From Reisterstown and Towson to Dundalk and Essex, they call. They chide and criticize the Orioles every night on Baltimore's sports-talk radio shows. That's to be expected: The Orioles are losing and the natives are restless.

But perhaps unexpectedly, as these fans spill out solutions that range from reasonable to ridiculous, Orioles players -- driving home from Memorial Stadium -- are tuning in and taking in the tirades. And, naturally, they don't always like what they hear.

Eddie Murray, the object of unending radio criticism last season, stopped talking to the press and demanded a trade. Manager Cal Ripken Sr., in defending his early season decision to start Ken Gerhart and John Shelby in the outfield, commented that the radio critics did not know the game. And recently released Rick Burleson, in going to the media with his complaints about playing time, also was responding to talk-show callers who felt Alan Wiggins should be starting ahead of him.

It's a running radio referendum on the Orioles, and it's almost as if Ripken and his players are tallying the votes.

If it's open season on bashing the Orioles, the reasons include: 1) the team had won for so long, it came to be expected; 2) fans' resentment of huge players' salaries; 3) the fact that Baltimore has no other major league sports franchise puts a greater focus on the baseball team.

Orioles broadcaster Jon Miller said he's stopped listening to the shows on his drive home from the stadium. "You have a lot of uninformed people saying what they think, people who don't know one-tenth of what I know about the team. I enjoy listening to Ernie Harwell and Jack Brickhouse {on out-of-town games} more anyway.

"I don't think it's surprising players listen to {the shows}. When I was in Boston, there was a similar type of situation. {Red Sox Manager} Don Zimmer always used to listen and he'd get crucified. We used to say, 'Why do you listen?' It's because baseball was his life and that's his frame of reference."

Baltimore's three nightly sports-talk show hosts fall into three distinct categories -- the good, the bad and the ugly. WCBM's Phil Wood is a knowledgeable, congenial presence; WBAL's Stan White is a mediocre, if harmless, entry, and WFBR's Stan Charles (better known as Stan The Fan) is a mountain of out-of-control outrage.

Likewise, much as a team often adopts the personality of its manager, the listeners of these shows -- or at least those who call in regularly -- reflect the sensibilities of the hosts. That means, quite simply, that Charles' callers usually are the most absurd. Charles breeds a mob mentality; this is the type of guy who could move members of the Community for Creative Nonviolence to violence.

"Last year, I was put in the center of the Eddie Murray controversy. It was made known to me by several players that he wouldn't talk to the press here because of me," Charles said. "My show is a barometer of what the fans are thinking . . . My approach is I'm going to be here a lot longer than any of the players."

Wood, White and Charles all do afternoon drive-time shows; Wood and Charles also are on after Orioles games. As the losses mount, fans have filled the airwaves with explanations of the Orioles' woes.

Theories abound. Besides the usual points about bad pitching and poor management, blame is put on catcher Terry Kennedy for calling the wrong pitches, on Hank Peters for failing to hire Jim Palmer as pitching coach, on Earl Weaver for failing to brief Ripken on the team's weaknesses and even on the new outfield scoreboard for creating a home-run park.

The bottom line, Wood concluded, is that "the average caller is going to say anything."

There's no real equivalent in Washington. We only have one nightly sport-talk show, Ken Beatrice's "SportsCall" on WMAL, and no pro team here in this decade has made a dramatic downswing like the Orioles -- the Redskins always win, the Capitals always follow regular-season success with postseason failure and the Bullets always wind up at .500.

Wood, who hosted a sports-talk show on WTOP in Washington before relocating to Baltimore, said: "Generations up here have grown up believing it is their birthright to have a winning ballclub. If they're not winning, it must be somebody else's fault, so they start blaming people."

Charles, in particular, stirs up the discontent with a more outrageous brand of commentary. He's hypercritical of several Orioles -- Murray is the best example -- and he draws the type of caller who might seem incapable of dialing a phone number correctly.

"There will be people who will be outrageous," Wood said, not naming Charles, "just to be outrageous so to stir things up. It's an old trick of the talk-show trade."

"I know Earl Weaver used to listen to those shows," Miller said, "and he'd start railing against Stan The Fan the next day. It drove him crazy. Well, after a while, I find myself feeling like Earl did -- wanting to pull over on the way home and call up to set the record straight."

As the Orioles continue to lose, the radio attacks undoubtedly will continue. And Orioles management probably would like to convince the players to change their listening habits. "Maybe," Miller said, "they should pass out a chart of what out-of-town games the players can pick up each night."