April 21, 1988 found the Orioles mired in the cruelest of slumps: 21 straight losses to start the baseball season, a string unmatched in big-league lore. The world took note. As the streak dragged on, Sports Illustrated put the woebegone Orioles on its cover, and reporters from as far away as Japan began covering them.
What to do? Manager Cal Ripken Sr. was fired after six games, to no avail. Players wore their hats sideways. One bedecked the clubhouse with roses. Should have been lilies. Folks began calling them the “ZER-O’s.”
“We couldn’t hit water if we fell out of a boat,” catcher Mickey Tettleton said.
Fans tried to help. Motorists turned on their headlights, by day, to rally the Birds. President Ronald Reagan phoned to wish them well. In mid-April, a local disc jockey pledged to stay on the air until V-Day. He wouldn’t sleep for another 258 hours.
On April 26, after the Orioles lost for the 19th time to Minnesota, Twins’ outfielder Kirby Puckett quipped, “The law of averages is going to catch up with them. They’re too good a team to go 0-150.”
One assumed he meant 162.
Players tried to shrug it all off. Pitcher Mike Boddicker (0-5) dressed at his locker humming, “That’s Life.” General Manager Roland Hemond wore the suit he had on when his Chicago White Sox clinched their division in 1983.
On April 29, manager Frank Robinson arrived at the ballpark to find a Big Bird doll sent to him by a fan. And the Orioles defeated the White Sox, 9-0. Mercifully, they were two games shy of tying the all-time losing skein of 23, set by the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies.
In those 21 losses, the Orioles scored just 44 runs and batted .200. Already 15-1/2 games off the pace, they finished a horrid 54-107. A year later, they won 87 games and nearly made the playoffs.