By now we’re all familiar with the stats that mark Oregon baseball’s path to futility.
Batting average? The Ducks rank last in the Pac-12.
Strikeouts? They whiff more than anyone else in the league.
Runs? Only Washington State averages fewer per game.
Here’s a new one to consider. Two weeks ago I was on the radio with my pal Steve Tannen from 95.3 The Score, and he hit me with an eye-opening number. He went through several months’ worth of calls and texts to his station and counted zero relating to Oregon baseball.
That’s consistent with my own observations. Usually by this time we’ve received a few letters and emails complaining about bunts, base-running, lineups — all the stuff that baseball fans love to second-guess. This year it’s been radio silence, even with the Ducks on pace for their worst record since 2009, the year Oregon reinstated the program.
That, as much as the wins and losses, should raise alarm bells at Oregon. Not only are the Ducks not getting it done on the field, but fans can’t even bring themselves to care.
Anger isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to sports. You can work with anger. Dealing with ticked-off fans isn’t pleasant in the moment, but it means they’re emotionally invested and capable of channeling that passion in a positive direction if you give them a reason.
Apathy is another story. Once fans tune out, it can take a long time to get them back. If I were athletic director Rob Mullens, that would worry me even more than the declining win totals and the empty postseasons.
Apathy isn’t measured solely by attendance, though that’s one gauge. The Ducks are averaging 923 fans at PK Park this year, down 30 percent from last season and 60 percent from the peak in 2009.
As our Steve Mims points out, the Ducks have had lousy luck with the weather. But the weather’s not much different in Corvallis, and Oregon State hasn’t had much trouble filling Goss Stadium on a regular basis.
The Ducks had one of their best crowds of the season Tuesday night, thanks in large part to the Beaver fans in attendance. Oregon State won 10-0 to sweep the season series for the second year in a row. Afterward, the Ducks faced the stands and made the “O” symbol as the fight song played for an audience of, at most, five people.
“I hope you can see it on my face and in my voice,” coach George Horton said, asked about the Ducks’ nine-game losing streak against the Beavers. “It’s extremely frustrating.”
I think we’re past the point of dissecting Horton’s philosophy and expecting him to have the answers. He’s a good guy who gave this job his best shot. Five straight years of diminishing returns suggests there’s no miracle turnaround on the horizon.
Horton says the Ducks are still fighting, even if there were times Tuesday night when “it might have looked like we rolled over.” He said he’s not going to blame the players, then admitted to pounding his head against the wall after Jakob Goldfarb wandered off second base in the eighth inning.
Until the past couple of years, the Ducks had been competitive with Oregon State. If they weren’t challenging for the Pac-12 title, at least they could count on a win or two against the Beavers to make the season more palatable.
“Now it looks like we’ve got another fairly mediocre year and we haven’t been able to beat our rival, or the other team in Oregon, Portland,” Horton said. “I hold myself accountable and responsible for that. We need to get better.”
When you’ve played yourself into a rivalry with the Portland Pilots, something ain’t right. The question now is what Oregon plans to do about it.
The Ducks gave Horton a new contract last year, guaranteeing two years with the option for a third. I was told they made it clear that they wanted to see noticeable changes in 2018. Nine games remain, but so far it’s all looked awfully familiar.
I’m not sure how much reinvention anyone could expect from a 64-year-old coach and a roster that remains strapped for offense. Oregon gave its fans another serving of the same thing, and fans have responded by saying, “No thanks.”
Whether you call it loyalty, patience or inattention, Oregon has seemed content to let its baseball program languish. Now that the spark is gone, the reality is that the Ducks could do this all over again next season and face little fallout from their fans.
I’m not sure there would be anyone left to complain.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.