BALTIMORE, JUNE 13 -- For the Baltimore Orioles, once one of the most respected, successful and imitated teams in the game, these are tough, bitter times.
At least some of the Orioles now admit that 1983's championship team was not the beginning of a dynasty, but the end of an era. Even if management refuses to concede it, what else can you say about a team that since has gone through three managers, three pitching coaches and dozens of players and finished fifth, fourth and seventh?
These are times when the Orioles are no longer revered in Baltimore. They're booed at Memorial Stadium, they're ridiculed on various talk shows, and they're learning about a brand new way of living -- in the second division.
"It's not depressing, it's reality," pitcher Scott McGregor said. "A whole lot of players never got to play in two World Series, but we did. It's been a tremendous experience. Since then, Father Time caught up with some guys. We've got a lot of talented young guys, but it doesn't happen overnight."
The problem for the Orioles also is that, whereas 1987 looks bad, 1988 might be worse.
The farm system still is thin, especially in pitching, and the young pitchers who were drafted two weeks ago almost certainly won't be ready for another three years.
By then, other problems will exist. Center fielder Fred Lynn and third baseman Ray Knight, two recent free-agent purchases aimed at accelerating the rebuilding process, probably will be retired or restricted to part-time duty. First baseman Eddie Murray will be 34. Right-hander Mike Boddicker says he'll probably have retired.
In some cities, this would be nothing new. The St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds had rebuilding phases. So did the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals. But for a franchise that finished lower than second only three times between 1966 and 1983, the adjustment is extremely difficult.
That not everyone is accepting it is clear in many ways, from the nightly booing, to the tension of a traditionally mellow clubhouse to the feelings of various people inside the clubhouse and front office.
On and on it goes. Pitchers are shuffled back and forth from Class AAA Rochester and in and out of the starting rotation. Meanwhile, long-term problems get short-term fixes from the free-agent market: A 34-year-old third baseman (Knight), a 36-year-old second baseman (Rick Burleson).
As late as December, the Orioles were set to begin full-scale rebuilding. They were going to throw a couple of positions to kids, and they were again going to emphasize drafting and development. They leaked it to the media, and they explained that fans would have to be patient.
A couple of weeks later, they abruptly changed their minds, signing Burleson and Knight and announcing they would again challenge for a championship in 1987.
So with this year's club performing barely better than last year's, fans must swallow a bitter pill, one that has not gone down easily.
"I still come out and talk to the fans like I always did before," McGregor said. "I understand they boo because they're frustrated. They never booed before because we never gave 'em a chance to be frustrated. That's all changed."
Despite 10 brilliant seasons, first baseman Murray has been booed regularly at home this year, and although he might appear unbothered, the statistics suggest otherwise.
As the weekend began, Murray was having his usual year on the road, hitting .295 with nine homers and 28 RBI. At home, though, where the crowds are tough, he's hitting .220 with three homers and 12 RBI.
"He wouldn't be one to admit it," one player said. "But it bothers him. It has to bother him."
When Mike Young hit two homers a couple of weeks ago, he refused to take a curtain call even though the crowd stood and cheered for five minutes. He won't say it publicly, but he apparently hasn't forgotten the booing of the last two years, or the demotion to Rochester last summer.
In many of these cases, the Orioles wonder if winning again will heal the wounds. Will Murray ever be the same player at Memorial Stadium? Does Young, who hints that he'd like to play elsewhere, mean it?
Other players seem both mad and puzzled. Privately, they speak of the curses, taunts and jeers and they say things like, "Is this still Baltimore?"
The Orioles once knew each other like family because most had started their minor league careers in Bluefield, W.Va., and finished them in Rochester, N.Y. They were linked by stadiums, bus trips, fast-food joints and fans.
Now, being an Oriole is like being a Ranger or a Mariner, and the eclectic roster has created tension.
Some players not speaking to others doesn't bother Peters, who said, "Winning takes care of most of that sort of thing."
But was this really the Orioles clubhouse, where last week outfielder Lee Lacy walked around and, almost shouting, said, "I want to be released. I don't want to be part of the Baltimore Orioles."
A prominent player recently said, "You get the feeling management doesn't care about players here, and that's going to come back and hurt them. The owner comes in and says we're family, then you hear all the things he's saying about us in private. Does he think we're that stupid?"
Still, none of the clubhouse problems has much to do with the won-lost record or the 10-game losing streak. Those problems have been hung on the shoulders of a pitching staff that in the last 16 games has gotten five innings a night from its starters. Opponents have scored six or more runs in 14 of those games, and the Orioles have been behind so quickly and so often that just tying a game, much less winning it, requires an extraordinary effort.
"I've tried to remember if I've ever been on a team that gave up this many runs," Knight said, "and the answer is no. It does put a lot of pressure on your offense."
If the losses are bothering the players, they are no less tough on Peters, who looked haggard and beaten last week, going from one crisis meeting to another.
At one point Friday, he was meeting with coaches to discuss possible trades, while a host of people waited to see him with various pieces of bad news. A team doctor wanted to talk about Murray's back. Second baseman Alan Wiggins wanted to ask why he wasn't playing. An agent was phoning to say free-agent pitcher Bob Shirley preferred to play for someone else.
Worst of all for the Orioles is that after a dozen roster moves, there's no place else to turn in 1987. The Orioles have exhausted their minor league pitching talent.
"There is no one else," a team source said. "There's not another pitcher who looks like he has a chance to pitch in the big leagues in the next three years. What you see here is all we have."
Meantime, the Orioles struggle along, learning lessons that players on other teams learned long ago.
"I understand people want it to be the way it used to be," McGregor said. "I feel the same way. But it's not going to be, and we have to make the best of the situation we're given."