Top 5 Memorable Moments in Orioles’ Modern History
First, let’s define “Modern History.” Modern history is anything I can remember. So in baseball/Orioles terms, modern history is anything 1980 and beyond. Sorry Frank, sorry Boog, sorry Brooks. You’re not included in this blog. Your moments were recorded with an actual, short-hand ‘ticker’ I think. One needs a translator to relive your glories.
1. 1983–World Series Champs- Cal Ripken, Jr. followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign, with his first AL MVP season. It culminated in his only World Series Championship (though Cal had but 1 RBI in the Series). It’s memorable to me because I was there–at Game 4. True I was pulling for the Phils. But if someone was going to beat my favorite squad, I was glad it was my second favorite, and top AL team. Of course that team also featured HOF-ers Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer. The cast of characters assembled around them was an interesting, if not underwhelming, bunch. Rick Dempsey (.231/4/32) won the Series MVP and entertained all during rain delays.
The pitching staff was the team’s strength–Mike Boddicker, Scott McGregor, Storm Davis, Denny Martinez, and Mike Flanagan. Tippy Martinez was a drastically underrated closer–in the infancy of the closer role. This squad also had my favorite O of all time, Mike Bumbry, and current White Sox GM Kenny Singleton. This team won despite sporting only 2 .300+ hitters and 2 20+ HR hitters (both were Ripken and Murray). Interesting side note–not one of the WS games lasted three hours! 2:50 was the longest…that would put us in about the bottom of the sixth in today’s dragged-out, commercial-athon format.
2. Cal’s 2,131st Consecutive Game-Despite being voted baseball’s “Most Memorable Moment” by MLB fans–I’m not sure which ones–I rank it second on this list. The most important “Perfect Attendence” award in history was ridiculously blown out of proportion. On September 6, 1995, baseball was still trying to recover from cancelling the 1994 playoffs and endearing its fans with unmatched greed. ESPN milked the moment with a 22 minute ovation once the game became official in the bottom of the fifth. Cal did rise to the occasion by blasting a homer (an increasingly rare feat for the aging All-Star) for the second night in a row. It was tremendously hyped and carried way more press than the mediocre team (71-73 record) would normally receive in September. The game broke the 56 year old mark set by Yankee great, Lou Gehrig. Gehrig did not have the benefit of modern medicine, nutritional awareness, team and personal physical trainers, and millions and millions of dollars in his pockets. Ripken sat himself out of a game three years later to end the streak. He didn’t want the streak to hang over contract negotiations for the coming year during the off-season. Gehrig’s streak ended due to an incurable terminal illness.
3. Jeffery Maier- In 1996, the Orioles were reborn as title contenders. The team cruised past the #1 seeded Cleveland Indians and only the rival Yankees stood between Baltimore and a long awaited return to the World Series. The Yankees had yet to establish their dynastic run–Jeter was but a rookie. This moment truly shifted the fates of the two franchises.
Enter Game 1–The afore mentioned Jeter came to bat trailing 3-4 in the bottom of the 8th. The Yanks were mere outs away from going down 0-1 and losing their home field advantage. Jeter evoked his best warning track power and hit a fly ball to right. Tony Tarasco, the O’s rightfielder, drifted back to about a foot from the wall, with a good beat on the ball. Just before the ball landed in his glove for an out, a gloved hand of 12-year old Jeffery Maier stuck out into the field of play and pulled the ball back into the stands. Ump Rich Garcia ruled it a home run despite the protests of Tarasco and O’s manager Davey Johnson. Garcia would later admit he was wrong–but the stone-age MLB rules didn’t allow for replay to verify the call. The result–a fake homer tied the game, and Bernie Williams untied it in the 11th for the Yanks with a solo shot. The Orioles couldn’t regain their confidence in the series. The Yankees’ mojo kicked into high gear and they went on to win the first of 4 World Series titles over the next 5 years. The O’s’ following season (1997) was one of their best regular seasons in their history, going wire-to-wire in 1st place. However they found themselves exiting the playoffs short of the World Series yet again. And they haven’t made the post-season since.
4. The Losing Streak-Monumentally bad, 1988 set new lows for futility. The ’88 O’s featured a pair of 15-game losers (Jose Bautista, Jay Tibbs), nary a .300 hitter, and the all-time record for a losing streak to start the season–21 consecutive losses before win # 1. I was 12 years old and at the height of my baseball fever. The streak was awesome. The O’s eclipsed the old record of consecutive loses to begin a season by 8 games (the 1904 Senators and 1920 Tigers both started 0-13). What I remember most is some really, truly, awful, and hilarious jokes that emerged around this monumental futility.
Q: What do the Orioles have in common with Michael Jackson?
A: They both wear a glove on one hand for no apparent reason.
Did you hear about Cal Ripken, Jr. ? He was so distraught about the losing streak he tried to kill himself….
He jumped in front of a bus…and it went between his legs.
Interesting side note to the ’88 season–Curt Schilling made his Major League debut for the Orioles. In keeping with the theme of the season, Schilling went 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA in 4 games.
5. The opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards -Camden Yards, as it has come to be known as, was the original of the new ‘retro’ design ball parks. Nearly every ball park constructed since (Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Citizens Bank Park in Philly, Commerica in Detroit, etc.) contains elements found first at Camden Yards. The stadium, constructed prior to the 1992 season, ushered in a new era of baseball stadiums. Going the way of the dinosaur were the cookie cutter, astro-turfed behemoths (Three Rivers, Veterans Stadium, Riverfront, the Astrodome, et al). Camden Yards ushered in the new norm—less seats, more intimacy, unique features to each city, and skyline views.
I am the son of an architect. So the design may have been discussed more in my house than in others. But I remember with vividness, tour bus outings from miles around, where baseball fans could tour the ultimate new facility and stay to watch a game in a “true baseball setting.” We attended one of these tours. And it was breathtaking—it still stands as a marvel when you travel down I-95. The whole Inner Harbour area (stadiums included) has completely transformed this old industrial city’s feel. Hopefully the O’s return to playing great ball, and honor a true classic–along side of Wrigley and Fenway, Camden Yards is part of baseball hallowed grounds.
Here’s to more memorable moments as the O’s step into a new era in Baltimore.