The Baltimore Orioles: The Good, Bad and Oddest Occurrences in Their History
As we approach the quarter mark of the 2012 baseball season, the Orioles have provided much entertainment for Baltimore's baseball starved fans. The Oriole franchise has lost more games than they've won for the past 14 consecutive seasons. In the early portion of June, the Birds are juggling "whose in first place" with the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees.
The 2012 Orioles may not finish in first, but for the first time since 2005, we are playing competitive baseball.
So far,the season has held it's share of oddball occurrences. May started with a flurry of unique, record-setting events. We saw a position player (Chris Davis) become the winning pitcher of record for the first time since 1925. Two days later, Josh Hamilton, of the opposing Texas Rangers, clobbered four homers in one game for the sixth time in American League history. Two more days passed, and the Orioles set an American League record when their first three batters of the game "went yard.” In the same game, a Major League record occurred, as the Orioles posted five hits in the game, all home runs. On June 9, 2012 the Orioles set a club record by winning their ninth consecutive extra-inning game.
Such an explosion of record-setting events got me thinking about the unique, one-of-a-kind, eyebrow-raising events in Oriole history.
Here are some oddball, record-setting, strange events that have graced the pages of the Baltimore Orioles' 114-year history. Some are good, some not so good, all of them are unique.
1988: The Streak
The Baltimore Orioles 21 game losing streak to begin the 1988 baseball season is a record of futility for all of professional sports. The Orioles set MLB's record for the longest losing streak in its history with these 21 fruitless games .
Manager, Cal Ripken Sr. was fired after the sixth loss. Frank Robinson took his place and lost 15 more games. The season was shot before April 1988 was finished.
Baltimore fans tried to rally the Orioles on to victory. The Oriole television broadcasters refused to shave until the streak was snapped. A Baltimore disc jockey made national headlines by remaining on the air during the drought.
Following their first victory in Chicago, the Orioles returned home to a promotion called: "Fantastic Fan Night." Over 50,000 people showed up to greet the 1-22 Orioles at Memorial Stadium. The highlight came when Governor William Donald Schaefer announced that the new baseball stadium, "Oriole Park at Camden Yards" would be built in Baltimore's inner-harbor.
In 1989, the Orioles reversed the failure of 1988, battling the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL East championship until the very last game of the season.
Cal Ripken Senior returned to coach third base for the Orioles. Billy Ripken was a formidable defensive 2B playing alongside his brother, Cal, a gold glove shortstop and perennial all-star.
1983: Pinch-Running for the Toronto Blue Jays...Wile E. Coyote
The wildest, wackiest tenth inning in Oriole history occurred on August 24, 1983.
Oriole manager Joe Altobelli spent his bench and then some against the Toronto Blue Jays. Altobelli pulled so many strings that the O’s were missing a second baseman, third baseman and catcher at the top of the tenth inning at Memorial Stadium.
The skipper used two outfielders to plug the infield holes, while breaking out the emergency third-string catcher. (The guy who has not put on the equipment since spring training.) Lenn Sakata, a utility infielder, strapped on the gear.
Up came the Blue Jays, who took the Oriole reliever Tim Stoddard long to go up by a run. Stoddard walked the next batter. Altobelli pulled Stoddard. In came the ace of the bullpen, Oriole southpaw Tippy Martinez.
Now the fun begins. The Blue Jays were jumping out of their shoes to steal on the 5’9," 160 lb. Hawaiian catcher. At bat was Dave Collins. The Orioles caught a break when Martinez's inherited runner, Barry Bonnell, strayed too far from first. Tippy fired one to first baseman Eddie Murray, who slapped a tag on Bonnell.
Collins drew a walk. The Jays base-runners were acting as if they were the cartoon bird the Road Runner. Collins was picked off by Martinez.
Two outs. Here we go again.
Next up to bat was Willie Upshaw, who scorched one up the middle. Outfielder-turned-second baseman John Lowenstein gloved the ball, but the speedy Upshaw legged out a single.
