Draw a line across the page and mark the end of an era in baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles could be great again someday, even someday soon.
But they never will be the same.
The Orioles, as we have known them for the last quarter-century -- placid, excellent, hermetic, slow to change, tasteful and conservative -- are gone.
The advent of baseball's dubious modern times at last is complete. The Orioles, the game's last successful across-the-board tories, now are of a piece with the temper of their times.
Draw up a profile of a modern major league franchise -- free-spending, impatient, controversial, willing to hurt feelings and take wild risks -- and the Orioles, once the antithesis of the type, now come close to matching it.
Out of desperately felt necessity, the Orioles have just about mastered the new dance steps. The Orioles, perhaps even owner Edward Bennett Williams, preferred the waltz tempo that accompanied so many Baltimore victories from 1960 to '84. But times change; everybody's had to learn to rock.
Make a list of characteristics of a wild-and-woolly '80s ball club, and the Orioles suddenly have the same traits.
* Multimillion-dollar free agent players, some vastly overpaid and signed despite obvious risks.
Outfielders Fred Lynn and Lee Lacy and pitcher Don Aase have new contracts worth $12 million. Lynn's deal ($6.8 million for five years) is twice the going rate for a player at his statistical level; it's a staggering gotta-win-now contract. Lacy will be 36 in April, and Aase is coming back from tendon transplant surgery.
* A warped salary structure.
Lynn makes far more than Eddie Murray or Cal Ripken Jr., while Aase makes more than pitchers Mike Boddicker and Storm Davis combined.
* The release of old beloved faces to save money to buy free agents.
Jim Palmer ran out of a Memorial Stadium press conference in tears after his sudden midseason pink slip.
Ken Singleton and Al Bumbry, told late last season that their tenure was ending, still think they should be Orioles.
Williams calls these decisions "a hard wrench" on the emotions. They also are decisions that tug at the fabric of the quasi-family feeling that long has bound the Orioles.
* A team decision to get out of an old park by using leverage on city and state governments to build a modern park -- i.e., a slick football stadium in which baseball also could be played.
Since the defection of the Colts, the Orioles' brass thinks it far more likely Baltimore will build a new stadium, or even a Meadowlands-like sports complex, to lure back an NFL franchise and induce the baseball team to sign a long-term lease.
"The Colts' move got everybody's attention in city and state government," Williams told The Washington Post this week. "Baltimore is a great, great football town and it recognizes that the NFL has a good selection process.
"If Baltimore wants to compete for an expansion team, it needs a comparable new facility . . .
"The mayor's task force probably surprised the mayor by recommending a new stadium in the city. The governor's task force will probably recommend a sports complex, perhaps like the Meadowlands.
"We have no objection to the idea of signing a long-term lease, but, of course, the specifics (cost, location, etc.) are of cardinal importance. We'll comment on plans as they are brought forward . . .
"It's up to the city and state governments to coordinate their ideas at some point . . . They (the task forces) have been very, very nice. They've asked for our comments and suggestions. They have told us our views will be given great weight."
* A brilliant, high-powered owner who looks over everyone's shoulder and has wide control in many areas.
Since Earl Weaver retired as the team's manager, Williams has increasingly taken such team personnel decisions as free agent signings, into his own hands.
For instance, he volunteers that the team's Opening Day lineup at present looks like "Lee Lacy in left field, Mike Young in right, Ripken, Murray, Lynn in center and (rookie) Larry Sheets at DH."
Would Williams be so candid if Weaver, protective of his prerogatives, still were writing the lineup card?
* A manager (Joe Altobelli) whose job may be in jeopardy after a fifth-place finish and who has a famous newly hired coach (Frank Robinson) who could turn out to be a manager-in-waiting.
To add to speculation, Williams says, "If I had to bet, I'd say that Earl Weaver will get tired of this self-imposed leisure and miss the game so much, now that his ABC-TV contract has not been renewed, that he'll be back managing in the next couple of years."
Williams and Weaver have a gentlemen's agreement that Weaver first will offer his services to the Orioles.
* A farm system that has not been providing quality players as fast as old players depart.
The Orioles decided to spend millions on free agents because they didn't think their prospects, aside from Sheets, looked sure-fire.
* A new electronic TV scoreboard.
A video screen roughly as big as the left field scoreboard will be added in right field this season. It'll have advertisements.
Because the Orioles, who've won far more games than any other team in baseball the past 25 seasons, have attracted a traditionalist following both inside and outside Baltimore, it's likely that this trend toward modernization will get mixed reviews.
