In the cinema classic Animal House, Mandy Pepperidge declines Otter’s request that they perform the horizontal bop again. “Don’t flatter yourself, Otter. It wasn’t that great.” With no intended slight to Gregg Olson, Oriole fans and the front office should recognize that this year’s Birds weren’t that great either.
That’s not to say the Birds didn’t have a great year, despite their breakdown in the stretch. At least this year they held on a little longer before taking their flop. “There are a lot of positives and a lot of negatives this season,” Manager John Oates says. “Right now, it’s easier to see the negatives.”
The Orioles came into the season without a right fielder, with one reliable—but injury-prone—starting pitcher, and with $3.5 million worth of peanut-brittle batting cleanup, and they stayed in the race for 145 games. “We battled all year,” second baseman Harold Reynolds said after the Orioles were eliminated by Sunday’s doubleheader loss to the Detroit Tigers.
“After everybody wrote us off in April and May, we made it all the way to be in a position to be in first place,” catcher Chris Hoiles added. “Anybody who watched us knows this team did a great job to battle back.”
But the most telling comment came from Ben McDonald during the penultimate homestand, before the Orioles started the fateful road trip that doomed their pennant hopes. “We don’t have the talent of the Blue Jays,” McDonald said. He spoke the truth. The Orioles’ personnel doesn’t stack up to the Blue Jays’ on paper or on the field. The Orioles’ brave battle shouldn’t encourage the front office to think otherwise.
“We expect people to get better with experience,” Oates said early in the year, mentioning Hoiles, third baseman Leo Gomez, and first baseman David Segui specifically though not exclusively. “With a year of experience, you think they should be able to take it to the next level. We need them to play to the level expected.” But, Oates admitted, “We have no track records to say they will.” In 1993, Hoiles had the kind of year he was on the way to having in 1992 before Tim Leary’s pitch broke his wrist.
Among the guys who do have track records, most met expectations. Cal Ripken put up his usual numbers. His 1991 MVP season and his 1992 dive both appear to have been aberrations. Coming off a career year in 1992, Brady Anderson’s base-stealing was down but the rest of his game remained together. He is a very good leadoff hitter, reaching base nearly 37 percent of the time as well as leading the club in extra-base hits. Mike Devereaux’s numbers translate to 90 RBI over a full schedule, though his home-run stats fell, perhaps due to his shoulder injury, and his poor throwing has been widely exploited by base runners. Harold Baines gave the Orioles the expected RBI punch. Still, with all that going right, the Orioles weren’t good enough.
Injuries played a role in the Orioles’ tumble from the pennant race, but weren’t the cause of all the problems. The Birds might have stayed in the race longer if Gregg Olson had been available to save games over the final eight weeks. But injuries also helped the Orioles. Without injuries, Mark McLemore wouldn’t have become a regular, Jamie Moyer wouldn’t have had a chance to pitch, and they wouldn’t have traded for Mike Pagliarulo, a useful role player.
Several injured players performed below the level expected, realistic or not: Arthur Rhodes, who is still worth believing in, and Rick Sutcliffe, who is worth rooting for, both helped the team by moving from the active roster to the disabled list, where they couldn’t lose games. Ditto Glenn Davis and Gomez by the time he was hurt.
More fundamentally, talent is one of elements that helps overcome injuries. New owner Peter Angelos says he is ready to spend serious money to improve his hometown team. The Orioles need to find at least one more starting pitcher and a big bat to play right field or first base. So there’s no shortage of opportunities for Angelos to be a hero. Oriole fans deserve nothing less. At least Animal House fans can be confident Otter gave it his best shot with Mandy.
Playoff Preview The American League playoff matches two teams that showed limited interest in winning for the first five months and have played fabulously down the stretch. The Chicago White Sox have gotten a boost from the blossoming of Frank Thomas from star to superstar and the return of George Bell. The Sox have a lot of personality, and lately, they have shown some heart.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation has come together after relying on Pat Hentgen for the first half. They’ve lost Jack Morris, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given his performance since the post-season last year. The Sox have an edge in the starting rotation, with big winner Jack McDowell and lefty Wilson Alvarez, the only starter on either side available to exploit the opponent’s vulnerability to southpaws. Toronto has the stronger bullpen, and that’s where post-season games are often won.
Despite mild-mannered Managers Vito Gaston of Toronto and Gene Lament of Chicago, this series will be a war of egos. Can Bo Jackson and Rickey Henderson fit under the same dome in the post-season? Will Dave Stewart karate-kick his locker or his manager when he’s pulled after three-and-a-third with six hits and four walks? Will McDowell once again hurl accusations at an opposing pitcher? Can anyone stop Ozzie Guillen from giving interviews to every Spanish speaker with a mike? Or will Toronto General Manager Pat Gillick kidnap Guillen and, with the help of team physician Ron Taylor, the 1969 Mets’ closer, attempt a personality transplant on prodigal shortstop Tony Fernandez? Will Sox announcers Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, the former Sox GM, and Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek impugn umpires’ patriotism every time a call goes the Blue Jays’ way?
For no good reason, Sox in seven.
The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t gotten enough credit for their National League East runaway, late heel-nipping from the Montreal Expos notwithstanding. There’s a strong temptation to pencil the Atlanta Braves into the World Series, assuming they hold off the Giants. (This NL West race has the earmarks of the 1978 AL East race, with Atlanta as the Yankees and Mark Lemke as Bucky Dent.)
Phillies pitchers were as dominating during the first two months of the season as the Braves’ hurlers have been in the last two. Tommy Greene’s shutout of the Braves last Friday was a reminder of that. Philadelphia has a better closer than the Braves, but he’s the erratic Mitch Williams, who pitches as if his hair were on fire. The Phillies have played the Braves even during the regular season, and they average nearly a run a game more than the Braves, devouring left-handers such as Tom Glavine. So there’s every logical reason to figure the Phillies will win. But every instinct says Atlanta wins the World Series this year.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Joseph Kohl.