Next up was ESPN announcer Buc Martinez. Buc got a front row seat while Tippy Martinez nailed Upshaw for the third out of the inning.
Bottom of the tenth inning: Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3
Cal Ripken Jr. celebrated his 23rd birthday with a lead-off, game-tying homer. Two more Birds would get on base for the first at-bat of the light-hitting Lenny Sakata. BOOM! Sakata stroked a three-run homer.
Memorial Stadium’s 24,000 fans went berserk.
Orioles 6, Blue Jays 4
A first in MLB history for Tippy Martinez? Surely picking off three runners in an inning is at least a tie.
1968: Speaking of Third-String Catchers...
Speaking of third string catchers...
On a cold and rainy April Saturday in 1968, Curt Blefary, the American League’s 1965 Rookie of the Year, was penciled in to catch by manager Hank Bauer. The A.L. champion Boston Red Sox were in town for the second game of a weekend series.
Pitching for the Orioles was a local boy named Tom Phoebus. Phoebus’ star would shine its brightest in the 1968 season. The Orioles needed to plug a hole for the ailing Jim Palmer. Phoebus was nominated to fill the hole left by Palmer.
Curt Blefary, who was nicknamed “clank” by Frank Robinson for his (lack of) defensive prowess as an outfielder, averaged 20 homers per year as an Oriole. Merv Rettenmund, a phenom at the AAA level, was forcing the O’s to find a new defensive role for Clank.
The chilly rain postponed the start of the game for an hour and 23 minutes. Memorial Stadium’s turnstiles spun 3,147 times as the faithful braved the weather to watch Mt. St. Joseph graduate Tom Phoebus (2-1, 2.18 ERA) hurl the second no-hitter in Oriole history.
Phoebus, pitching in his second full season for the Orioles, faced 26 hitters, striking out nine, while walking three. Phoebus showed up big at the plate this day; he went 2-for-4 with one RBI.
Clank failed to impress the Orioles brass as a catcher. Blefary was traded to Houston in 1969 for the Cuban southpaw Mike Cuellar.
Phoebus posted a 50-37, 3.06 ERA in his five seasons as an Oriole hurler. Tommy was traded to the San Diego Padres for Pat Dobson.
Pat Dobson and Mike Cuellar would join Jim Palmer and Dave McNally to become the four 20-game winners of the 1971 Orioles, a feat that may never be repeated.
1958: The Wizard of Waxahachie
Paul Richards, nicknamed the Wizard of Waxahachie, (his home town in Texas), was known to pull a rabbit out of his hat on several occasions.
In September of 1958, while scanning the waiver wires, he spotted a 36-year-old journeyman relief pitcher with a 2-10 record. Wait, it gets better—Hoyt Wilhelm was a knuckleballer who would ruin any catcher’s chance for a Gold Glove.
There was one statistic that caught Richards' eye: Wilhelm’s ERA was hugging the 2.10 mark. Richards figured he could teach someone how to catch the evasive knuckleball.
Wilhelm joined the struggling Orioles. He was used as a spot starter, but primarily mopped up in relief. On September 20, the Yankees were in Baltimore for a weekend series. The birds took the first game (5-4), scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth.
The weather on Saturday was miserable. Richards pleaded with the umpires to play the game since it was nationally televised. The Orioles' share of the revenue for this one game would offset some of the woes of a crummy season at the gate.
The umpires agreed to play the game.
The Yankees starter was former Oriole Don Larson. The ever-inconsistent Larson took a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning.
Hoyt Wilhelm did him one better. He was throwing a no-hitter. And after nine innings, he threw a no-hitter.
The first Orioles no-hitter belongs to Hoyt Wilhelm, who is also the first relief pitcher to be voted into Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Wilhelm finished the 1958 season with a 3-10 record and a 1.99 ERA.
