And I ain’t talkin’ about Obama (directly)
By Matthew Taylor
“It would be a pleasant surprise if we were able to win as many or more games as we were able to win last year,” said starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who was one of the few bright spots from last year’s 69-93 team. “But I think everybody is more prepared for what may come and understanding and accepting of whether we win or lose a little bit more.”
You know that old saying, “You’ve got to lose a hundred games to win a hundred games?” Me neither. But in the increasingly futile search for optimism surrounding the team I grew up with, I’m looking for the O’s to turn this phrase into conventional baseball wisdom.
If one is an anomaly and two is a pattern then three Major League teams twice hitting the century mark within the span of five years – first in losses, then in wins – should qualify for adage consideration.
The Atlanta Braves accomplished the aforementioned feat in the early ’90s. The Cleveland Indians followed suit in the middle of the decade. Now it’s the O’s turn to hit rock bottom before mountain climbing to the peak.
If memory serves
It’s easy to forget how bad both the Braves and Indians once were.
O’s fans likely remember Atlanta’s role as the Interleague qualifying exam during the Birds’ 1997 Wire-to-Wire run. Beat the Braves and the O’s could officially warrant consideration as contenders. The result? A mid-June, three-game sweep that had Charm City flying high.
As for the Indians, they offer baseball locals the memory of Albert Belle’s slugging at the dish and Kenny Lofton’s scampering speed in center field. Does anyone have a spare “thunder and lightning” cliché handy?
The Birds lifted the flagging morale of local fans, dispirited by the late-season Roberto Alomar spitting incident, with an upset victory over the 99-win Tribe in the 1995 Division Series. Armando Benitez secured two of the O’s three wins.
One year later the Indians returned the favor (say it with me, “Tony Freakin’ Fernandez”), taking down the favored 98-win Orioles in the 1997 ALCS. Armando Benitez took two of the O’s four losses.
A changed tune
Look a little deeper into the Braves’ and Indians’ respective team histories and you’ll find a promising precedent.
The 1988 Atlanta Braves lost 106 games; in 1993 they won 104. They’ve eclipsed 100 wins three times since then, winning two NLCS and a World Series over – guess whom – the Cleveland Indians.
The 1991 Cleveland Indians lost 105 games; in 1995 they won 100. They’ve since won two ALCS.
Two teams. One hundred losses. Soon thereafter, 100 wins.
Fans in Atlanta and Cleveland went from singing the Blues to Rockin’ ‘n Rollin’ within a five-year period.
Now for that Hope thing
The Orioles are preparing in 2008 to do what they’ve done only 10 times since they were known as the New York Yankees in 1901 and 1902 – lose 100 games.
The last time the Birds dropped 100 games in a season was, infamously, in 1988, when the team opened the year with 21 straight losses. They added 86 more defeats throughout the summer for a grand total of 107 losses.
One year later, in 1989, the O’s made a run at the division during the famous “Why Not?” campaign. The team finished with a winning record in six of the 10 following seasons, including that ALCS berth in 1996 and the AL East Division crown in 1997.
So we’ve come to this.
Do the 2008 O’s lack experience at the highest levels of baseball? You bet.
Are Andy McPhail and company peddling optimistic rhetoric to eager supporters? Sure thing.
Can the O’s win 100 games within five years? Heck, everyone else is saying it these days, so I might as well follow suit: “Yes, We Can.”