Pikesville native, sports writer and author Ron Snyder has fond memories of optimistically following his beloved Birds as a young sports fan, even through the 1988 season, which would prove to be not only the team’s worst start, but their worst season ever. Well, for 30 years.
Although Snyder’s book, “A Season to Forget: The Story of the 1988 Baltimore Orioles,” due out April 23, dissects what went wrong that season with the team many once considered the best in baseball, the author hopes readers also take away a positive perspective, especially following a 2018 season that bested the team’s worst record by an additional eight losses.
“As bad as it is now, it’s not going to be forever,” Snyder said. “People were calling for the Orioles to lose 120 games in ’89, and they came within two games of winning the division.”
Snyder, 40, grew up in Pikesville, attending Milbrook Elementary and Pikesville middle and high schools, where he competed in wrestling and cross-country.
“My dream growing up was to play small forward for the Boston Celtics,” Snyder said. “I always loved basketball growing up. And I always loved to read and write. I’d make my own journals and watch stuff on TV and write stories about it, or write about what was going on in my neighborhood.”
Those loves led him toward a journalism career.
“I never remember wanting to do anything else growing up,” he said. “I always wanted to be a sports reporter, that’s how I started.”
A self-described “news junkie,” Snyder wrote for the Pikesville High newspaper and edited Towson University’s newspaper. (He majored in mass communications.) With more news- than sports-writing jobs available, after graduating from Towson in 2000, his professional writing life began as a news reporter then sports writer at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, later moving on to the Baltimore Examiner.
He then went into digital media, landing at Patch.com, WMAR-TV, WBAL-TV and even at the Jewish Times. He currently works in media relations, teaches at Towson and lives in Middle River with his wife and children.
“But I always wanted to write books,” Snyder said.
While learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry, Snyder pitched a lot of book ideas and got a lot of rejections. Skyhorse Publishing eventually picked his manuscript for “Wrestling’s New Golden Age,” publishing it in August 2017.
In looking for his next idea, Snyder said, “I just leaned back on what I know. I know Baltimore. I know sports. I know history.”
“I just remember being a 9- or 10-year-old thinking, ‘Are they ever going to win a game?’” he recalled. “So, I leaned on that perspective, as well as my current perspective as a journalist and as a writer. Everyone writes about the World Series champs, but who’s writing about the team that starts out 0 and 21? It was a national story.”
While working on “A Season to Forget,” the Orioles were doing well, coming off a wild-card year in 2017. Snyder did not imagine the team would have an even worse season in 2018 than 1988. He was tracking their progress and saw the similarities to ’88 piling up — after 60 games, after 80 games, after 100 games.
“And I said, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re on pace to lose more games than they did in ’88,” he recalled. “The only difference in how bad the Orioles were in ’88 compared to last year was that they won on opening day. So at least they didn’t have the 21-game losing streak.”
Fans of the Orioles, especially those of a certain age, will enjoy revisiting the Orioles of the ’80s, the team that won the 1983 World Series. Then came the subsequent deconstruction of the championship team, including management and coaching changes and ill-timed free-agent trades that compromised the team’s legendary foundational team-building approach known as “The Orioles Way.”
Tracking those changes in detail, Snyder’s account of the rise of free-agency and how it affected the team’s traditional management style is especially engaging.
Snyder had access to many former players, who, he said, “surprisingly” were willing to talk about that dreadful ’88 season. “I guess time heals all wounds. I think they used it as a life lesson and to appreciate what you have, because it could always be worse.”
As Opening Day approaches — the home opener is set for April 4 — Snyder counsels fans to keep their hopes up for 2019.
“Have a sense of optimism going into the spring,” he said. “Enjoy the ride and know that as tough as this season’s going to be, sports are cyclical for the most part. The Orioles proved, it took some time, but they were able to come back and be competitive again.”
For more information, visit skyhorsepublishing.com.