Please spare us more Orioles nostalgia

Oh, no! Another celebration of a world championship

May 06, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

I was watching the Orioles on MASN the other night — what can I tell you? it's a habit, like slowing down at car wrecks — and I was pretty sure I saw Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson in a promotion for an event at Camden Yards celebrating the 40th anniversary of Baltimore's World Series Championship.

What, again?

Didn't this town have a celebration already, in 1970?

Haven't we rolled out this memory, or one similar to it, again and again, over and over?

Haven't we seen this before?

I looked it up. Sure enough, June 26-27, it's the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Orioles' 1970 World Series Championship, with a commemorative cap give-away to the first 20,000 fans who can prove they are 15-and-over, which, for a weekend series with the Washington Nationals, means there could be a lot of leftover caps.

Look, I love the Orioles.

In 1970, I was a Boston Red Sox fan because I grew up about 28 miles from Fenway; that was long before all the Red Sox Nation malarkey. I admired the Orioles from a distance — they had great teams, great pitching, and they always seemed to be in the running for a pennant. Always.

In the 34 years since I moved to Baltimore, I came to embrace the Orioles. They are my team. I hope that some day they'll end this long slide of 21st Century mediocrity and become a contender again. I even allowed myself to think it could happen in 2010.

So, don't get me wrong — I support the Orioles, new and old.

Has there been a professional athlete in the last 50 years more liked and respected than Brooks Robinson? Isn't Boog a great guy? Isn't Jim Palmer still one of the most knowledgeable commentators on the science of pitching? Wasn't Frank Robinson one of most awesome hitters of all time? Wasn't Paul Blair an exquisite centerfielder?

Calling out your elders — those men who established the Orioles as a winning franchise from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s, and all without steroids — is a great thing. It shows that those men are still valued. It's a tribal ritual, the presentation of an earlier generation of heroes to keep them in our hearts and minds.

And it is important for young people — those who still care about baseball — to be familiar with these men and understand their accomplishments. (That's why there should be no age limitation of the commemorative cap giveaway next month. Why on earth wouldn't the Orioles want kids to get them, too?)

If the Orioles turn things around and we find them in the hunt by June 26-27, then the 40th anniversary celebration might provide a boost, a genuine in-the-flesh/smiling-Brooksie inspiration to the young Birds to go on and capture the division.

But the way things have been going, if you bring the old Birds to Camden Yards for a weekend of reminiscences again, then the whole thing starts to look empty and even sad.

While part of me appreciates that the modern Orioles have not forgotten the bygone Birds, my reaction at the prospect of yet another anniversary celebration is: Been there, done that. Can we have another world championship please?

Look, there is no doubt that Baltimore loves its Orioles from the Earl Weaver era. There have been so many ceremonies to honor these guys and those who followed them to the last world championship, in 1983, that no one should question this town's affection for them.

That's why, in the context of the 21st Century Orioles, it has begun to hurt to see the elders escorted to center stage again. There's a sense that they are being used, that the present management knows it doesn't have much to offer on the field, again, so the fans get nostalgia.

But, by now, nostalgia just drives home the fact that the Orioles are far-removed from a championship culture. It's hard to get excited about the present team and even harder to recognize its lineage to those great ones of the past.

Too many Maryland kids who should have been Orioles fans by now are in love with the Red Sox and Yankees. A lot of us wonder if our kids will ever see the Orioles make another run for the wild card, never mind a pennant and world championship.

In the meantime, they feed us nostalgia, warmed over several times.

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