Thursday, June 3, 2010

How Far the Baltimore Birds Have Fallen

Today, the Yankees completed a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, 3-1, 9-1 and 6-3, including, today, Alex Rodriguez's 591st career home run. Robinson Cano continues to smoke the ball, and we got fine pitching performances from Javier Vazquez (believe it!), Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia.

And yet, Ian O'Connor of The Bergen Record and ESPN New York said that Vazquez's win shouldn't count, because it came against the Orioles.

Put aside how bad the usually good O'Connor sounds with this crap, and ponder, for a brief time, how far the Baltimore Birds have fallen.

For a generation, roughly from 1964 to 1984, the O's were one of the class teams in baseball, not just first-class but classy. They were at least in the race just about every year. They had 8 first-place finishes, won 6 Pennants and 3 World Series in that stretch: 1966 World Champions, 1969 American League Pennant, 1970 World Champions, 1971 AL Pennant, 1973 AL Eastern Division title, 1974 AL East, 1979 AL Pennant, 1983 World Champions.

They won 97 games in 1977 and 100 games in 1980, and didn't make the Playoffs either year because the Yankees won 100 and 103, respectively. They were 4 games down with 5 to play in 1982 and forged a tie going into the last day before the Milwaukee Brewers (then an AL team) finally finished them off.

They fell apart after that, then had a near-miracle in 1989 before finishing 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays (remember when they mattered, too?), and reached the Playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 1996-97, before losing in the ALCS both times to the Yankees in '96 and the Cleveland Indians in '97).

The Orioles were a team that celebrated doing things right. Competence. According to their Hall of Fame manager, Earl Weaver, The Oriole Way (Capital T, Capital O, Capital W) was "pitching, defense, and three-run homers" -- not just home runs but hitting them with men on base.

The Oriole Way. It was Brooks Robinson reinventing the position of third base, and getting some big hits, too. It was Frank Robinson hitting the hell out of the ball, and breaking up double plays and almost breaking up infielders in the process. It was sterling defense not just from Brooks, but from Mark Belanger, Paul Blair, Al Bumbry. It was Ken Singleton playing so smartly that you're not surprised he's one of the game's best broadcasters now.

It was Eddie Murray hitting 500 homers and collecting 3,000 hits so fast, that somebody once said, around 1983 or so, that, "We've been hearing for so long that Eddie Murray will become a great player that we haven't noticed that he's already become one."

It was great pitching: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Mike Boddicker, and later... Mike Mussina.

It was Boog Powell smoking fastballs on 33rd Street from 1962 to 1974, and smoking meat on Eutaw Street since 1992. It was Cal Ripken playing not just every day for 16 years straight but superbly most of that time. It was pounding homers by Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla and Brady Anderson... hmmmm...

It was 45,000 fans at Camden Yards every day for 10 years, even when the O's were out of the race.

And it was Chuck Thompson and then Jon Miller describing it wonderfully for you over WBAL, 1090 on your AM dial, or "Radio 11."

And now... It's 23,000 fans at Camden Yards, half of them rooting for the other team if it's the Yanks or Red Sox (Michael Kay calls it "the REALLY South Bronx"), the Washington Nationals getting just as many down the Parkway with a team that's no better (or... are they now?) and has no history, and it's sportswriters making cheap jokes at their expense.

Where have you gone, Curt Blefary? The Chesapeake turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.

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