Even the worst-case playoff scenario is better than the Orioles used to have it
Oct. 2, 2012
I never believed that little girl who sang the holiday song, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth." Give her those teeth and I'm sure the next words out of her dentally improved mouth, now heard minus the whistling sound that once accompanied her speech, would be "Where's my pony?"
For this baseball fan, the two front teeth of the 2012 season was a winning record. As in, "All I want for the Orioles is 82 wins." Then the Orioles caught fire, started taking the "im" out of "impossible" and found themselves smack dab in the middle of a legitimate pennant chase. Now, playoff berth already in hand, I'm the little brat asking for baseball's regular-season version of a pony, the A.L. East title.
The possibility of the Orioles somehow losing a one-and-done Wild Card game doesn't fit the incredible script of the 2012 season. I want my happy ending, darn it. Okay, my really happy ending. So it's time to admit that I've become a greedy fan. Forget the two front teeth; I want all new dental work.
It's time for me, and others like me, to listen to that little voice in our heads that says, "You don't know how good you got it, kid." For me, the voice I hear saying that phrase is Earl Weaver, and for good reason. He's seen worse than winning 90+ regular season games and getting only one playoff game.
(I should mention that sometimes, when I'm being really hard on myself, Earl Weaver's voice is replaced by that of Coach Kilmer in Varsity Blues: "Cry me a river you ...." Well, you know the rest. If not, have a listen somewhere other than your work desk.)
Here's the point in this post where I insert the historical perspective. Since 1954, the Orioles had won 90 or more games 18 times headed into the 2012 season. On half of those occasions, they failed to make the postseason in any form. And that's to say nothing of the 1989 Why Not? team, which won 87 games. A one-and-done game seems generous in comparison to what those teams endured.
I'm not sure it gets much worse, for Orioles fans at least, than the 1980 season. The O's, fueled by a strong stretch run in which they won seven of their last nine games, finished 100-62. And then, having won the second-most games in all of baseball behind the 103-win Yankees, Eddie, the Demper, The Blade and company packed their bags and went home. In those days, second place truly meant being the first loser. The 1993 San Francisco Giants, they of 103 wins and no postseason berth, know the feeling.
Two years earlier, the 1978 Orioles won 90 games. Their 90-71 record was good for fourth place. Fourth place! Think the A.L. East is tough now? In 1978, the seven-team division featured the 100-win Yankees, 99-win Red Sox, 93-win Brewers and our beloved 90-win Orioles. Even the fifth-place team in the division, the Detroit Tigers, won 86 games.
The 1964 and 1977 teams both won 97 games and had nothing to show for it but pride. In '64, those 97 wins were only good enough for third place. The 1961 Orioles also finished in third place, and they had 95 wins. Both the '61 and '64 Orioles played in the 10-team American League; there weren't division titles to be had as it was winner take all in each league.
The 2012 Orioles will play in the postseason regardless of whether they catch the Yankees. Five of those nine previoius O's teams that won 90 or more games and failed to make the playoffs finished in second place behind ... you guessed it, the Yankees.
Don't believe long-time Orioles fans who tell you they used to walk 10 miles to the ballpark, uphill both ways, in the snow (unless of course they're talking about Opening Day 2003). However, we O's fans should listen to any voices - real or imagined - that suggest the Orioles' current "worst-case scenario" of a one-game playoff on the road really isn't so bad after all.