Since I'm on a Ball Four kick, I need to mention a passage in the book that I really identified with. Jim Bouton is describing the many idiosyncracies of Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz, and one of them is that he counts outs when the team has the lead. "Only eight outs to go-oops, only seven." As I read that sentence, I realized that I do the same thing when I'm watching an O's game. I'll be the first to admit that I take sports entirely too seriously. I'm a ball of nerves every time I watch the Orioles, waiting for the other shoe to drop. When they actually pull out to an early advantage, especially against a tough and hated rival like the Red Sox or the Yankees, I've been known to start the countdown as early as the fifth inning. Good, ground out to shortstop. Only fourteen more outs left. You might find it presumptuous, but honestly, it helps calm me sometimes. It's a way of putting those hard-fought battles in perspective.
Of course, when you consider the Birds' fortunes in recent years, you understand that this countdown is often an exercise in futility. A particular weak point has been the bullpen, too long a potpourri of raw rookies, quadruple-A veterans, and disappointing free agent pickups. It must have been much easier to count those outs when Gregg Olson was lurking in the Oriole 'pen. By the time I became a fan, the Otter was on his way out. Frank Robinson and Johnny Oates had rode him hard for the first five years of his career, and he had given them phenomenal results, saving 160 games with his wicked curveball. But all of that wear and tear caught up to Olson and he missed much of the second half of the 1993 season with an elbow injury. He was never the same after that, bouncing among eight different teams in the final eight years of his career. He picked up 30 saves for Arizona in 1998, but didn't top 14 in any other season from 1994-2001. It's an often-documented cruelty of baseball that a man's best years could be behind him at age 26, but that was a reality for Gregg Olson.
Still, he had a better run as the O's fireman than most. Time will tell whether Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, George Sherrill, Greg Aquino and Dennis Sarfate make it any easier to count the outs.