Baltimore Orioles: Moments from the Great 1996 and 1997 Seasons
Being a life long Baltimore Orioles fan, I've always been told the stories of the great teams of the past. Names like Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell and many, many more. Unfortunately, I'm only 25 years old which means in my lifetime I've seen only two winning seasons, 1996 and 1997.
But even as young as I was, those two seasons stand out like they happened yesterday. Even though we all know those two seasons ended in bitter disappointment, the memories they gave us, at least for me, will last a long time.
So I'm going to pick 10 moments that stand out to me (not in any particular order) from those two fun seasons.
Moment No. 1: Chris Hoiles Ends Game in Grand Fashion
First of all, let me start by saying Hoiles was one of my favorite Orioles when he played in Baltimore. Hoiles was known for his consistency and his knack for hitting big home runs.
On May 17, 1996, Hoiles hit what is described as the "ultimate grand slam." The "ultimate grand slam" is when the home team hits a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth when down by 3 to win the game.
The Orioles were trailing the Mariners 13-10 in the ninth when Hoiles came to the plate. Then, on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, Hoiles sent one into the seats and the O's won 14-13. Hoiles is one of only 23 players to hit an "ultimate grand slam."
On a side note, I know this didn't happen in the two-year span I stated in the first slide, but in 1998 Hoiles hit two grand slams in one game against Cleveland.
Moment No. 2: Murray Returns and Hits No. 500
Eddie Murray played for five different teams in his Hall of Fame career, but not many would argue he is most well known as an Oriole. In 1996, Murray made his return after eight years. Murray wasn't the same player, but he gave us an awesome moment.
It was September 6, 1996, and Murray sent one into the right field seats. The Orioles didn't win the game, but when you witness history the outcome of the game hardly matters. It was fitting that Murray hit number 500 in the Orioles uniform, for 343 of 504 were hit while wearing the orange and black.
That date should look familiar to O's fans, because exactly one year earlier Cal Ripken broke the consecutive game streak—pretty important date in Orioles history.
Moment No. 3: Brady's 4 Straight Leadoff Homers
The 1996 season will always be a special one for Brady Anderson. It was by far his most productive when it comes to power numbers. Anderson had never hit over 21 home runs in a season before 1996, when he hit 50. Needless to say, he never got close to hitting 50 after 1996.
Not much went wrong for Anderson in 1996 and his best moment might have been a four-game stretch in April. April 18-21, Anderson led off four straight games with a home run—very early on it seemed like it would be a different year for Brady. On a side note, the O's went 0-4 in those games
Moment No. 4: Another Record for Cal
Cal Ripken may be the most decorated Oriole in history—whether it's the Gold Gloves, MVPs, 400 home runs, 3,000 hits, etc. In other words, Ripken has done a lot for the game of baseball.
Ripken usually gets a lot of credit for saving baseball in 1995. Right after the strike, Ripken broke the Iron horse's record of 2,130 consecutive games, and in 1996 he broke another consecutive-game record.
Sachio Kinugasa played in Japan from 1965 to 1987, and he held the world record for consecutive games plays at 2,215. On June 14 in Kansas City, Ripken passed that record with Kinugasa in attendance and, of course, we all know Ripken would greatly add to this record which ended at 2,632.
Moment No. 5: Alomar Sends Baltimore to ALCS
1996 was the first season that the Orioles had been in the postseason since winning the world championship in 1983. Not only was it their first appearance but they won that first series in 1996.
Roberto Alomar might be the best second baseman in all of baseball, but more people were talking about his spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck right before the postseason. Some thought he should be suspended for the playoffs but Alomar wouldn't serve it until 1997.
It was Game 4 of the ALDS and the Orioles led the series 2-1 over the Indians, but the game was tied and headed for extra innings. In the top of the 12th, Alomar had the ultimate vindication with a solo HR to give the O's the lead and the series.
Moment No. 6: Orioles End Johnson's Winning Streak
Randy Johnson was one of the best and most intimidating pitchers in baseball history. But for some reason he had his struggles against the Orioles, especially in 1997. Johnson faced the Orioles four times in 1997 which includes Game 1 of the ALDS, when he went 0-3 with a 6.37 ERA—not great stats.
The significance of this win over Johnson ending this streak, was that Johnson was just one win away from tying an American League record. Cleveland's Johnny Allen and Baltimore's own, Dave McNally, won 17 in a row. It also was a sign of things to come in the '97 season for Randy Johnson when he took the mound against the Orioles.
Moment No. 7: Eric Davis Returns from Colon Cancer
Eric Davis was new to the team in 1997 and, even though he was 35 years old, he could still produce at a pretty good level. In May of the '97 season, Davis was diagnosed with colon cancer. His teammates would wear his No. 24 all season on their helmets and many believed he wouldn't return that season.
By September, he was still receiving treatment but continued to play, albeit sparingly. The thing that makes this story most memorable was his moment in the ALCS. The Orioles were down three games to one in the series and needed a spark. Davis belted a pinch-hit home run in the ninth that helped put the game away and kept the O's hopes alive.
Moment No. 8: Orioles Well Represented in Mid-Summer Classic
Baseball's All-Star game to me is the best of all the major sports. The one thing I enjoy the most, is seeing my hometown team well represented. Of course when you win 98 games, you're going to get some love around baseball.
Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson, Jimmy Key and Randy Myers all made the team—the most the Orioles had since six O's made the 1972 game.
Not only were the Orioles well represented, but they performed well. The American League had only seven hits, three of them by O's—Brady (2) and Cal (1). Myers, who led the league that year in saves, pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Among the game's best, the Orioles played well.
Moment No. 9: Wire to Wire
This is not a specific moment, but is too large to ignore. 1996 was a fun season for the simple reason that we in Baltimore had not seen a postseason in a long time—or, like me, ever. However, 1997 was different—the Orioles started 4-0 and never looked back.
It was the Orioles first division title since 1983—Randy Myers set a single season record for saves as an Oriole pitcher and Davey Johnson won Manager of the Year.
Yeah, 1997 was a great year...despite the ending.
Moment No. 10: Mussina Dominates the ALCS
I know, I know it's hard to take anything from that series as a top moment in 1997. However, the way Mussina pitched was amazing and actually, to be honest, thinking about that series is frustrating. Mussina was always considered a good pitcher, but if I were to point to an instance in which Mussina was the best, this series would be it.
Game 3: 7 IP, three hits, one ER and 15 strikeouts
Game 6: eight IP, one hit, zero ER and 10 strikeouts
Not bad, except the O's lost both games and, as you can tell, it wasn't because of Mussina. Still, watching those pitching clinics were still exciting.
So that's it, I'm sure I missed some moments but I was only 10 and 11 years old during those two seasons. So, if you have anything to add, whether it was a game you attended or just anything at all, please feel free to comment. There is a chance it will be a while before we have more seasons like '96 and '97.