It's probably closer to the truth, however, to say that the Orioles simply had little choice. They held the line as long as possible, even winning a world title the old-fashioned way in '83 with home-grown talent, no major free agents and a controversy-free team with a special blend of brains, camaraderie and an imprecise "chemistry."
Ever since Williams bought the team in '79, there's been a sense he was in a seat-of-the-pants waiting game.
How long until Weaver retired? How long until the over-30 players that were at the heart of the '79 Series team went over the hill?
How long until the farm system ran out of enough players such as Davis and Ripken to make huge free-agent contracts mandatory rather than optional?
How long until increased attendance and network TV money made it possible to offer a free agent -- such as Lynn -- an inflated contract without throwing the whole payroll out of whack?
How long until Baltimore came around to wanting a new stadium as much as Williams wanted one?
How long until Washington got back in the expansion franchise picture so Williams would have to decide once and for all whether he owned the Baltimore Orioles or some two-headed regional franchise?
Finally, how long could Williams -- who has had more than one operation for cancer -- afford to play along with this charming conceit of chemistry and team play and Orioles magic when he knew he had the bucks to buy talent as well?
In 1984, all the questions were answered.
The oldsters went over the hill. Some youngsters, such as center fielder John Shelby, flopped when given a chance. And the money was there for a quick fix.
So the Orioles, with Williams leading the way, entered their new world. Actually, they will enter it Feb. 22, when pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Miami; the rest of the team will report Feb. 28.
"We were not in panic," Williams says firmly. "We had meetings in September and felt we had no alternative except to release four players (outfielders Bumbry, Singleton and Benny Ayala and pitcher Tom Underwood).
"It was a hard wrench to give up on Kenny and Al, but we concluded that their days were over with us. We anguished over how we could fill those four holes and decided we couldn't do it from within.
"We had pretty much come to terms with Lacy and Lynn before the winter meetings (in December)," said Williams.
If this be legal tender (and the Orioles' reputation for straight talk is presumed to be intact), then Baltimore had the whole baseball community fooled.
You could have gotten 10-1 odds in Houston that the Orioles wanted free agent Andre Thornton of Cleveland badly and had little interest in Lynn.
"Thornton laid a proposal before us that we could not meet then and would not meet now," Williams said. "It amounted to $417,000 a year for 19 years. Cleveland just said, 'Amen' to it. It was not (any flaw in) our negotiating that kept us from getting Thornton.
"I think we had a pretty dramatic escalation in talent at four spots. Lynn for Bumbry in center field. Aase for Underwood in the bullpen. Lacy in left field. And, at DH, Sheets, who was brilliant in Japan and who our people tell us can make our roster and may be our DH from both sides (of the plate).
"Of course, improvement is relative, not absolute. How do we compare to the rest of the league? Detroit has helped itself a little in pitching. Toronto may have helped its bullpen a lot. The Yankees, with Rickey Henderson, should be better. The Red Sox are essentially unchanged but strong.
"It's going to be one interesting race in the AL East. But I feel comfortable."
Williams also feels a lot more comfortable about his chances of having somebody build a new stadium for him.
"I'm very pleased that they (the two task forces) are sufficiently interested to study the problem. Our interest is the fan," said Williams, who then cited Memorial Stadium's familiar liabilities -- limited parking, poor access and a lack of premium seats (only 7,500 field boxes).
"I'm neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the prospects of a new stadium," concluded Williams, who often has been darkly pessimistic in the past five years.
"It's quite apparent that the mayor's task force strongly believes that there are too many deficiencies in this stadium to warrant a massive ($50 million) facelift," General Manager Hank Peters said this week.
"The governor's task force has a grant to study the whole impact of sports on the economy. What does Maryland need to do to make sure not to harm the state through lack of facilities," added Peters. "I don't think the two (study groups) are at cross-purposes. Hopefully, they'll be getting together at some point.
"Mr. Williams has never said, 'I want this or that,' but, as the prime tenant, obviously he is going to be caught up in this for some time."
Just as Wrigley Field in Chicago seems fated to have lights before long (and perhaps even a visit from the wrecking ball before the decade's done), so the Orioles and Memorial Stadium could be headed toward a parting of the ways.
They say it's progress.
Like free agents and $6.8 million contracts to .280 hitters with 80 RBI.
Like instant-replay scoreboards and cylindrical AstroTurf ballparks.
Like showing the old guys the exit instead of carrying them an extra year.
It's the new baseball age. Worry and hurry. Spend and offend. Win this year because the future is a mystery.
Perhaps, in time, we'll see that the Orioles haven't bought the whole nine yards. Maybe they've found a way to accommodate old values and new methods.
For the time being, it's enough to mark the passing of a style of running a baseball team that was exemplary in almost every respect for 25 years.