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He Knows How to Play Angels, and Angles

All right, all right, it is really admirable that the Baltimore Orioles have gone from worst to first in the blink of an eye, and that Frank Robinson has become living proof that a man does not have to have pink cheeks and a .198 lifetime batting average to be a successful major-league manager.

And, it is certainly adorable that the ballclub has said bye-bye to the cartoon birdie on its caps and replaced it with an ornithologically correct oriole, and that the source of power for the team’s leading slugger is not steroids or barbells or religion, but a heaping bowlful of Froot Loops and milk.

And, it is definitely agreeable to celebrity Bird lovers such as Barry Levinson, Joan Jett, John Denver and Anne Tyler to be able to chirp once again about their favorite team, while George Bush the Elder, who considers himself the Orioles’ good-luck charm and good-will ambassador, shares hopes with George Bush the Younger, who owns a piece of the Texas Rangers, that these two organizations will be vying for the American League championship come October.

These are happy days in Birdland, yes.

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You will have to excuse the employees and fans of the Angels, however, if they do not get too worked up over Baltimore’s big comeback. So the Orioles faded away for a few seasons after winning the 1983 World Series; big deal. The Angels have been playing baseball for more than a quarter of a century now, and have never won anything .

No wonder the Anaheim crowd felt little pity for Frank Robinson when they heard the Oriole manager’s beef last week that umpires had been unfair to him and his team, that Robinson might abruptly announce his retirement, right in the middle of a pennant race, if a few close calls did not start going their way.

Imagine the irritation in the Angel clubhouse when they lost a game on Saturday night in Baltimore on a ninth-inning home run that appeared from their angle to be clearly foul, then lost another game on Sunday on an 11th-inning hit by Mickey (the Cereal Killer) Tettleton that scored a runner from first base, even though it not only might have been a foul ball, but also might have been a ground-rule double.

The Angels were mad as the devil.

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Doug Rader, tired of trying to curb his temper after three months of good behavior, took the lineup card to home plate--something he rarely does--just so he could spout off and get himself ejected from Sunday’s game before one pitch was thrown, a premeditated act. The Angel manager was still steamed about the unfair fair-ball call on Mike Devereaux’s homer from Saturday night, which also left General Manager Mike Port wanting a word or two with league president Bobby Brown.

Then things got worse. After Sunday’s unhappy ending, some of the Angels got to wondering what the heck was going on here. You sure couldn’t blame them, either, because it sure did seem an unlikely coincidence that just when Frank Robinson was so insistent upon the Orioles getting a break or two, they got a couple of breaks. Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson. Your strategy, if that’s what it was, worked.

It was not very fair for F. Robby to be planting seeds of suspicion at the feet of the umpires, when they are accompanied by clearly veiled hints as to why calls might be going against him. After all, he can hardly be accusing umpires of discriminating against the state of Maryland. Few umps could be suspected of being Oriole-haters, at least not since Ron Luciano and Earl Weaver parted company.

If Frank Robinson did influence the umpiring, even indirectly, the Angels were not happy about it. After all, the Orioles are not the only American League team trying to hold onto first place.

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“It sure would be a shame,” first baseman Wally Joyner said after Sunday’s Angel loss, “if people (umpires) were told to be a little more . . . observant .”

Catcher Lance Parrish said he hated to think that was the case, but it sure did have him and his teammates wondering.

Joyner, for one, justifiably was curious why the Oriole manager would be complaining about the quality and integrity of the umpiring when his ballclub owned the biggest lead of any team in the majors. Was Robinson legitimately ticked off at some perceived notion of prejudice, or was he merely another manager looking for every edge he could get?

The Orioles are to be applauded for everything they have done on the field. Robinson has gotten the most out of an assortment of no-names who have pulled far in front of better lineups like New York’s, Toronto’s and Milwaukee’s. This same franchise was so horrible one year earlier that its uniforms should have had unlisted numbers. Now this team may be turning Froot Loops into the breakfast of champions.

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Well, at least the Angels will not have to go back to Baltimore this season--unless, of course, they play one another in the playoffs. If that happens, you can bet that Doug Rader, the ol’ Rooster, will be watching the umpires like a hawk. Next time a call goes against the Angels, he can accuse the umpires of being prejudiced against Californians.

Two can play at this game.


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