Academic journal article Nine

"Playing Meaningful Games in September": An Exploration into the Baltimore Orioles' Glory Years, 1960-1983

Academic journal article Nine

"Playing Meaningful Games in September": An Exploration into the Baltimore Orioles' Glory Years, 1960-1983

Article excerpt

If you like a rags-to-riches saga, you will like the story of the Baltimore Orioles and how they became a state-of-the-art baseball organization within a decade after they were created out of the shell of the St. Louis Browns. When the Browns played their last games in St. Louis at the end of the 1953 season, they were so impoverished they couldn't afford to wash their uniforms and ran out of clean baseballs.' You couldn't say that the organization was run on a shoestring, one wag commented, because the Browns could barely afford shoes.

Though more than 300,000 people greeted the Orioles on April 15, 1954, as they paraded through Baltimore to their home opener at reconfigured Memorial Stadium, success was not immediate in their new home. The 1954 Orioles lost the identical number of games as the 1953 Browns, an embarrassing one hundred. Yet starting in 1966, when they swept the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, and through 1983, the Orioles appeared in six World Series, winning it all in '66, '70, and '83. In each season from 1969 through 1971, they won over one hundred games; and in 1971, they boasted four twenty-game winners, a feat we are likely never to see again in this age of pitch counts and relief specialists. (Alas, only Jim Palmer from the quartet that also included Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, and Dave McNally is still alive). In the prime of manager Earl Weaver's career, from midseason 1968 through 1982 (excluding the shortened strike season of 1981), the Birds averaged over ninety-five wins a year and were always competitive.

The success of the Orioles during these glory years became the envy of baseball. As a rival pitcher coming to play against the Orioles in Memorial Stadium, Dick Bosman, who went on to throw a no-hitter in 1974 for Cleveland and later became an Orioles pitching coach, was awed at the Birds' prowess during batting practice. "[Coach] George Staller couldn't have been more than 30 feet away and those guys, Brooks and Frank Robinson and Boog Powell, hit it out at will," Bosman remembered in a June 2013 e-mail. "It was very intimidating for a young guy like me to see that." (2)

One Oriole minor leaguer who never enjoyed even a cup of coffee in the big leagues remains in awe of the team's mystique. "I remember that the organization was very classy, that even in the minors you felt part of something special," he commented in an April 2013 e-mail. Though trapped in the days before free agency behind the future All-Star Bobby Grich, the career minor-league second baseman remembers feeling a pride in the uniform comparable to that of a member of the Foreign Legion. He vividly recalls the Orioles coming to play exhibitions against their affiliates in Stockton, California, and Rochester, New York. It was on the players' off day, and they couldn't have been too thrilled to come. But dressed in coats and ties and no jeans, they acted like "gentlemen to the minor leaguers, to the staff, to the lowest clubhouse boy," he said. Shortly thereafter, this player gave up his baseball dream and turned to filmmaking. You might recognize his name--Ron Shelton, who rose to fame as the writer-director of the acclaimed baseball movie Bull Durham (1988), which is now in development as a possible Broadway musical. (3)

It is not easy, year after year, to "play meaningful games in September; a phrase often uttered by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who knows better than most how hard it is. How did the Orioles achieve such an enviable record of consistent winning? Who were the key figures that created the impressive juggernaut? How did all elements in the complex structure that is a modern baseball organization learn to pull in the same direction? These are the questions I hope to answer in the following pages.

When you delve into the roots of the Oriole glory years, one name always comes up as the key to the foundation: Paul Rapier Richards, a native of Waxahachie, Texas, a farming town about thirty miles south of Dallas. …

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