Reacting to owner-to-be Edward Bennett Williams' promise that the Orioles will remain in Baltimore "so long as the city supports them," the players put the team's future locale squarely up to the fans.
"For the first time, this season the fans have shown the appreciation that this team deserved for a long time," pitcher Steve Stone said today.
"All I've seen this season is the best of the Oriole fans," Stone added. "I wasn't here when they were drawing 5,000-6,000 in September when they were involved in the middle of a pennant race."
Boasting the best record in baseball, the club has averaged 21,393 in 45 home dates and probably will pass 1,000,000 Wednesday against Milwaukee, the earliest in its history. Williams has intimate knowledge of Baltimore's drawing power: His daughter was unable to get in a soldout game a few weeks ago.
"If we get 1.5 to 2 million fans year in and year out, there would be no reason to move the club to Washington," Stone said. "But, if the fans show an apathetic attitude, like in years past, then the ball club will probable move. I don't see how anybody could not support us if we keep playing the way we have. If the fans are uncertan whether the term will move, they can influence the outcome at the turnstiles."
Few of the Orioles would look forward to playing games at RFK Stadium in Washington.
"I would consider any games there as road games," said shortstop Mark Belanger. "My own personal feeling is that it would not be a good idea. Maybe it's because both cities had American League teams at the same time, but the Washington fans don't seem like Oriole rooters.
"I've played at RFK and I'm not overly impressed. It's an enclosed stadium (no bleachers) that seems very drab to me. I go to other places and say, 'Hey, this is a nice park.' But not RFK."
Reliever Don Stanhouse thought a split schedule would "take away from the ball club quite a bit. The fans in Baltimore might think about that stuff. I'm on the last year of my contract, so I'll be a free agent anyway. However, in the future, I'd like to remain an Oriole."
A Baltimore Oriole?
"Yes, a Baltimore Oriole."
Most of the Birds have tried to keep the club's front-office dealings out of their minds as they drive toward an American League East title.
"We're playing good baseball, winning, and the fans have been great," said center fielder Al Bumbry. "The sale of the club is okay with me as long as there is not some stipulation about the team being moved. The ballplayers could adjust to playing anywhere eventually; the Baltimore fans would be the ones to suffer. And I'm sure the fans would not want to share the team with another city."
Belanger said that the new owner won't affect the team's play "unless he changes everything. Sometimes new owners bring on their own personal staff, disrupting things, making changes here and there."
All of the players contacted said that they had not heard anything about a impending sale until arriving in Baltimore for a layover in the midst of a road trip.
"The first I heard anything about the sale to Williams was this morning," Bumbry said. "But those things are not under our control. We let things happen and just keep playing ball."
This they are doing very well. CAPTION: Picture, Sterv Stone