "midnight ride" to Indianapolis was still an open wound, but it had drawn fans closer to the Orioles, enough so that their major league-record 21 straight losses to open the 1988 season were not enough to drive anybody away.

Of course, there was another reason fans were giddy that May evening. Governor William Donald Schaefer opened the festivities with the pre-game announcement that an agreement had been reached to build a fancy new downtown stadium. If they had known what a revelation that ballpark would be, they probably would have cheered all night even if the Orioles hadn't fed off their energy and trounced the Texas Rangers, 9-4, to improve their record to a heady 2-23.

It's easy to get nostalgic about that now. The Orioles bounced back in 1989 to deliver one of the most surprising and entertaining seasons in baseball history.

It's a little tougher to replicate that unconditional fan support, since that 1983 world title still stands as the last time the Orioles were truly great, though they had a couple of nice playoff years in the 1990s. And the waiting has been so long and painful that the fans don't have the emotional energy to get all cranked up over a team that has been dynamically disappointing even in an era of hugely diminished expectations.

Throw in the recent success of the Ravens — who are being viewed as strong Super Bowl contenders next season — and it's too easy for fans to write off the Orioles and their hard-to-grasp rebuilding program.

This was supposed to be the first month of a new era. The Orioles were supposed to be approaching a competitive crossroads where the progress of president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail's plan would start to become apparent and create real hope for a truly competitive 2011. Instead, the April collapse has sucked the air right out of the ballpark.

The fans aren't just resigned. They're angry. The talk shows and message boards are aflame with new demands for Peter Angelos to sell the team, or fire MacPhail, or put Dave Trembley on the next plane back to Daytona Beach, Fla. Or all of the above.

The idea of a legion of them suddenly deciding to fill the ballpark and shower the Orioles with encouragement seems rather quaint in this day and age. The organization certainly hasn't earned that kind of support. The Orioles franchise is simply reaping what it has sown.

Don't take this the wrong way. There are still tens of thousands of fantastic fans out there. They're just no longer willing to settle for less.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog "The Schmuck Stops Here" at http://www.baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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