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Inside Baseball: Orioles have hit bottom, maybe

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore Orioles were hitting Wednesday night and the fans in the right-field bleachers started chanting: "De-rek Je-ter. De-rek Je-ter. De-rek Je-ter."

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore Orioles were hitting Wednesday night and the fans in the right-field bleachers started chanting: "De-rek Je-ter. De-rek Je-ter. De-rek Je-ter."

Just as they do at all New York Yankees home games, the crowd wanted the shortstop to turn around and acknowledge their rhythmic praise. It is a Yankee Stadium tradition that started during the team's return to greatness in the mid-1990s and has continued into a new Bronx ballpark and a new century.

The only difference on this night was that the Bronx Bombers were playing in Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Yes, the Orioles have hit bottom, and now they have a former Phillie trying to help them get up.

Juan Samuel, a Phillies rookie when the Orioles last hoisted a World Series trophy, in 1983 after winning Game 5 at Veterans Stadium, just completed his first week as Baltimore's interim manager after replacing the fired Dave Trembley.

He inherited a 15-39 team that was 21 games out of first place in the unforgiving American League East.

"To me, it's all about staying the course and making these guys believe in what you're trying to do," Samuel said before his team went out and blew a two-run lead in a 4-2 loss to the Yankees.

Samuel joined the Orioles as a coach in 2007. He was hired by Phillies third-base coach Sam Perlozzo, who was the Baltimore manager at the time. The two obvious questions for anybody who takes over the worst team in baseball: Why would you want to do that to yourself, and how large is your bottle of antacids?

"Actually, I think he's in a good spot," Perlozzo said. "I'd hate to say, 'How could you get worse?' He has every opportunity to get the team turned around. If it doesn't, no one is going to say anything. If he does, he has a chance to make something out of it. I hired him, so I'm rooting for him."

Perlozzo, who was 122-164 in parts of three seasons as the Orioles' manager, grew up rooting for the Orioles in Cumberland, Md., so he has a good sense of the team's remarkable history, which includes Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, and Cal Ripken Jr.

From 1960 through 1985, the Orioles had 24 winning seasons in 26 years, won three World Series, went to three others, and won at least 100 games five times.

"Usually things go in cycles, but theirs has lasted a long time," Perlozzo said. "I feel bad because I'm a Maryland boy and the Orioles were my team. When I got there, I was in high heaven. To see them scuffle for so long, it's really not good for baseball."

It's certainly not good for business inside and outside Oriole Park, which was the first of the retro parks with all the modern convienences and remains one of the best places in baseball to watch a game.

When Camden Yards opened in 1992, a solid team, the scent of Boog Powell's barbecue, and the brilliant architecture drew 3.5 million fans to the Orioles' home park. That number jumped to 3.6 million the following year and reached 3.7 million by 1997, the last time the Orioles made a postseason appearance.

"It reminded me of here," Perlozzo said as he stood in Citizens Bank Park before a recent Phillies game. "When they built that place, you couldn't get a ticket. It's a great baseball town. When I took over as manager I was hoping I would be the one to turn everything around again. It will happen."

It probably will, but the question is when. Even good baseball towns with bad baseball teams cannot draw fans. Baltimore's Inner Harbor used to be the happening place on game day, but it's not the same anymore. The Orioles drew fewer than two million fans in 2008 and 2009 for the first time since 1988, the year they opened the season with 21 straight losses.

That team also started 15-43. The 2010 Orioles were 16-43 before beating the Yankees Thursday night.

"They're in a tough division," Perlozzo said. "It's very, very difficult unless you do something like Tampa Bay did, where they were in last place so many years and you're fortunate enough to have good drafts and you're able to be patient to let those people come up."

For now, Samuel has a chance to be the patient one, although it appears as though that's not going to be the case for very long. Orioles owner Peter Angelos seems intent on bringing a bigger name into the manager's chair. He has already interviewed former Cleveland manager Eric Wedge and former Mets manager Bobby Valentine.

In a lot of ways, the Orioles are like the Phillies of the mid-1980s through the year 2000 - with the exception of the enchanted season of 1993. It was during that time that a baseball city became a football town.

And these days, the Ravens are all the rage in Baltimore, and there are plenty of good seats available at Oriole Park.

Inside Baseball:



Less than 20 years ago, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was baseball's newest ballpark and home to a rising team in the American League East. The Orioles led the league in total attendance four consecutive years.

Yet today, despite a respectable payroll and a run of high draft choices over the last decade, Baltimore is an also-ran and its fan support has dwindled to the bottom half of the AL. Here are the Orioles' attendance numbers since they moved to Camden Yards:

AL EAST   TOTAL          ATTEND      EST.

W   L      FINISH      ATTEND      PER GM      PAYROLL

2010    17    45          5       691,943*       23,065*       $81,612,500

2009    64    98          5       1,907,163       23,545       $67,101,666

2008    68    93          5       1,950,075       24,376       $67,196,246

2007    69    93          4       2,164,822       26,726       $93,174,808

2006    70    92          4       2,153,139       26,582       $72,585,582

2005    74    88          4       2,624,740       32,404       $73,914,333

2004    78    84          3       2,744,018       33,877       $51,623,333

2003    71    91          4       2,454,523       30,303       $73,877,500

2002    67    95          4       2,682,439       33,117       $60,493,487

2001    63    98          4       3,094,841       38,686       $67,599,540

2000    74    88          4       3,297,031       40,704       $81,447,435

1999    78    84          4       3,433,150       42,385       $80,605,863

1998    79    83          4       3,684,650    45,490       $72,355,634

1997    98    64          1       3,711,132    45,816       $58,516,400

Lost in the ALCS, 4-2, to the Indians

1996    88    74          2       3,646,950    44,475       $54,490,315

Lost in the ALCS, 4-1, to the Yankees

1995    71    73          3       3,098,475    43,034         $43,942,521

1994    63    49          2       2,535,359       46,097       $38,849,769

1993    85    77          3       3,644,965       45,000       $29,096,500

1992    89    73          3       3,567,819       44,047       $23,780,667

BOLD indicates years the Orioles led the AL in total attendance

*2010 attendance figures through Friday's game