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.
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
- SOURCE: Baseball-Reference.com