1966: The Orioles Rise and the Dodgers Sink
The prognosticators were sure of what was going to happen in the 1966 World Series pitting the LA Dodgers against the Baltimore Orioles. There was no doubt about it: the Dodger dynasty would capture their third World Series in four year. The Dodgers would crush the Orioles just like the manhandled the Twins in 1965.
What happened was different.
The Orioles “ran the table” on the Dodgers in four games. The series was an example of why pitching was dominating the game.
This was not an exciting World Series.
In Baltimore, it was simply beautiful. We basked in the glory of shutting out the Dodgers for the final 33 innings of the series. We watched:
- Moe Drabowsky (6-0, 2.81 ERA) pitch 6.3 consecutive innings of shutout relief. He set records for the most strikeouts in relief (11) and consecutive K’s (6) in a World Series game.
- Jim Palmer (15-6, 3.46 ERA), age 20, become the youngest pitcher to throw a shutout in the World Series.
- Sandy Koufax (27-9 1.73 ERA) pitch his final game.
- Wally Bunker (10-6, 4.29 ERA), age 21, toss the second shutout in Game 3
- Dodger center fielder Willie Parker make three errors on two consecutive plays in one inning.
- Dave McNally (13-6 3.17 ERA) and Don Drysdale (13-16 3.42 ERA) pitch four-hitters in Game 4. McNally threw a shutout and Drysdale allowed one run.
- Drysdale lose two games of the four.
- Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson hit back-to-back homers in Game 1.
The young Orioles would taste sweet success several times in the next two decades. The Dodger dynasty was finished for ten years. They would wait until 1977 before their next trip to the World Series.
Did You Know That _____________ was an Oriole?
Here is a look at Orioles who do not seem like they were Orioles. Some of these players were better known in their former uniforms. Most of these guys did not stay in Baltimore very long.
One or two of these players gained notoriety beyond the baseball diamond. Seven of the players have become well-known as coaches and managers. One of the above is a father of the manager who lead the Red Sox to 2 World Championships.
With tongue in cheek, here are their names. Four players in the gallery are members of the Hall of Fame.
Top Row (L-R): Ernie Whitt (Red Sox, Braves, Blue Jays), Willie Mays' infamous “catch”, Vic Wertz (who hit the ball that Willie caught; Tigers, Browns, Indians, Red Sox, Twins), Sammy Sosa (Rangers, White Sox, Cubs), Rogers Hornsby (Manager of the International League Orioles in 1939; Player/Manager: Cardinals, Giants, Braves, Cubs, Browns; Manager: Reds, Browns; Minor League Manager: Chattanooga, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Beaumont, Seattle, Vera Cruz - Mexican League;Coach: Mets ;Broadcaster: Indians, Cubs), Ron Kittle (White Sox, Indians, Yankees), Andy Van Slyke (Cardinals, Pirates, Phillies)
2nd Row: Don Larson (Yankees), Marv Throneberry & Miller Lite ad, “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry (Yankees, Athletic, Mets), Curt Schilling (Phillies, Diamondbacks, Red Sox), Lou Piniella (Indians, Royals,Yankees; Manager: Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, Cubs), Buck Showalter (Manager: Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers) and George Costanza (Yankees Front Office) on Seinfeld, Tito Francona (father of Terry, former Red Sox Manager; Tigers, Athletics, Indians, Cardinals, Braves, Phillies, Brewers, White Sox)
3rd Row: Johnny Pesky (has a foul pole named after him in Boston; Red Sox, Tigers, Senators), Fernando Valenzuela (Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Phillies, Cardinals), Bobby Thomson (“The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant”; Giants, Braves, Red Sox, Cubs), Dave Duncan (Tony LaRussa’s Pitching Coach;Athletics, Indians, Orioles), Eddie Lopat (White Sox,Yankees; Manager: Athletics), Ron Washington (Twins, current Manager of Rangers), Reggie Jackson (Athletics, Yankees, Angels)
Bottom Row: Ray Knight (Reds, Astros, Mets, Tigers), Whitey Herzog (Senators, Athletics, Tigers; Manager: Rangers, Royals, Cardinals), Joe Carter (Cubs, Indians, Padres, Giants, Blue Jays), Harvey Haddix (Cardinals, Phillies, Redlegs, Pirates), Ozzie Guillen (White Sox, Braves, Devil Rays; Manager White Sox, Marlins), Dick Williams (Dodger, Athletics, Indians, Red Sox; Manager Red Sox, Athletics, Angels, Expos, Padres, Mariners), Will Clark (Giants, Rangers, Cardinals), The 2005 Oriole Bird (Clubhouse pharmacist who dispensed Vitamin B-12 injections regardless of what was said before Congress)
1961 - Diamond Jim Gentile Wins the RBI Crown 49 Years After the Fact
Jim Gentile could not buy a break in Major League Baseball.
