Overall, nine Orioles teams have won 90 or more games and not made the playoffs. The 2016 O’s are the third team to have won exactly 89 games, and they are the first of that trio to have made the postseason.
The Orioles became something of a pinata following the team’s clubhouse fiesta in honor of clinching an American League wild card. The bearers of the virtual fringed pinata sticks tsk-tsked the O’s for what in their eyes equates to a celebration of not finishing first. Go for the gold, but don’t dare stand on the podium if you get bronze or silver. To those critics I would offer a defiant two claps and a Ric Flair. Don’t let the champagne soak you on the way out of the clubhouse doors.
In many regards, I’m not a fan of baseball’s second wild card, which amounts to a version of the NCAA basketball tournament’s play-in game. You made it, but not really. Perhaps that’s why Dan Duquette was talking like a small conference basketball coach in the clubhouse on Sunday.
“So now we’ve got a shot to go for the dance,” Duquette said. “We want to advance in the tournament.”
Duquette may as well have quoted that March Madness truism, “Survive and advance.”
One thing I do appreciate about the two wild card system, besides the fact that it allows me to spend money on overpriced postseason merchandise, is that it provides a measure of recognition to worthy teams that might otherwise be forgotten.
The Orioles postseason teams stick in my mind to the point that I sometimes use them to select my locker number at the gym. Confession: I don’t always use a lock. If you’re looking to steal my stuff, you’d be wise to start searching in lockers 66, 70, 83, 96, 97 …. It’s easier to remember the playoff years.
As I mulled the O’s playoff fortunes during this season’s final weeks, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to be a baseball fan in, say, the 1960s, when one team from each league went straight to the World Series. One team.
Consider what that meant in real terms. The 1964 Orioles won 97 games, the same number as the 1966 team that claimed Baltimore’s first World Series two seasons later, but they didn’t print any T-shirts for that third-place finish.
By 1977 there was an ALCS, but the O’s weren’t playing in it. The ’77 team, also winners of 97 games, finished tied for second in the A.L. East with the Boston Red Sox. That was the summer that the soon-to-be Nature Boy claimed his first NWA United States Championship, but at season’s end there would be no claps, no Ric Flairs in the O’s clubhouse.
Then there are the 1980 Orioles. They are among five O’s teams ever to win 100 games, but they stand alone as the only one not to make the postseason.
Overall, nine Orioles teams have won 90 or more games and not made the playoffs. Meanwhile, the 2016 O’s are the third team in club history to have won exactly 89 games, but they are the first of that trio to have qualified for the postseason. So yeah, go ahead and enjoy it guys.
Days removed from celebrating Jose Fernandez for the joy he brought to the game of baseball, we’re now witnessing criticism of teams for expressing too much joy after having played 162 games pretty darn well. It’s a lesser version of “act like you’ve been there before.” Well, the Orioles have been there before, and I’m glad they’re going to be there again.
Given the history, perhaps the 2016 O’s should be celebrating more, not less.