Jun

1

 A recent post by Tim Melvin noted that Baltimore may be a shit hole, but it's our shit hole. That of many of us on the list. Even if we no longer live there, we identify with it. The glory of Fort McHenry. The commanding of Johns Hopkins. The ignominy of Bankruptcy Tower. The notoriety of Payoff Row. The poverty and lack of hope for a better life in some places in the city. And of course, The Block. Once two blocks (go figure), it's now not even one. Maybe that's the effect of being right next to the police HQ. Add in a dysfunctional education system in the city, the three decades of the departure of industry and the conversion of the town to a bedroom community for DC (in part), and you have a shit hole. I'm sure that some (many?) may contest that conclusion, but try contesting the elements leading me to it.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, if one were to hear a screaming crowd at Memorial Stadium, 33rd Street, Baltimore, chances were good that it was Sunday and the Colts were playing at home. The stadium was usually sold out. It was the era (the "Diner" era—and the Hilltop Diner really did exit, across Reisterstown Road from the Crest Theater—providing relief from the infernal Baltimore summers—and Barcelona Nut Shop) when Colts season tickets were inherited and valued as much as a car or a prized bottle of Lafite or Mouton. It was the golden era for the Orioles, but they did not commandeer the attention, the love the Colts did.

But all of that changed in 1979, specifically June 22, 1979. Edward Bennett Williams had just bought the Os and was complaining about the lack of enthusiasm (and attendance) by the good people of Baltimore. Maybe the team should move to Washington. Lots of interest in DC. and it took forever to drive back to DC. By his chauffeur. The BCPD tailed him once and clocked his trip as 45 minutes, not much more than from York, Pennsylvania (Birdland North) to the Grey Lady of 33rd Street It was the night of the birth of "Orioles Magic," which eventually had an accompanying song (until "You can do magic" replaced it for when relievers entered the game in a tight pitching situation during the early 1980s).

So 1979 wasn't shaping up to be a great year for the Os. Until June 22, 1979. On that night, in the bottom of the ninth, with one on, Doug DeCinces homered to left field. Anyone in the stadium that night will surely remember it. The roar of the crowd was deafening, and the stadium didn't really begin to empty for at least 15-20 minutes after then. Carley Eckman's call (I was listening on a transistor radio, not unusual for someone in the bleachers, not far from the orange and black "Here" flag) was memorable, too. Objective calling of the game flew out the window that moment. The entirety of the Orioles team greeted DeCinces at the plate (for DeCinces, the hit became, at least in part, redemption; it's hard being the position successor to a baseball legend, the "human vacuum cleaner" aka Brooks Robinson), making for an award-winning photo. The next day, a Saturday, that HR was the talk of the town. The following Monday, discussions around the water coolers and over coffee included at least some mention—and often much more—of the HR. 1979 wore on, and the Birds flew high. No one expected much of that team. There were few dominant players, and it was the rare season when Jim Palmer was out of sorts during the season. The World Series that year found the Os against the Pirates, losing in seven games with the final one at home. It was the last time that a visiting team won the series in seven games.

The night of May 29, 2015, also a Friday night, may go down as the renaissance of Orioles Magic. The game was a hard fought pitchers' dual. Gonzalez had pitched a good 8 innings for Baltimore, giving up only one run—earned. Going into the ninth, the score tied, at 1-1, Darren O'Day, a journeyman pitcher who had become the Os middle relief/setup man, came in, proceeded to give up back-to-back hits and promptly loaded the bases with no one out. A situation pregnant for a hit and an RBI to take the lead. But that wasn't the script that was followed on that Friday eve. What followed were two strikeouts and the final out of the inning, a grounder by Elmore to Machado for an unassisted out at third. O'Day had thrown 24 pitches that inning. 24 (or was it 25?). One inning. That's a lot of pitches. For that final out, the crowd was on its feet and the Camden Yards reverberated with cheers and stomps. The bottom of the inning found Os on 1st and 3rd with 2 down. JJ Hardy, an infield specialist with a batting average south of .200 (Orioles faithful will recall Mark Belanger as having somewhat better production at the plate, which isn't saying much), strode to the plate and promptly hit a single to left field. It was all that was needed. Somewhere between 1st and 2nd, after the winning run had been scored, the Os mobbed Hardy as the sellout crowd registered its approval.