He languished in the Dodger farm system for most of the 50s. His big break came with the 1960 Baltimore Orioles. As a 25-year-old rookie, Gentile’s had 21 HRS, 98 RBI and a .292 AVG. He came in second place for the Rookie of the Year award.
In 1961, Gentile set Oriole records for HRS, with 46, and 141 RBI’s. The 141 RBI remain an Oriole record today.
Diamond Jim Gentile’s 1961 contract called for a $5,000 bonus if he won the RBI title. He didn’t win. Instead, Roger Maris set the baseball world ablaze with 61 home runs and 142 RBI.
That is until a statistic detective for “The Retrosheet” found that Maris got credit for one too many RBI's. A reporter looked up Diamond Jim in Oklahoma to gather his reaction to this discovery.
Gentile said, “Goddamn it, I had a $5,000 clause if I led the league in RBI’s. Do you think I can get those bastards to give it to me?"
In 2010, MLB recognized the error and deducted one RBI from Maris’ 1961 total.
Andy MacPhail, president of the Baltimore Orioles and son of Lee MacPhail, who was the Oriole general manager in 1961, invited Jim Gentile to Baltimore. Gentile was presented with a check for $5,000.
The 75-year-old slugger threw out the first pitch and was given the chance to tip his cap and take a bow in front of Oriole fans.
1954: The Largest Trade in Baseball History
The 1954 season ended with the NY Yankees winning 103 games (in a 154 game season) and finishing second to the Indians (who won 111 games, a Major League record that still stands).
The Yankees were showing a little age at some key spots. They lost their unofficial farm team when the St. Louis Browns moving to Baltimore. The Bronx bombers needed to restock, and they were seeking a pocket to pick.
Yankee GM George Weiss and manager Casey Stengel were shopping their wealth of farm system prospects in exchange for a shortstop and starting pitcher.
The Orioles finished their first season in Baltimore. No one expected much from them, since the Orioles were really the 1953 St. Louis Browns in new uniforms.
To make matters worse, the Browns farm system was in complete decay. Baltimore hired Paul Richards in September of 1954 to manage the ballclub, serve the team as the general manager, recreate a farm system and sell tickets to watch a crummy baseball team.
Richards was not known for sitting on his hands when there was work to be done. He was a willing accomplice to the largest trade in Major League Baseball history. On November 17, 1954, the Yankees and Orioles swapped 17 players.
At the onset, it appeared that the Yankees got one over on the Birds. The Yankees coveted “Bullet” Bob Turley, who set the Orioles strikeout record for a single season with 215 (a record that still stands).
In summary, Bullet Bob had one great season with the Yankees. In 1958 he won 20 games and the Cy Young Award.
Shortstop Billy Hunter was a flop. Don Larsen had one great game, the perfect game in the 1956 World Series, for the Yankees. He was eventually bundled in the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees.
Gus Triandos was the player who played all-star caliber baseball for the longest of all the players exchanged. Gus gave the Orioles eight years, and three as an all-star.
Triandos was Baltimore's first power hitter, knocking 119 home runs out of the cavernous Memorial Stadium (Paul Richards would move the fences in twice while he was manager).
