I RAN into my elderly chum, Bawlamer Fats Drobnak, down o Eastern Avenue Tuesday. It was raining. Fats' mood was darker than the weather.
Do you have a problem, Fats?
"Not me. Them O's. Stumblin' around. Can't get out of their own way."
Oh, it's early yet. Lots of teams start slow and wind up winning it all.
"Slow?" Fats said. "They're barely out of the gate. Here it is May and now Devo and Baines is hurt. If they was a horse 'stead of a ball club and I had a deuce on their nose out at Pimlico, I'd of tore up my ticket."
Come on, Fats. They're a good team, and Johnny Oates is talking to them a lot.
"Right. What he ought to be doin' is screamin' at the umps. Turnin' his cap backwards and kickin' up dirt, just like Earl did when we'd start to go bad."
Well, Fats, it's a different game today. You know that.
"Sure as hell do. Big bucks, bad owners. I go back to the old Orioles, International League, the first Oriole Park, Greenmount and 29th. Guys didn't make no 3 mil a year then. And some kinda hitters! Buzz Arlett, Pooch Puccinelli, Unser Joe Hauser. Joe, he poked 63 out one year and prolly drew 5 thou tops."
It's like a science now. Relief specialists, sophisticated statistics, much more to it.
"That's another thing. The O's was in the minors then, but in the majors my team was Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's. When he'd pitch Lefty Grove, he'd go up and say: 'Mr. Grove, this is your ball,' and hand him one. Ol' Lefty knew what that meant. You start, you stay. Finished 27 out of 30 in '31 and only went 31 and 4 that year.
"No 90 pitches and take a shower for Lefty. And him from Maryland, too."
Well, that was before my time, Fats.
"And Mr. Mack and Mr. Tom Yawkey, he owned the Red Sox, they were gennulmen. No Steinbrenners and Schotts and garbage like that back then."
Still, there was Walter O'Malley and Horace Stoneham. They took the Dodgers and Giants west and broke a lot of hearts in New York.
"That don't count; that was the National League. Nobody here in Hollantown ever bothered with them."
You've got to admit that Camden Yards is a fine ball park, though.
"Not bad, dependin' on where you're sittin'. But at the old park you'd get a dog for a dime 'stead of a lukewarm half-smoke for two seventy-five. My old man never went broke takin' us kids."
But with 65 sellouts in a row, they must be doing something right.
"Big turnouts, yeah, but a lot of them guys is wearin' three-piece suits and even in a close one they's plenty gone by the seventh. Different kinda crowd, seems to me."
Real grass, though.
"Well, I'll give 'em that. They'd a put down that damn rug, I swear I might've never shown again. Bad enough with the DH change. And now they talkin' 'bout more playoffs like the NBA or hockey. Same old story. They had a game wasn't broke, and those money-grubbin' owners tryin' to fix it. What for?"
I don't know, Fats. Even with the rain, I was enjoying the day until I saw you. You're showing your age. Next thing you'll say they don't write songs the way they used to.
"Well, do they? Can't unnerstan' them screamers. Can you?"
Looks like I can't win, Fats. I was just changing the subject.
"Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, King Cole. They'd sing; you'd know the words. Had some kinda writers, too, when I was comin' up. Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael."
I suppose certain lyrics impressed you?
"Sure. Remember 'Tea for Two'? Part went like this:
"Day will break and you will wake
"And start to bake a sugar cake
"For me to take
"For all the boys to see."
"Get it? Wife in the kitchen . . . early, the guy goes to work. The way it was s'posed to be."
I get it, Fats, but I don't think you do. Just don't run for political office any time soon, buddy. Recall any others?
"Yeah. My all time favorite:
"Venus de Milo was noted for her charms
"But strictly between us
"You're cuter'n Venus
"And, what's more, you got arms."
Uh, huh. One final question: What'll it take to cheer you up?
"Some guy who'll write another 'Melancholy Baby' and a 10-game win streak for the Birds."
Milton Bates writes from Baltimore.