Unbelievably, inconceivably -- but truly -- the current Orioles may become the second team in Baltimore's 34-year modern major league history to lose 100 games if they don't soon fly right. Having lived through the previous longest season, I prefer to believe the 1987 Orioles can't be as bad as the '54 Orioles. Can they?

The 1954 Orioles fluttered to a record with a certain woeful symmetry: 54-100. Before Casey Stengel's Mets made ineptitude fashionable, the '54 Orioles turned a whole town dour. In the summer of '54 in Baltimore, all the adults were grumpy with the team heading toward a .351 winning percentage. The current Orioles are at .411.

In '54, everyone would sit out on his stoop listening to the games; the nights weren't made for anything but humidity and defeat. When defeat inevitably came, everyone always said how much better it would have been if we had gone to the movies -- at least we'd have been cool.

But maybe Turley -- Bob Turley, the Mike Boddicker of his day -- would be pitching tomorrow; there'd be a chance with the team's one reliable on the mound. When Don Larsen pitched, everyone did go to the movies. Larsen's record that season was 3-21. And if anybody would have suggested that someday Larsen might be good enough to pitch a perfect World Series game, he'd have been stuffed into a garbage can, which used to happen there to troublemakers and dreamers.

If Larsen would make history, another '54 Oriole can be remembered through literature. That would be Eddie Waitkus, who played first base. He is best recalled for getting shot by a woman in a hotel in Chicago when he played for the Phillies -- the model victim for Bernard Malamud when he wrote "The Natural." However it happened to Waitkus, Roy Hobbs was plugged by Harriet Bird this way, in Malamud's story: "He was greatly confused and thought she was kidding but . . . she pulled the trigger. A twisted dagger of smoke drifted up from the gun barrel. {And she} danced on her toes around the stricken hero."

Like Hobbs, Waitkus came back, but he never swung a big bat like Hobbs. Waitkus in his later days with the Orioles remained a solid, singles hitter, yet was Hobbs-like with his glove. Eddie Murray needn't be perfect, but in '54 at first base Waitkus fielded 1.000.

For Orioles fans, the '87 season shouldn't turn out as badly as '54 because '54 began with illusions. When much was made of the burning of the St. Louis Browns' uniforms, it was somehow forgotten that Baltimore was getting the players who wore them.

That year, the Orioles also inherited the Browns' exhibition schedule, which proved to be a wandering in the desert. Based in Yuma, Ariz., the team toured the Southwest by bus -- 7,000 miles.

Jimmy Dykes was the manager -- he was used to managing losing teams because he had done it enough in Chicago and Philadelphia. He never said, "Can't anybody here play this game?" But he did say something like this: "I have never seen a slump like this. I have seen slump-ridden teams before. But our guys not only can't buy a hit, they can hardly hit the ball to the infielders." And that was May.

The '54 Orioles had glove men, though. Bobby Young was slick at second base. He hit .245 -- but, more importantly, he lived in the neighborhood. Billy Hunter was the precedent-setting shortstop; when haven't the Orioles had a good shortstop? Chuck Diering was the center fielder, and he was the best glove man of all. Center field used to be 440 feet, which meant that Fred Lynn wouldn't have had to run into the fence so often. (Vic Wertz was hitting .202 because of that canyon when he was booed out of town in '54; later that year, knowing how to hit to dead center, he hit the ball Willie Mays caught in the Polo Grounds). Diering made a Mays-type back-to-the-plate catch one night against the Yankees' Joe Collins, on a ball hit so high and far that it came down in a dark corner of the park (Malamud would have had the ball go through a cloud and bring rain).

Diering that year started six double plays from the outfield, which led the league. He wore a glove barely bigger than his hand, just like the real old-timers. When he'd crouch before a pitch, he'd twist his left wrist and put it on his knee so the glove would be open and backhanded. That way, the pocket would be perfect and ready to receive the ball he would go get. Baltimore kids would try it that way, but it hurt their wrists.

Clint Courtney, the catcher, was not adept with his glove. Courtney hit the first home run on opening day 1954 at Memorial Stadium, a victory, good for first place. But it turned out that the 5-foot-8 "Scrap Iron" needed a helmet and compass for foul pops. In his second stint with the Orioles, Manager Paul Richards gave him an oversized glove to catch Hoyt Wilhelm's fluttering knuckleballs -- the big glove helped on the foul pops.

A Louisiana farm boy, the late Courtney chewed tobacco and fought with Billy Martin regularly. As a Browns rookie, he accepted the challenge of a 100-yard race with a sportswriter down the middle of a railroad track. He lost, and lost his balance at the end, tumbling into broken glass and cinders that took hours to remove. (He played the next day.) As a Senator, he got into a slump in which he could not throw the ball back to the pitcher very well -- frequently throwing it over his head or into the dirt. (But he took extra practice.) Several years ago, Courtney said something that's true to this day: "It's bad when the capital of the United States doesn't have a club."

The sportswriter well described the '54 Orioles as being "deep in average players." When Boddicker's arm stiffened the other night and he had to come out with a 3-2 lead, one remembered what happened when Turley used to come out. Anyway, it's still June, and, at least, we live in air-conditioning now.