Gene Woodling had some life left in his bat, except that Richards traded him to Cleveland a third of the way through the 1955 season. Willie Miranda played a decent game at shortstop, though his bat was a liability.
Everyone else did not amount to a hill of beans for the Orioles or the Yankees.
New Oriole players: Gus Triandos (C), Gene Woodling (OF), Willie Miranda (SS), Jim McDonald (P), Harry Byrd (P), Bill Miller (P), Kal Segrist (3B), Don Leppert (2B), Hal Smith (C)
New Yankee players; Bob Turley (P), Don Larsen (P), Billy Hunter (SS), Darrell Johnson (C), Jim Fridley (OF), Dick Kryhoski (1B), Mike Blyzka (P), Ted Del Guercio
NOTE: During the 1955 season, Richard's, perhaps thinking out loud proposed trading the entire Oriole roster to Kansas City for their players.
2007: Dave Trembley
Dave Trembley was a baseball manager who never played professional baseball at any level. Trembley was known as a skilled communicator and an exceptional manager in the minors. Those managerial skills had not been tested in the show.
He replaced Sam Perlozzo as the Oriole interim manager on June 19, 2007. The slumbering Orioles awoke, winning 29 out of their next 54 games under Trembley.
The Oriole brass were seeking to end a nine-year streak of below .500 finishes. Maybe Trembley was the answer to the O’s woes?
On August 22, Trembley lost the “interim” title, as he was given a contract extension through 2008. The Orioles were scheduled to play an old-fashioned doubleheader at Camden Yards. What they got was an old-fashioned a*s-whipping.
Texas set a Major League record, scoring 30 runs to crush the Orioles 30-3. The Rangers swept the twin bill. The Orioles evaporated like the Hindenburg, losing 26 of their final 36 games.
Unfortunately, Dave Trembley had the distinction of supervising the Orioles umpteenth rebuilding effort. He managed the Birds halfway into the 2010 season.
His managerial winning percentage of .398 is the worst in Oriole history.
1944 - Orioles Fireworks
The 1944 International League Baltimore Orioles had defeated the Syracuse Chiefs during a night game at home on Monday July 3, 1944. A doubleheader was scheduled on the fourth of July.
The war-weary workers of Baltimore were looking forward to the holiday. Optimism reigned as Hitler was on his heels. The USA and their allies hoped for a victory in Europe by Christmas.
Alas, “the best laid schemes of mice and men—go often awry.”*
The Oriole Park groundskeeper hosed down the wooden structure before turning in for the night. A slow-burning stogie remained lit. The Baltimore Fire Department surmised that a smoldering cigar ignited the wooden ballpark. Oriole Park burnt to the ground.
Fast-thinking preserved the Oriole season. Keeping in mind that WWII rationing precluded a trip to a sporting goods store, the team’s season was saved by a Republican mayor and Connie Mack.
The Philadelphia Athletics, owned by Mr. Mack, were the parent club for the minor league Orioles. The A’s supplied the team with their spare equipment. The Orioles "road" uniforms were out for laundering. They would need them for a hastily rescheduled road trip.
At home, Mayor Theodore McKeldin offered the use of the “coliseum-like” Municipal (a.k.a. Venable Stadium). The city sent a crew out to turn a football field into a baseball park.
It was not very cozy, but the plan worked. The Orioles went on to win the “Little World Series” in front an astounding attendance of 52,000 fans for the opener in Baltimore. The press was quick to report the disparity in attendance compared to the very drab Major League World Series featuring the St. Louis Cardinals vs. St. Louis Browns at Sportsman Park.
Wartime baseball had provided the Browns an opportunity to win their first pennant in 43 years. Clearly, the sow’s ear was being fashioned as a silk purse.
Baltimore had made an imprint on Major League Baseball with their civic enthusiasm and support of the Orioles. The Browns would be a source of embarrassment for the next decade. The first American League franchise transfer in its 54-year history took place in 1954, when the Browns became the American League Baltimore Orioles.
