So the Orioles are 6-17? Big deal. They’ve had starts just as bad — and worse.
The 1999 Orioles, a team littered with All-Stars (Brady Anderson, Mike Mussina, Cal Ripken Jr.) also won six of their first 23 games. But they played better than .500 baseball after that to finish a less dismal 78-84, in fourth place in the American League East.
And Adam Jones surely remembers 2010, his third season in Baltimore, when during the Orioles’ 5-18 start, he muffed a fly ball while blowing a bubble with a mouthful of gum. That team floundered until August, when Buck Showalter arrived as manager to go 34-23 thereon.
But the nadir of Orioles starts came in 1988. Thirty years ago, they lost 21 straight, an AL record, before a 9-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in their 22nd game.
“We knew we’d win sometime, but we didn’t think it would take 22 games,” manager Frank Robinson said then. He’d replaced Cal Ripken Sr. after six games, to no avail.
The world took note in sympathy. That season, on April 25, with the Orioles’ loss skein at 18, President Ronald Reagan telephoned Robinson from the White House to wish him luck.
“He [Reagan] told me, ‘I’ve been accused of being a jinx by coming on Opening Day, but you can’t blame me for this one,’ ” Robinson said then. “I talked to him for about five minutes. … He told me to win one for the Gipper.”
“Baseball Tonight” analyst Tim Kurkjian, then a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, also recalled the interaction.
What should have been an entirely festive scene before the first A’s game in Oakland 50 years ago Tuesday turned a little ugly back then.
A’s owner Charlie Finley had then California governor Ronald Reagan on hand to throw out the first-ever first pitch. It was not a good day to be Reagan. Not only were many in the state still seething over Reagan’s tax increases, but like Tuesday the A’s home opener in on April 17, 1968 also happened to fall on Tax Day.
Trying to loosen up the vibes, Reagan teased the crowd, “One thing I’m sure of is that a lot of you paid your taxes,” he said.
His quip was met with thunderous boos, causing Reagan to tell the more than 50,000 in attendance, “Up to a few minutes ago, I was happy to be here.”
The cheap humor was appropriate since ticket prices for A’s fans in ’68 ranged from the high end of just $5 for box seats to a mere $1.50 for a bleacher seat.
Believe it or not, the Coliseum was once a state-of-the-art, $30 million structure with the world’s first computerized scoreboards back then.
After Reagan’s first pitch went a little off target, A’s pitcher Lew Krausse followed up by throwing the first real pitch at the Coliseum. Krausse threw to the Orioles’ Curt Blefary exactly 50 years ago at 7:46 p.m. on Tuesday night. Following Reagan’s lead, Krausse walked Blefary.
Now 74, Krausse will turn back the clock and throw out the first pitch Tuesday night when the A’s face the White Sox.
For trivia buffs, there were a few other “firsts” worth remembering that cold night 50 years ago, including:
The first playing of the national anthem wasn’t performed live, it was a recording because Tennessee Ernie Ford backed out after a dispute with A’s owner Charlie Finley over payment.
Hall of Famer Emmett Ashford, the first black umpire in Major League Baseball history, was the first home plate umpire at the Coliseum.
The first ever foul ball hit sailed into the press box and landed at the feet of Oakland Tribune editor George Ross, who was instrumental in helping bring the A’s to Oakland.
The original Boog Powell, no relation to his namesake currently on the A’s disabled list, got the first home run (and first hit) at the Coliseum, a solo blast in the second inning off Krausse.
Rick Monday’s home run in the sixth inning was the first hit by an A’s player in Oakland.
Tony La Russa got the first hit by an A’s pinch hitter at the Coliseum that night. It would take him two years to get his next hit in an A’s uniform.
Young A’s star Reggie Jackson was the first player to strike out at the Coliseum when Dave McNally got him on a curveball in the first inning.
Jackson later made the last out of the first game by taking a called third strike from McNally as Ashford rung him up for a 4-1 Orioles win.
You could say the loss may have dulled the shine a bit for A’s fans. How else can you explain why just 5,304 fans showed up to the Coliseum the next day to watch the A’s beat the Orioles in 13 innings?