We begin with a disclaimer: Coaching third base is a thankless job. You're noticed only when you screw up. And, when you do, it's not always your fault.
That said, Mike Ferraro probably has made more mistakes this season than Cal Ripken Sr. did in his entire career -- and Ripken wasn't always perfect himself.
Three men at third base? That was only the start. A good third-base coach rarely draws attention. Ferraro has become a target of fan unrest, and a hot topic in the clubhouse and front office as well.
It doesn't take a genius to see where this is headed: Ferraro almost certainly will be gone after this season, his first with the Orioles and 32nd in professional baseball.
"I think anyplace you coach third base, you're in trouble," Ferraro said after getting booed repeatedly on Elimination Day '93. "I was in trouble when I came here."
"The job -- taking over for someone who had been here so many years, taking awhile to get accustomed to everyone, finding out who gets good breaks, who doesn't, who can run the bases, who can't.
"I was surprised when I saw how small the ballpark was. I knew there wasn't a lot of speed on the club. I knew then it wasn't going to be an easy job. But I didn't realize there'd be so many base-running mistakes."
The play in question yesterday occurred in the fifth inning of Game 1, when Harold Reynolds failed to score from second on a ball hit off the right-field wall with one out and the Orioles trailing by four runs.
Ferraro blamed Reynolds.
Reynolds stopped short of blaming Ferraro.
No question, the players deserve most of the criticism for the Orioles' terrible base running this season. Indeed, it was only fitting that they were eliminated when Mark McLemore got doubled off first on a shallow fly to right to end Game 2.
Still, how often do you see a third-base coach booed as he takes his position before the home crowd?
It happened over and over again yesterday at a sold-out, frustration-filled Camden Yards. When Rex Barney introduced Ferraro for Game 2, you would have thought he said, "Cito Gaston."
Actually, Ferraro held two runners at third in the fifth inning of Game 1. The fans went into such a state, cries of "Send him!" could be heard after Harold Baines hit a sixth-inning home run.
Ferraro wasn't the reason the Orioles lost, 9-4, just as he isn't the reason they're out of the pennant race. But the fifth inning illustrated how easily he can become a scapegoat -- and how easily the Orioles can justify his firing.
The boos started when Jack Voigt failed to score from first base on a double into the right-field corner by Reynolds. But you couldn't fault Ferraro for playing it safe with one out and the Orioles trailing 6-1.
The Reynolds play, well . . .
"He froze and started to go back to second base," Ferraro said. "The throw came in, and he wasn't even at third base yet. I couldn't send him. That would be another chance play. And you know me, I take chances. If there's any chance, I'm going to take it."
Said Reynolds: "I probably didn't give him a good read. I don't want to get into a he-said, she-said thing. I felt I made up the ground to be sent, but I didn't give him a good read initially."
The play was just the opposite of the one Wednesday night in Cleveland, when Reynolds got thrown out in a similar situation -- trying to score from first on an Anderson double with one out and the 2-3-4 hitters coming up.
This time, Anderson was gunned down at second -- "It went over his head, I thought I'd go for two," he said. Anderson got up, saw Reynolds standing at third and dropped his head in disappointment.
Ferraro said he wasn't upset by the booing -- "I don't feel like I did anything wrong" -- but these things always turn out the same, with the coach taking the fall.
Just more than a year ago, Ripken Sr. met his Waterloo by failing to send Tim Hulett in the ninth inning of a one-run loss to Toronto.
With Ferraro, it's pick-a-Waterloo.
Add yesterday to the list.
It was written incorrectly here Friday that Rick Sutcliffe was the chief suspect in a clubhouse prank played on four rookies after Wednesday's 4-2 loss to Cleveland. He was not responsible for confiscating the rookies' clothes and forcing them to wear thrift-shop apparel.