* from the Robert Burns Poem as adapted by John Steinbeck in Of Mice and Men
The 2005 Baltimore Orioles are perhaps the most embarrassing team in the 114-year history of Orioles baseball. They gave the fans something to cheer about during the first half of the season. They spent 62 days in first place.
Then came the crash.
As Javy Lopez put it, "It was like a roller-coaster. You went to the highest part and then dropped down to the lowest part. It was sad.” (Baseball Almanac/AP Wire, 10/18/2005)
One of the saddest aspects of this team was the tarnish of “performance enhancing drugs.” Eight of the nine Oriole regulars from the starting lineup were avowed steroid or human growth hormone users.
They are: Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro, Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Larry Bigbie, Sammy Sosa and Jay Gibbons.
Pitcher Jason Grimsley was a user. He cooperated with the Feds after his home was searched by the FBI. Grimsley revealed many names as part of his cooperation.
The matter of performance enhancing drug use was addressed three weeks before the first pitch of the season. Here is a timeline of the key moments of the pathetic 2005 season in Baltimore.
March 17 – Rafael Palmeiro is the leading video clip from the Congressional hearings on steroid use in MLB. His finger-pointing while denying ever taking steroids gets everyone’s attention.
May 26 – The Orioles are 4.5 games ahead of the second place Yankees.
June 21 – The Orioles are 14 games over .500
July 10 – The All-Star break. The Orioles have just taken three out of four from the AL East leading Red Sox, who they trail by two games.
July 12 – The Orioles send 4 players to the All-Star game. Miguel Tejada is voted the MVP of the game. Joining Tejada at Detroit’s Comerica Park is Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts and B.J. Ryan.
July 15 – Rafael Palmeiro gets his 3,000 hit. He becomes the fourth player in MLB history to hit 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. (The other three are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray.) The Orioles are in second place, one game behind the Red Sox
July 16 – The Orioles lose 16 of their next 18 games. They drop to fourth place, 10.5 games out of first place following this losing period.
July 25 – The Orioles return home to celebrate Palmeiro’s accomplishment. A huge banner is hung from the warehouse proclaiming “Congratulations Raffy on your 3,000 hits.” This is the same wall where Cal Ripken Jr's countdown to 2-1-3-1 was displayed 10 years earlier.
August 1- Rafael Palmeiro is suspended for 10 days for testing positive for steroids. The banner is removed.
August 4 – The Orioles fire manager Lee Mazzilli.
August 22 – The Orioles are anxious to dump Sidney Ponson's contract. His contract calls for a $10 million payday in 2006. Names that are bandied about to join the team are A.J. Burnett and Mike Lowell. The Orioles have to throw pitching prospect Hayden Penn up with Sir Sidney. Owner, Peter Angelos vetoes the trade. (Lowell went on to hit 88 home runs from 2006-10, while leading the Red Sox to the 2007 World Championship. Burnett has averaged 14 wins with a 4.36 ERA since 2006. Penn pitched all of 14 games for the Orioles before getting his release)
August 25 – Ponson is arrested for the second time in six months for a DUI. No one is going to trade for him now. His contracted is voided on morals violations by the Orioles. Voiding his contract leads to arbitration, and of course, Sir Sydney wins.
September 29 – The Orioles fall to 17 games under .500. They finish in fourth place. The baseball season mercifully comes to an end in Baltimore.
The blowback of the 2005 season still haunts us. The 2005 season is a benchmark for Oriole success in this the millennium. Hence, we are reminded of it when comparisons are sought by the media.
It makes my head hurt when I hear about 2005.
Rafael Palmeiro’s first year of eligibility to enter the Hall of Fame was a disaster. He needed 75 percent of the 498 voters to gain admission. He got 11 percent.
Oriole Hall of Famer Mike Flanagan, the GM of the 2005 team, committed suicide in 2011. His distress over the Orioles' performance during his days in the front office was cited as a reason for the suicide. The 2005 season did not help his outlook on life.