Day after day the losses piled up for the Baltimore Orioles. Early last week they suffered their 13th, which tied the record for the worst start in baseball history, and then they blundered to their 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th. At week's end they were near the bottom of the American League in pitching, fielding and hitting. They had a collective batting average of .198; with runners in scoring position, it was a pathetic .116. Their best offensive players, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr., were hitting .183 and .177, respectively, with a combined three homers and seven RBIs.
The team that has come to be known as the Zer-O's is a sad shadow of the franchise that made six World Series appearances between 1966 and '83 and which for two decades was the closest thing baseball had to a dynasty. Since Aug. 5, 1986, when Baltimore was 2½ games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East, the Orioles have won 81 games and lost 155. After the Kansas City Royals beat them 3-1 on Sunday, the 0-18 Birds were just two losses shy of the American League record for consecutive losses—a mark shared by the '06 Red Sox and the '16 and '43 Philadelphia Athletics—and five short of the major league record of 23, which the Philadelphia Phillies set in '61 (see box, page 30). Here are some snippets from early in the campaign along with game-by-game reports beginning with loss No. 13:
GAME 1: BALTIMORE 0, MILWAUKEE 12. After dropping their final five spring training games, the Orioles open before their largest regular-season home crowd ever. Said to be among the 52,395 fans is Wild Bill Hagy, the hairy, beer-belching cabbie who long reigned as the Birds' designated cheerleader. In his heyday, Hagy had Baltimore in his ample hip pocket. He would incite hometown crowds by contorting his frame into letters, physically spelling out O-R-I-O-L-E-S.
Hagy resigned his command at Memorial Stadium midway through the 1985 season, after the Orioles enforced a ban on bringing beer into the park. Hagy protested the policy by pitching his celebrated cooler off the upper deck. "I shall not return," he vowed. But return Hagy has, though he hasn't had occasion to lead one of his opponent-rattling spelling bees in a while and certainly won't today. The 12-run shellacking matches the worst Opening Day loss in league history, and there are rumors that Baltimore manager Cal Ripken is about to be canned. "You know," says the Birds' general manager, Roland Hemond, "some of your best streaks start after games like this."
GAME 4: BALTIMORE 1, CLEVELAND 12. "I don't know which was worse," says Orioles catcher Terry Kennedy, "playing in this game or watching it." Playing in it, says starting pitcher Mike Boddicker, who balked home two runs. Watching it, counters reliever Mark Williamson, who blames "brain lock" brought on by observing this massacre for causing him to try to pick a runner off first by firing the ball to the centerfielder. Ripken the manager says, "I know we'll hit, I know we'll hit," over and over. The Birds' late-inning battery of Kennedy and rookie righthander Jose Bautista recalls another great debacle, the Bay of Pigs.
GAME 7: BALTIMORE 1, KANSAS CITY 6. A few hours after pleading guilty to a Feb. 3 drunk-driving charge, the senior Ripken is fired and replaced with Frank Robinson, apparently the first black man with "the necessities" to manage in the post-Al Campanis age. "It's only six games, but there's a lot at stake," says Hemond. "I wasn't seeing signs of positive progress."
Robinson's debut isn't auspicious as Royals pitchers Mark Gubicza and Dan Quisenberry combine on a two-hitter. The two hits never make it out of the infield, and Baltimore's run is unearned.
GAME 13: BALTIMORE 5, MILWAUKEE 9. Oriole fans are trying everything. Motorists drive all day with their lights on. Baltimore deejay Bob Rivers promises to stay on the radio until the O's win. All over town listeners call to pledge their support. Some girls vow not to wear panties. Some guys offer to wear the girls' panties. A bunch of housewives pledge to "withhold marital favors," which prompts another female caller to say, "Me and Ed aren't going to stop until they win."
For a manager whose record for the season now equals that of his fired predecessor, Robinson has a fairly jolly disposition. He predicts Baltimore will score lots of runs tonight. "Fifty, to be exact," he says. "We'll win 50-49."
The Birds get three in the first. But their starter, Mark Thurmond, who hasn't won since 1986, is cuffed for five runs in 1⅔ innings. The 0-12 Orioles are inviting comparison with the 1920 Detroit Tigers, who hold the major league record for consecutive defeats at the start of a season with 13. Ty Cobb played on that team, and though he endured an 0-for-17 slump during the streak, that's small consolation for Cal Ripken Jr., who's hitless in his last 29 at bats. Ripken slams a third-inning homer, but his teammates compensate by making four errors, three of them in a row during Milwaukee's three-run fifth.