The night felt like that of June 22, 1979. One of those days when many in Birdland can recall where they were when DeCinces homered. Will the Magic reappear? The excitement? Hard to say. Let's revisit it in a month. This year's Os are hardly dominant in just about any position on the field, save maybe Zach Britton as a closer. Jimenez is having a good year, and compared with 2014, a great one. But that's about it. And the Os are in 3rd place in the AL East as a result. One game under .500 and one game behind the Yanks. Who ever would have thought that a third of the way through the season the pace would be set by a team one game over .500. At least the Birds have the best home record in the division. So the team has its work cut out for the next three months—not to violate the first rule of holes for the next month as it gets its act together and the, in a reprise of last year's performance—rise to the top.

We've had some discussions recently about the decline of baseball in the US, and yes, the sport has had its troubles. But it's always managed to find a champion and grittily renew its place in the national entertainment firmament. Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken.The sport is shaking off the self-induced haze of the steroid era. And the helicoptering of kids doesn't auger well for a rebirth of the national pastime, which has indeed become passed time. As the country struggles economically with a recession possibly looming over the horizon, with dysfunction in DC and political sex scandals seeming to be the order of the day (I don't recall them being this common, but maybe it's like FDR's wheelchair, no one ever reported them)—the latest being inappropriate touching by the pre-political life former Speaker of the House (does it much matter that it was pre-political life?)—it must have been some serious touching to merit a $3+ million payoff—the country needs to rally around something. As President Snow observed, hope is the only emotion stronger than fear, and while complacency is the rule on Wall Street for the moment, there's some fear being voiced by those with memories of times before ZIRP, of times when interest rates actually ascended, not declined. Memories of the early 1980s. With deflation the concern du jour of the NFL if not the BEA, it may be baseball's time to shine again.

So, in Baltimore, is it Orioles Magic, 2015 edition? We'll see. As for the moment, it's to be savored. Go to war, Miss Agnes! Let's go Os!

Play ball!

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

This notion of baseball's "decline" is entirely a construct of the Fairness Police. There is now, in fact, far greater "diversity" (sic) among the players of Major League Baseball than there ever has been; the only problem is that the darkest-skinned players are more likely to be Cubans than American blacks. Measured by money paid to the players (baseball, unlike football and basketball and hockey, does not have a hard salary cap), valuations for franchises, television revenues, ticket sales, and concession revenues, these are the best of times. And, regarding the play itself, Buck Showalter is right: "this is the Golden Age". 

Paul Marino writes: 

Here is a great video of the great player for the Buccos, Andrew McCutchen, making some little kids' life last night when playing in San Diego.

Would love to see Pitt make a run at playoffs again, but in a tough division with the best organization in the league St. Louis playing .660 ball, almost a clean + .50bps win % over entire MLB.

anonymous adds: 

I hated the fact that the Giants had to play Pittsburgh for the wild card; they have a wonderful ball park and a really great organization and they are all around good guys. So, clearly the plan for this year is that the Giants beat the Dodgers outright and the Bucs have their wild card game on the road.

Having your loyal fans cheer for you can be a tremendous handicap when it is all or nothing. The Giants have been lucky to be the road team in their "Big Games". The last 4 times they have won the World Series - 1954, 2010,2012,2014 - the deciding game was in the other guys' park. The one time it was at home - 1962 - they lost even though they had Willie McCovey at bat and the winning run on second base and he absolutely smoked the ball - right into the Yankees' second baseman's glove.


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