No Magic, But Many Magicians
By Richard Justice
It seemed a good idea at the time. After all, this man had bent nails on the "Tonight Show," so how much of a problem could the Kansas City Royals pose?
Freeze that thought. The Royals scored nine first-inning runs that night and blasted the Orioles, 13-1, for the 16th of what eventually would be 21 consecutive losses.
Kreskin was not heard from again, as the Orioles flirted with first one record, then another. But as their streak became more and more incredible, a lot of other people did stop by, telephone or send telegrams with almost every sort of advice imaginable.
Their streak finally ended Friday night with a 9-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox, but for the Orioles and their coaches and staff, the first month of 1988 will be remembered as much as the last months of '82, '83 or any of the franchise's glory days.
It was humiliating, but at the same time it was intriguing and perverse because each day brought a new Joe Isuzu out of the woodwork, and in some cases, off the woodwork.
There was the mysterious voice that promised Frank Robinson a victory in Minneapolis. There was the psychic who left a lucky ring at Memorial Stadium. There was the "doctor" who promised to strengthen 50 muscles in one simple session. There was the traveling salesman who wanted to fly up and give the players a motivational talk (air fare, expenses and a small fee to come out of the club till).
Former Oakland Athletics owner Charles Finley stopped by to quote a Biblical passage, and to remind Orioles General Manager Roland Hemond that none of Finley's teams had ever lost more than six in a row.
"I said, 'Thank you, Charlie,' " Hemond said. "I think he's got a convenient memory about some of his early teams."
The owners of the Chicago White Sox sent Hemond the suit he wore during a 1983 championship celebration at Comiskey Park. It was split down one side and had burn marks in the seat, but Hemond wore it proudly, and when the streak ended, stood still as a Sox fan poured a beer down his back.
President Reagan phoned to offer encouragement and so did Bill Cosby, Jerry Vale and dozens of others. Florence Haney, the wife of the late Fred Haney, a career baseball man, sent word that the Orioles were in her daily prayers. George Steinbrenner sent a telegram.
They received flowers, sometimes two or three arrangements a day, and their clubhouse in Minneapolis had so many that outfielder Jim Dwyer grumbled: "It's starting to look like a funeral."
But two days later in Chicago, Dwyer showed up at the clubhouse announcing: "I've got the lucky pizzas." He had four of them from his favorite Chicago joint, and on one of them, olives were arranged to vaguely resemble a cross.
In Minneapolis, the club ordered three cases of champagne to help celebrate the first victory, then returned it when the Twins swept a three-game series. They had another three cases brought in Friday night in Chicago, but after the game, it went mostly untouched as players sipped Old Style beer or grape sodas.
It didn't even end with the first victory. Hemond's morning was interrupted by a psychologist, who said she had flown in from New York and was in the hotel lobby. She apparently wanted to speak to the team about positive thinking and motivation.
In an agonizingly long first month, the Orioles' radio network expanded to include stations from Portland to San Antonio to New York. Meanwhile, their flagship station in Baltimore planned a welcome-home celebration for Monday's game against Texas. They planned prize drawings, invited a magician and marching band and have sold more than 47,000 tickets.
The Orioles got their 15 minutes of fame the hard way: by being bums. Not exactly loveable bums in the way, say, the '62 Mets were loveable, but bums just the same.
Remember loss No. 3? First baseman Eddie Murray held the ball to argue with an umpire while Cleveland's Jay Bell sprinted home.
How about No. 4? Mike Boddicker sent home two runs with balks, and outfielder Joe Orsulak flubbed a fly ball for another.
An error by shortstop Cal Ripken let an important run score in No. 5; Jeff Stone lost a ball in the lights in No. 9; two walks and a passed ball killed them in No. 11; Scott McGregor was pounded in Nos. 15 and 20; the Royals scored in the bottom of the ninth in No. 17; three Minnesota players just up from the minors beat them in No. 21.
The Orioles averaged two runs per game, their opponents, six. They batted .200, their opponents, .311. They scored three or fewer runs 18 times, the opponents, more than five 11 times.
Robinson sat in his office this afternoon and talked about learning from losing.
"Nothing can be worse than this," he said. "Our players can draw from this. No matter what happens in the future, they can say, 'We'll handle this. It can't be as bad as what happened in 1988.' They'll be stronger for it. The thing that's so unbelieveable is that even if you came out and didn't try to win, you'd win one by accident."
The cameras zoomed in one more time Friday, following players onto the field to congratulate one another, then into the clubhouse to see them go through the nightly ritual of filling paper plates with food and sitting down to a late dinner.
At one point, when cameras kept closing in one the table of food, outfielder Ken Gerhart stepped in and said, "Hey, we eat after we lose, too."
Later that night, Robinson was asked what lesson had been learned. He smiled and said, "You can't lose 'em all."
© Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company