'Meet Me in St. Louis' doesn't play here, Mr. Kline


IT WASN'T the clumsiest, most graceless, most hardhearted introduction by an athlete who has ever come to Baltimore. Terrell Owens and John Elway remain the runaway leaders in that category.

Then again, T.O. never actually put on a Baltimore uniform. Elway never signed a contract. Neither ever accepted a paycheck, neither played in a game - much less screwed one (or two) up, or admitted how he was "going through the motions" in one, or even that his new fans weren't as smart as his previous ones.

Certainly Owens and Elway, the villains with which all others are compared (at least in the active player category), both blew their noses on Baltimore, but they were not wearing a city team's name across their chests when they did it.

Congratulations, Steve Kline. You're in a class by yourself.

Your apology to your teammates and your employers yesterday down in St. Pete has been duly noted. But your apology to your new city might need some work. Nice of you to throw some bouquets to your fans from your Cardinals days, but did you really have to fling the fertilizer in the other direction?

"It came out wrong" won't cut it. You might find out how much it doesn't cut it as early as tomorrow night at Camden Yards. As you so thoughtfully put it in yesterday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the paper in the town for which you obviously still carry a torch, "There's nothing worse than getting booed at home."

Thanks, by the way, for adding, "St. Louis fans are too good for that. They understand the game more than most people." Meaning, we assume, people who can read and can get Internet access. Apparently, you figure that did not include Baltimore people. We got computers, ee-leck-tricity and ever'thang.

Oh, and feelings. I'm not even from here, and that entire out-of-town diatribe hurt my feelings. Almost as much as watching those two gag jobs in the late innings last week.

You might want to get a handle on this, Mr. Kline. Your new city is a little sensitive about these things. Abandonment is a big issue here. The physical kind has been the most damaging, as you might notice on the first Sunday night of the NFL season in September, when a certain team with horseshoes on its helmets arrives to play in the stadium down the street.

Then again, your interview kind of made it sound as if you don't want to still be around by then. Something about trimming that 23-plus ERA by more than half, because "I don't think [the Cardinals] would take me back with that." No problem. What can we do to help? Either to lower your ERA or to help you move back, that is.

The one sin as bad as actually leaving here, if you haven't figured it out, is acting as if you want to leave here. Or, in the case of T.O. and Elway, as if you never want to come here in the first place. You would have saved us a lot of angst, and the Orioles $5.5 million, if you had just copied from their playbook.

Instead, after exactly seven games in uniform, you charm us with this: "I'd like to rub that bottle and have that genie come out and grant me a wish that I could go back." And: "Sometimes you miss the old places. But you've got to play the hand you're dealt." And: "Going to the ballpark is the only thing that stinks right now."

See, you almost went there, dogging out the ballpark. Believe me, you don't want to go there. You might as well just tell us you've got an Irsay in your family tree.

Yes, it "came back really bad." Maybe worse than you realize.

Here's what's really "frustrating," to borrow the adjective Kline used so often in the paper and his subsequent mea culpa. We're a week and a half into the season, and the Orioles were 4-3 on the day he bared his soul (for lack of a better term). The fans were not feeling mutinous. A little greedy, maybe, with the thought of being 6-1, or with sweeping the Yankees in the Bronx.

And Kline has to know that some of the heat over the late meltdowns came not from the meltdowns themselves, but his own reaction to them, the covert finger-pointing about "really stupid plays" behind him, and the way he was rattled so easily and with such disastrous results.

But guess what? Us'n might not be as baseball-smart as St. Louisans, but the average Orioles fan is capable of patience. The loyalists were figuring that, despite the problems last week, this entire staff - including Kline and the bullpen - would be all right when it jells. They weren't going to burn down the ballpark if it didn't happen by the end of this week.

No, Steve, instead you brought the matches and kerosene and lit the fuse yourself, from Florida by way of Missouri. Remind us again: Who is it that understands the game, and who doesn't?

The honeymoon goes both ways. Kline cut his way short. He'd better not expect the Orioles' fans to extend theirs toward him now.

Of course, it could be worse. Kline could show up at the ballpark tomorrow behind the wheel of a Mayflower van. You wouldn't put it past him now, would you?

What Kline said

Some of what Orioles pitcher Steve Kline told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"I feel like I'm going through the motions right now. ... I need to start concentrating on every pitch."

"There's nothing worse than getting booed at home. St. Louis fans are too good for that."

What Kline said yesterday:

"I apologized to my teammates and told them I'm here because I want to be here. ... And I told them that I'm frustrated because I'm not pitching well."

"I love Baltimore, I love the town. I just hope the fans can forgive me for what I said."

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