21 Bad Days 20 Years Ago
Imagine stubbing your left big toe for 21 consecutive days. Or having a flat tire for 21 mornings in a row. Or spilling your dinner wine for 21 straight evenings.
Hard to believe it could happen. But if it did, I would suspect it would be more incredible to consider that no matter what you did — make changes in your routine, anticipate the occurrence or seek professional help — the same thing happened over and over. There was nothing you could do to stop it.
It’s not some far-fetched Twilight Zone plot. This 20-year-old story has some truth to it. For one April in 1988, the Baltimore Orioles experienced something very similar when they lost their first 21 games. The losing streak to start a season is a Major League Baseball record.
Just take a moment and think about it. That’s 21 games in a row. How does this happen?
It’s not like the Orioles were a bad team. They had two future Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray. They had two very capable catchers in Mickey Tettleton and Terry Kennedy. The outfield of Brady Anderson, Fred Lynn and Larry Sheets was very solid. The pitching staff featured a young Curt Schilling, veterans Mike Boddicker and Scottie McGregor as well as hurlers in their prime like Mike Morgan, Jeff Ballard and Dave Schmidt. This was a decent team.
Plus, they say baseball is a game of inches, and on any given day, the ball will fall your way. And with this law of averages, it’s unlikely that good teams can lose more than a handful in a row. Nature won’t allow it.
But that was certainly not the case for these Orioles of my childhood.
April 9, 1988, was opening day at Memorial Stadium. A then franchise-record crowd of 52,395 showed up to witness the Orioles give one of the worst season-opening performances in history.
Baltimore lost 12-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers and in the process let a man score from second on an infield hit, allowed a steal of home, yielded 16 hits, threw two wild pitches, walked five batters and hit two more. All of this in front of Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who threw out the first pitch.
Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. told the Washington Post after the game: “Sometimes you have games like that. You don’t like to see it on opening day, especially in front of your fans, but it’s a funny game. The positive thing is that we’re going to show up Wednesday and the score will be 0-0. We’re a lot better than we showed today. I guarantee you that.”
General Manager Roland Hemond added: “We'll bounce back. Every team has games like this.”
Little did they know.
Wednesday indeed came but not the fans. Only an announced crowd of 13,487 watched Baltimore lose 3-1. The Orioles flew to Cleveland and were swept in four games, being outscored 28-6 by the Indians.
The streak stood at six, and Cal Ripken Sr. was fired and replaced by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
The beatings continued. Three more games to the Royals. Then three to the Indians. Baltimore nearly snapped their streak when Mike Morgan pitched a shutout for nine innings against Cleveland. However, the Indians scored in the 11th to take the lead. In the bottom half of the inning, Billy Ripken hit a single and then Murray missed a homer by inches. The double put runners at second and third. Baltimore failed to bring them home and lost 1-0.
The Orioles extended their streak to 15 when they lost three to the Brewers. The Royals stole three more from Baltimore in the next series. The losses featured several storylines. In the opening game, Kansas City scored nine runs in the first inning. Then in the next, the Washington Post ran this headline: “17th Loss Elemental, 4-3, Royals.”
The story’s lede was this: “KANSAS CITY, MO., APRIL 23 — They could have littered the roadway with excuses. They could have pointed toward a dazzling sun that cost them two runs or a dancing wind that cost them another.”
Apparently Mother Nature was in on the joke as well.
President Ronald Reagan called the team before the 19th consecutive loss. Iced champagne couldn’t prevent losses in games 20 and 21. The Twins were the seventh team to sweep the Orioles in the young season.
But the nightmare ended on Friday, April 29, when Baltimore beat the Chicago White Sox, 9-0, before 14,059 fans at old Comiskey Park. The streak had lasted 26 days.
“We have pride, and this has been tough,” reliever Dave Schmidt told the Washington Post. “To lose and lose like this has hurt. We handled it pretty well, getting the same question day after day. We know we’re not this bad, and to lose like this is incredible. We couldn’t relax until it was over, and we didn’t until it was over tonight.”
The Orioles promptly went out the next night and lost to end April with a record of 1-22.
OUT AT HOME: My dad is coming to town from NoVa to visit tomorrow. That means we’ll be going to Super King Buffet for dinner. It is simply the best place for a glutton like me.
VIDEO OF THE WEEK: If this is wrong, I never want to be right.