On Sunday nights, Twitter is buzzing with reactions to HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. The show, which I have never seen, is set in medieval times. Other than GOT, what comes to mind when someone talks about that time period? I know I usually think of the bubonic plague, peasantry and warfare. Look, there are plenty of reasons why that era is referred to as the “Dark Age”.
The Baltimore Orioles were a frustrating, fruitless franchise following their 1997 “wire to wire” season. Some would argue that rock bottom came in 2001, when the Birds sported an abysmal 63-98 record (the ’94 team won 63 games in a strike shortened season). However, that season was Cal Ripken’s last year, and Camden Yards still attracted 3 million fans. The following year, attendance plummeted by 400,000 fans. Between the years 2002-2010, the Orioles averaged only 69 wins per season. Of course, in August 2010, the team hired Buck Showalter, and they began to play competitively.
To say watching the team during that nine- year stretch was “painful”, would be like saying that ‘Snooki’ isn’t quite wife material. The Orioles’ Dark Age coincided with my adolescence, and I watched as many of my friends chose to subject themselves to the horror that is lacrosse, rather than allowing the O’s to crush their dreams. Bad pitching, bad coaching, bad hitting and bad contracts kept the team in a perpetual cycle of crapping the bed. The worst part about the Dark Age, was that there was still hope of a brighter future. Pundits were quick to anoint prospects as saviors. These promising talents would arrive in Baltimore, but none of them were able to keep the leaking ship afloat. Radhames Liz lit up radar guns, and he appeared to be the strikeout pitcher the team so desperately needed. His career ERA is 7.50, and he now plays professionally in Korea. Hey, at least that is better than Hayden Penn’s career 8.89 ERA. Ryan Minor, now the head coach of the Frederick Keys, was groomed to take over third base when Ripken retired. Unfortunately, he finished his career with a .177 batting average.
To sum it up, the 2002-2010 Orioles sucked. They really, really sucked. Year after year, the Orioles ran out some of the worst players to ever play in big league games. Luckily, the human brain does a wonderful job repressing memories, and I cannot remember every one of their names. As bad as they were, they were still my team. Today, I’m glad that I weathered the winter storm, avoided the LAX plague and stuck by the organization.
Eventually, the Renaissance restored the quality of life to Europeans, the way the team’s current leadership has brought brighter days to 333 West Camden St. History repeats itself, and that is why we learn about the Medieval Europe. We learn about the horrors of the feudal system, the rapid spread of infectious disease and the inhumane executions of that era. Humans are creatures of habit, and if we choose to expunge those events from history, we’re bound to make similar mistakes.
I choose to remember Syd Thrift’s front office. I choose to remember Sam Perlozzo’s coaching. I choose to remember Brian Burres, Jorge Julio and Brook Fordyce. All of those forgettable names were a part of my development as a baseball fan. Those gloomy days have receded, and it’s the dawn of a brighter period in Baltimore’s baseball history. Even the most devastating losses in 2013 (let’s not get specific) seem like nothing compared to the embarrassing, unrelenting losing that O’s fan endured during the Orioles’ Dark Age.
The next time you’re thinking about ripping the team on twitter, ranting on talk radio or get the urge to cradle a lacrosse stick, remember how much worse things were just a few seasons ago. The 2002-2010 Orioles built up our immune systems against defeats. Nobody likes losing, but it is part of the game. If you can’t handle a few losses over the course of a long season, perhaps you should just stick to watching HBO dramas.