By Christopher Heun
After the Orioles game this afternoon – another one-run loss – I flipped through the channels and landed on “The Natural” on AMC. It was just as a shrink, hired by the manager in the middle of an interminable losing streak, addresses the players in the locker room:
“Losing is a disease... as contagious as polio... as contagious as syphilis... as contagious as bubonic plague... attacking one, but affecting all.”
The parallels between the New York Knights of the movie and the Baltimore Orioles of 1998-2007 seemed pretty obvious. Except, of course, the part where Roy Hobbs saves the day. A more apt movie metaphor for the Orioles might be the Bad News Bears, but they too wind up battling for the championship, which is a little much for any of us to believe for the O’s anytime soon. There can only be one 2006 Detroit Tigers.
So, after the 30-3 loss and then, in a single week, the 11 eighth-inning runs coughed up to the Devil Rays followed by the no-hitter in Boston, I am fully endorsing the Orioles as lovable losers. This requires me only to see their failures as endearing and not to expect any Hollywood endings. (Matt wrote about this once last year, but we need to revive it.)
Here’s the evidence for the Birds as Lovable Losers:
They lose in style
They carry a lead into the late innings, only to blow it spectacularly. They get swept by the Devil Rays. They end a nine-game losing streak by giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but still hang on for a 9-8 victory. They beat the Yanks 12-0 one week, then lose 30-3 the next. And that was just August.
They make us laugh. Then cry.
I want to like Kevin Millar. He jokes around in the clubhouse. He wears his eye black like a Kiss cover band. On Opening Day he did a little Ray Lewis dance. Of all the Birds, Millar is the most likely to play the role in The Natural of Bump Bailey, who died after crashing through the outfield fence chasing a fly ball.
Unfortunately for him and his teammates, though, Millar hits like a second baseman but plays first base. He symbolizes the Orioles and some of their fans; he believes he’s better than he really is and he can’t understand why any manager wouldn’t play him every day. On Sunday, batting cleanup, he couldn’t deliver with a man on third and one out. And he got caught wandering too far off second base.
Sometimes they actually cry
I could have sworn I saw tears on Melvin Mora’s cheek after a strikeout. You know you did too.
For a while, they fool us into thinking they’re actually good
I know at least a few Birds fans (some of whom write for this blog) who swooned under Dave Trembley’s magic wand. Not long ago, they were convinced this team had a shot at .500 or third place or some other modest accomplishment that only fans of losing teams get excited about. Then they lost nine in a row.
Unbelievably ridiculous misfortune befalls them
In recent seasons, Marty Cordova fell asleep in a tanning bed and had to go on the disabled list; Jack Cust, the tying run, tripped twice between third and home and was tagged out despite no opposing player standing between him and home plate; and Ed Rogers had a ball in play get stuck inside his uniform. And that’s just the left fielders.
Here’s why all of this is actually a good thing: at the end of the season, the guys in The Warehouse will not be able in good conscience to say that this is a good team that just missed, that it should be improved with the signings of a few middling free agents. Instead, they'll be forced to start over and build from scratch.
I’m rooting for the Birds to completely tank the rest of the season, to finish last. Maybe then the truth will become irrefutable. There’s four more years before Nick Markakis is a free agent. Think we can get it together before then?
If anyone this winter points to the more than 30 one-run losses this season as the only reason why the Birds didn’t make .500, show that person a picture of Aubrey Huff and $2o million. And tell them about the Lovable Losers.