BALTIMORE -- All is quiet now. The pain is over. Everything that possibly could be done was tried. But the malady -- old age and the evil work of time -- was incurable. Finally, after nearly four years of worsening illness, and much anguish for the nearest kin, the patient succumbed.
No tears for the Baltimore Orioles, please. A moment of silence'll suffice. This time, bad news is good news.
The old Orioles no longer are with us in this baseball world. At last, we can pronounce then deceased, remember them with fondness, relax and proceed with new work. Never again will this team be measured against old standards or be called disappointing. When a bad team plays badly, it is not letting anybody down. It is just being itself.
As recently as July, when the Orioles won 11 in a row, there were false signs of the old life. Hopes, long flogged to shreds, were raised. One last chorus of "we're not really this bad" was heard.
But they are and, surely, no one is left who doubts it.
No team in 30 years -- not since the Washington Senators of Dean Stone and Connie Grob (career 7.83) -- has had a team ERA as high as the Orioles' mark of 5.06. When the Toronto Blue Jays hit 10 home runs in one game last week -- a major league record with room to spare -- that was the line at the bottom of the page. Someday soon, the Orioles will allow their 221st home run of the year and they will have another all-time record. Only 13 to go. On, Dinger Dixon; on, Boom Boom Bell; on Need-A-New-Ball Niedenfuer and Big Mac McGregor. With 15 games left, you beauties are a lock.
This team is so miserable that no self-delusion remains possible. What a perfect week to schedule organizational meetings to spend four days analyzing everybody and everything. Presumably, no one has suggested a "fix" or even a solution. At this point, only process and patience hold out any hope at all.
One decision at a time, the Orioles must try to get less awful. No one trade, signing or firing will suffice, though some of each are needed.
Yes, it would probably help to fire farm director Tom Giordano and replace him with Doug Melvin. Giordano's system is not the joke that some portray, but it's definitely not good enough. The Orioles must be rebuilt and that starts at the bottom.
As for trading Eddie Murray, if you can get equal value -- a pitcher of comparable excellence who figures to have six or eight more productive years, then waltz into the Hall of Fame -- then grab it. But the Orioles are not going to get Fernando Valenzuela. At his worst, Murray hits 30 homers, drives in 90 to 100 runs and has a mediocre glove and bearable attitude. If the team ever revived, his spirits would, too. The man is bored by losing and plays like it; slapping him in the face with his paycheck just doesn't fire him up.
What the Orioles really need to do is reevaluate their current players' limits and find out what they can do. And who can't do anything.
For instance, if you intend to play Fred Lynn, then use him at designated hitter. He's nothing special in center field any more. Lee Lacy is a quality pinch hitter, not a regular outfielder.
Don't ask fragile Don Aase to be a workhorse when he returns. Hope for 15 to 20 saves and don't dream of 35. Since Tom Niedenfuer is only useful for one inning, don't ask for two. Since Dave Schmidt's arm blows at 100 innings, then use them wisely -- and not as a starter. If John Habyan is only comfortable as a long reliever, then let him have a season of success there.
Either trade Ken Dixon for somebody else's young problem pitcher or else get some work out of him. This staff could use a 12-15 pitcher who worked 240 innings. A team struggling to get back to 80 wins can't be picky. As for Scott McGregor, you're stuck paying him a $1 million, so give him one more spring as a starter. He's no worse than the rest.
Stop force-feeding the kid starters. They're not talented enough to stand it. Eric Bell and Jeff Ballard can become decent pitchers, if husbanded. But keep throwing them to the wolves and they'll continue to be dinner.
The everyday Orioles lineup is more than serviceable. Don't scorn 200 homers for the sake of a few stolen bases. Terry Kennedy and Ray Knight are too old to play 150 games, so rest them plenty. Let's see some of Craig Worthington at third base and Pete Stanicek a little bit all over the place.
Please, don't play Bill Ripken for 162 games at second base in '88; he'll break. Dad, keep him fresh for 400 to 500 at-bats, not tired for 650. As for brother Cal Jr., the consecutive-game streak has got to go the way of the innings streak. No more doubleheaders at shortstop.
An outfield of Mike Young, Ken Gerhart, Larry Sheets and Jim Dwyer is a defensive nightmare. But we're not talking pennant. So, live with it.
Let General Manager Hank Peters live out his contract with grace. But start hiring new front office blood around him. Don't fire the manager. But expect him to improve his team in '88 or else.
Heaven forbid that owner Edward Bennett Williams should sign a costly free agent over the winter (this crop should be the best ever). Maryland is building his team a new stadium that'll bring millions of dollars at the gate. Couldn't he reciprocate in good faith and open his wallet to help the team?
Could the Orioles have avoided this hour of lead? When Mike Flanagan was traded two weeks ago, he wondered, too. "That '77 to '83 team just got old," he said. "Sure, mistakes were made. But I'm not sure anybody was really to blame."
The Orioles must settle for quiet pleasures now. "We signed three young pitchers this year with really great arms," said Cal Ripken Sr., sitting in his office, his throat hoarse from yelling during a recent nine-game losing streak. He reels off the obscure names of these potential Palmers in the deep minors and tells how he got so excited he even warmed up one of them with his old catcher's mitt.
"Of course, they're a couple of years away."
Until then, get used to Dinger and Boom Boom.