Every once in a while, a season in our life runs parallel with a season of a lifetime. It happened to me in 1983.
April 4th was Opening Day, but my focus was on the birth of our third child, Kelly Patricia, to whom I gave three nicknames — Lover Dover, Special Girl and Precious Angel. That night, still overwhelmed with joy, I tried to stay awake for North Carolina State’s epic battle against Houston in the men’s championship game. I fell asleep just before Lorenzo Charles’ dunk gave the Wolfpack a victory that is still among the most memorable in NCAA history.
It’s interesting how we mark our timeline with sporting or current events. Although the Orioles lost their opener, a historic season was about to unfold. And my season at The News American was about to yield to an exciting new chapter that scared me at first.
The News American had been my home since Sports Editor John Steadman offered me a job the first time I met him at WBAL Radio. Station announcer Royal Parker was kind enough to give me a tour of the TV and radio studios, and introduced me to Steadman, who was taping a segment that would air the next morning. Steadman needed what was then called a copy boy for the sports department, and I needed a job. Eventually, I would become a sports reporter, a copy editor and an editor in news.
But in 1983, the paper’s outlook wasn’t good. Reporters and editors were leaving, and the Hearst company wasn’t replacing them. It was time to expand my search for future employment, because The Sun wasn’t interested, and I had a growing family to support.
The year before, I found myself in Detroit, interviewing at the Free Press. As I was sitting in Sports Editor Joe Distelheim’s office, the editor of the paper burst in, slammed a copy of the Detroit News on his desk and demanded to know why their paper didn’t have the picture of a snowman on the pitcher’s mound at Tiger Stadium. The News had it on its cover, the perfect picture to illustrate that the Tigers’ opener had been “snowed” out. Distelheim kept his cool, said he would find out why they missed it, and then introduced me to the editor. Welcome to Detroit.
The thought of moving our family from our hometown of Baltimore was tough enough, but the thought of moving them to the Motor City amid a crisis in the U.S. auto industry persuaded me to pass up the job, even though I really liked Distelheim and his staff.
A month after the Orioles lost their 1983 opener, I got a call from Philadelphia Daily News Sports Editor Mike Rathet about a job opening on the desk. The interview went well, but then there was a curveball. Rathtet hired someone else, someone I grew to admire and love, Caesar Alsop. At that moment, though, I wasn’t thinking we’d become friends. I just knew he had been hired for the job I thought I was getting.
Rathet told me to be patient, but I wasn’t feeling especially optimistic. I was, however, enjoying what the Orioles were doing. Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken were in their prime. Ken Singleton still had the best eye in baseball. Al Bumbry flew around the outfield like his nickname, “Bee.” Left-handers Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor got an unexpected boost in the starting rotation from Mike Boddicker. Tippy Martinez did amazing things out of the bullpen, such as picking off three Toronto Blue Jays in one inning. The left-right combination of Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein thrived; Rick Dempsey was a steadying force behind the plate; and 37-year-old Jim Palmer bridged the generational divide of championship-caliber teams.
September is a month for call-ups in the majors, and I could relate to how it felt. Rathet called back because someone had left The Daily News unexpectedly. The job on the sports copy desk was mine if I still wanted it. It was an overnight position, Sunday through Thursday. And, of course, it would involve a move. Not a far one from Baltimore, but a move nonetheless.
With reality setting in, my wife, Barb, and I started to list more cons than pros on a legal pad. Our wonderful next-door neighbor, Dorothy Zepp, reminded us why I had been pursuing the job. And Rathet said all the right things in a direct, no-frills manner that was his gift. So, as the Orioles were closing out the regular season, I was starting a new one in Philadelphia. And wouldn’t you know it, the Phillies were heading for a showdown with the Orioles in the World Series.
I was working on the sports desk of The Philadelphia Daily News, wearing an Orioles shirt, the night McGregor closed out Game 5 and the World Series with the help of two home runs from Murray. Dempsey was the MVP, and Ripken caught the last out. Someone told me my Orioles shirt wouldn’t be welcomed in the composing room, but I escaped the wrath of Philly fans.
The Orioles were champions, and I felt triumphant, too. Not because they were my team, but because Barb and I had made the move. The Philadelphia Daily News had one of the best sports sections in the country, and I was the Night Sports Editor when The Sun asked me to move back to Baltimore in 1985 — one year before The News American closed.
Thirty-five years later, the Orioles are still seeking that next title. And I realize what a defining season of life it was for me, starting on April 4, 1983, the day Lover Dover, Special Girl and Precious Angel came into our lives.
Editor’s Note: Sometimes it’s helpful to revisit the past, especially when it reminds us that the Orioles were once the best team in baseball. Today is the first of three personal essays related to the championship teams of 1966, 1970 and 1983, the franchise’s last title. There might be another season that inspires you to write about the Orioles’ glory days.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] and [email protected] for consideration.