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  •   '04 Senators, Ripken No Win, No Fuss

    By Shirley Povich
    Washington Post Columnist
    Tuesday, April 19, 1988; Page E5


    The other day, when the baseball season had long since opened for all the American League teams except the Orioles, who had yet to win their first game and whose record stood at 0-9, an unfeeling baseball writer for this newspaper dredged up the miseries of the 1904 Washington Senators.

    The still-winless Orioles were not yet baseball history's No. 1 miscreants. Flip the pages back 84 years, he wrote, and wag a finger at the awful Senators of '04, those incompetent wretches who went 0-13 before they won one. For those dejected Baltimore fans, wallowing in their own distress, steeped in their melancholy and day by day becoming more distrustful of the Orioles, was this a poultice, this excavation of the '04 Senators? Take heart, and just say no to the Orioles' expanding shame. It wasn't historic yet.

    Yet, there are two things wrong about the finger-pointing at the 1904 Senators. First, there must be a sharing of the guilt. Not alone do the Senators bear that 0-13 stigma. They found company in 1920 in the Detroit Tigers, who also blew their first 13 starts and deserved mention when the subject comes up, as it has lately.

    And there is even a school of thought that says those Senators of 84 years ago are horribly maligned and deserve absolution; that they should not be held to account for losing 13 in a row at the season's outset; that in fact no such thing ever happened. Let us refer you to game two of that 1904 season, the Senators versus Connie Mack's Athletics. The final score, a 6-6 tie; game called by umpire Tom Connolly on account of darkness. A tie is not a defeat. The Senators did not lose their first 13 games; only 12 of them. To Detroit they yield undisputed claim to the record. Anyway, those were much different times in 1904. Statisticians weren't pouncing on everything that could be a record. Fact is, when the Senators finally won one, when they beat the New York Highlanders, 9-4, on May 6, it was regarded as no big deal. The Washington Post's story of the game did not bother to note that the Senators had broken a losing streak. Life went on.

    And, according to the advertisements in The Washington Post, 1904 was also a shopper's year. J.W. Eiseman, clothiers at Seventh and D streets NW, was offering: "Spring Suits and Topcoats at $12.75." "Worth $15 to $18," was the ad assurance.

    And if anybody cares to make a case of it, the 1904 Senators also set the pace for the 1988 Orioles in another department, in unloading the manager. After only six games into the season the Orioles fired Cal Ripken Sr. So what took them so long? The 1904 Senators fired their manager Tom Loftus one week before the season opened. And the old-time Senators still hold the record for firing a manager for cause. Why did they fire Bill Barnie in 1896? "For insubordination," was the club owner's statement. And exactly how was manager Barnie insubordinate? The explanation: "We asked him to resign, and he refused."

    Cal Ripken Sr. is a fine, decent person who gave two splendid sons to the Orioles' lineup, and he belongs in baseball. Maybe not as a manager, it seems. His 68-101 record with the club raises serious questions about his managerial acumen. His success can be summed up succinctly, perhaps. His only winning season was in 1985, when he compiled a 1-0 record in holding the job for one game.

    It is hardly a mystery why the Orioles at this tardy date are groping for their first victory. In the American League they are last in hitting, last in fielding and last in pitching, the three elements generally considered to be most essential to winning ball games.

    Yet in the midst of all this horror, Ripken was curiously unflappable. "Our hitting will come around," he said; "Jeff Stone got a base hit Sunday and that gave us three pretty good outfielders, I guess." (That hit brought Stone's average to .045 for the season). And for the other outfielders, Fred Lynn was then hitting .136, and Joe Orsulak was hitting .389, a bit inconclusive inasmuch as it represented a season of only 18 at-bats.

    Manager Ripken easily dismissed the 7-2 defeat by Cleveland that took the Orioles' record to 0-6. "We hit some good balls but the wind was blowing in," he said. Those winds are so capricious; don't blow in when the Indians are at bat.

    Through their first four games, the Orioles were outscored, 30-2. Under those conditions it is not difficult to picture the reactions of such managers as the late Bucky Harris and Casey Stengel. They'd have been perplexed by Ripken's unruffled manner, his forgiving nature and curious optimism. Harris would have kicked butts all over the place and a furious Stengel would have gotten his point across by asking the direct question of the Orioles: Can't anybody here play this game?

    © Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company

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