IT'S AMAZING what a few good weeks in the long baseball season can do for someone's image. Just last month the Baltimore Orioles were dwelling at the bottom of the standings, and their famous right fielder, Albert Belle, was viewed by the fans as a sullen, irritable, uncooperative and expensive burden on the team. But now the Orioles are winning, having sustained a hot streak of a dozen games or so. Albert Belle has contributed some big hits during this period, and as a result has taken on a whole new aspect. He is now seen as a sullen, irritable, uncooperative and expensive local hero.
Meanwhile, the good fellows on the club -- the Ripkens, Surhoffs and Brady Andersons -- have been transformed from likable losers, written off in May as doomed to finish last, into perhaps the most impressive collection of human beings to take up bat and glove in the modern era. There's nothing more delightful for a town than one of these unpredictable winning spells, during which practically every member of the team seems to take on a little magic, creating a sort of Midsummer Night's Dream with beer and hot dogs.
But don't expect the likes of Albert Belle to get caught up in the enchantment (he's celebrating the current era of good feeling by calling for a boycott of an exhibition game the Orioles are scheduled to play next week). He and many other jaded players have seen how things can turn. When he starred for the Cleveland Indians, Mr. Belle was the object of tumultuous ovations, despite his difficult personality and the scrapes his temper had got him into with the law and the American League. Now Cleveland fans boo him with the same moral authority with which they once booed former Oriole Roberto Alomar after he spat on an umpire. Mr. Alomar, meanwhile, has joined the Indians (who are winning a lot of games) and is cheered as wildly as Albert Belle used to be. Mr. Belle has reason to know by now that despite all our talk about role models, we pay to see the guys who win.