I once asked Fred Manfra, the newly retired radio announcer of Baltimore baseball, how he managed to sit behind a microphone and slog through the sheer boredom of lop-sided losing efforts in the midst of disappointing Orioles summers.
“I think about my paycheck,” he said.
Well, that’s a nice distraction for those who get paid by Orioles management, but it doesn’t do much for the rest of us, suffering through a summer in which the ball club enters the All-Star break in serious likelihood of becoming utterly irrelevant.
Since they opened the season with 22 wins in 32 starts, they’ve barely won one out of every three games. You play that kind of ball, you don’t even bother opening up the ballpark.
Their big home run hitter, Chris Davis, is on the disabled list. Does it matter? In 61 games before he got hurt, Davis had driven in 28 runs. He was on a pace to strike out 300 times. It used to be considered a crime against baseball to strike out 100 times in a season. Davis gets about $23 million a year for this.
He’s only part of the problem. J.J. Hardy, the steady shortstop, has grown prematurely old and fragile. Mark Trumbo, who hit 47 home runs last year, struggled much of the season to reach double figures. Whoever imagined Manny Machado would hit below .220?
But the big problem is pitching. Kevin Gausman, once considered a can’t-miss prospect, now looks dejected and lost. The other can’t-miss guy, Dylan Bundy, looks exhausted. These two were supposed to represent the Orioles’ bright future.
Beyond Jonathan Schoop, who now heads for the American League All-Star team, and the newcomer Trey Mancini, there’s not a player on this year’s club who has performed beyond expectations. Injuries are part of it, but not all. We’re learning just how valuable Zach Britton really is. Age is part of it, but not all. There’s plenty of youth on the team, but Mancini and Schoop are the only ones showing much potential.
There’s something else going on here. The Orioles are a hit-and-miss team – literally. They’re good at hitting the ball out of the park, and bad about strikeouts. Sometimes, it feels like the only time they’re running the bases, they’re trotting. It’s feast or famine, homer or strike out.
In other words, there’s a lack of action, of balls hit up the alley, of runners racing from first to third, of stealing the occasional base.
The Orioles aren’t just mediocre this year, they’re boring. And unlike the club’s announcers (and players), who can console themselves with the thought of a paycheck in the midst of the season’s disappointments, the rest of us may slowly tune out across the remainder of the summer.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).
Top Photo: Manny Machado
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