The 1988 Orioles are off the hook. Tuesday night’s 6-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays was No. 108, breaking the team’s record for futility set 30 years ago.
Hey Cal, Eddie et al., the monkey is off your backs.
“I guess all streaks are made to be broken, right? Even the bad ones,” Mark Williamson, a pitcher on the 107-loss ’88 Orioles, said this week. But he feels no sense of relief; it’s more like déjà vu.
“This doesn’t take a load off my mind,” said Williamson, who played with the Orioles for eight years (1987 through 1994). “I feel for these [current] players. Losing sucks. It’s late in the season, attendance is down, there’s little motivation to go out and play and you’re thinking, ‘Will this season please end?’ ”
Three decades later, the pangs are still there for Cal Ripken Jr. The Orioles’ current malaise “does remind me of some difficult times,” he told The Baltimore Sun in June. The ’88 team began with 21 straight losses as Ripken had two hits in his first 43 at-bats, including a career-worst 0-for-29 slump.
“That year that [we] lost … it forces you to dig down and really focus on your day-to-day stuff,” Ripken said. “And, many times, you have to focus on how you can help other people on your team, so it’s a good learning process but it’s still a painful one."
“It was bad; it was ugly,” pitcher Mike Boddicker recalled in 2010. “The chemistry wasn’t there. Everyone looks around thinking, ‘What’s going to happen now? Who’s going to screw up today?’ ”
As their 0-for-April dragged on, third baseman Rick Schu told The Sun in 2010, “It was almost like being in a championship series with reporters following us around for all the wrong reasons. All you can do is go out there, try not to press, take care of things you can control and good things will happen.”
In time, they did. The 1989 Orioles bounced back to win 87 games and finish two games off the pace. Having dispatched many veterans during their down year, they celebrated Opening Day with new uniforms and a walk-off, 11th inning win over Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox before a joyous home crowd. They spent 116 days in first place and never sank to last.
“We went from being a team that couldn’t hit water if we fell out of a boat, to being a team that couldn’t do anything wrong," catcher Mickey Tettleton said in 2009. "The difference? Chemistry. Except for Cal, we were guys that nobody had ever heard of, and we bonded really well."
Those Orioles were overachievers, Williamson said.
“On paper, were we one of the better teams in the league? Probably not,” he said. “But the guys believed in each other, and every game someone else would step up. We’d go into the late innings thinking, ‘Yeah, we’re still going to win.’ ”
Why the turnaround? Chalk it up to a clean slate.
“You start out 0-0, begin to win games and things just snowball,” said Williamson, a reliever who went 10-5 with a 2.93 ERA in 1989. “They say athletes need short memories. Well, we had a pretty young team, and it was a new year, so we couldn’t rehash the last game.
“I know this — it was twice as much fun to go to the ballpark that year. You couldn’t wait to get there, and guys had fun. It was an entirely different atmosphere.”
The 2018 Orioles can only hope.