Now is the summer of our discontent made gloriously awful by the Baltimore Orioles. Major League Baseball’s All-Star break is when fans traditionally step back and assess where their team stands. In Charm City, it doesn’t require Richard III-level eloquence: We’re in the dumpster. With 28 wins and 69 losses, the Orioles have the second-worst record in the big leagues this season. Thank you, Kansas City Royals, for amassing just 27 wins and a .005 worse winning percentage.
Most teams have losing seasons at one point or another, but even by historic standards, the Orioles are deeper in the cellar than most dwellers. At the current rate, it’s entirely possible the Birds will challenge the 1962 Mets for worst season record of the modern era in MLB (with 160 or more games). And that’s just one of the landmarks that may lie within the Orioles grasp. For sheer futility, there’s nothing like going into the books with the lowest season-long batting average (qualified with the minimum at-bats, of course). The current holders are Rob Deer (1991) and Dan Uggla (2013) who both batted an “Uggla” .179. Chris Davis would have to raise his average 21 points to do that well; he’s currently batting .158. He’s the worst or second worst hitter in baseball by most every measure except strikeouts (he’s only third worst) and salary, where he’s earning a base of $17 million a season, or roughly $2 million per home run this year.
We won’t exhaust our readers with further details of Orioles ineptitude in 2018 (we have an entire sports section to do that), but suffice to say with the exception of shortstop Manny Machado, it’s been a subpar half-season across the roster. The Orioles aren’t just bad at scoring runs (second worst to Kansas City), the team earned run average is the third worst in the majors, so the pitching is just as terrible. Given all that awfulness, you would assume attendance at Oriole Park would have tanked. Oh, it’s fallen, but it’s a miracle not to be worse: the O’s attracted nearly 21,000 fans per home game so far this year, which is better than seven clubs, including Oakland and Tampa, both of which have winning records.
So with all this losing — this fall from mediocrity of 75 wins in 2017 to the misery of today — the question is, how are Orioles fans coping? Here’s our take: Pretty well — so far. Camden Yards isn’t filled with fans wearing bags over their heads. Attendance has gone from 23rd in all of baseball to, well, 23rd (other cities are losing ticket sales, too). And on sports radio, on social media, neighborhood drinking holes and other places where fans gather, the talk is about rebuilding and the future. The question is not whether Manny will be traded (that’s pretty much a given), it’s how much the Orioles will get for him. Will he go to a division rival? When will baseball finally get a hard salary cap and level the playing field for small market cities?
Maybe that’s a sign that there are bigger matters on the minds of even the most hardened sports fan. How can any rational person suffer malaise over the Orioles being roughly a trillion games out of first place in their division when there’s the matter of the city’s homicide rate and the much more alarming stat that Baltimore has seen 26 murders over the last 30 days. Or the 23.1 percent poverty rate, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimate. The spate of fentanyl-related drug overdoses or Baltimore’s unemployment that peaked at 6.6 percent in January, more than 2 percent above the statewide average. We look to professional sports for relief from that reality, not to wallow in misery.
To that end, here’s our suggestion. Let’s own this losing thing. Instead of orange and black, it’s time to embrace the Orioles’ blues. Boston and Chicago demonstrated how long-suffering fans are the best fans of all (until the teams started winning and the fans became insufferable). Let the late-night comedians mock Chris Davis. Let ESPN run highlights of our lopsided losses. If it puts Baltimore on the map, so much the better. Charm City has seen its share of winning baseball. The Orioles have won three World Series, which is exactly three more than the Rockies, Padres, Rangers, Rays, Brewers and Nationals combined. The franchise will retool. Things will get better. In 1988, the Orioles started the season with a record 21 losses. One year later, they were playing winning baseball. Eight years later, they were in the American League Championship Series. We’ve got this.
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