It was the most successful time in Orioles history. Three seasons, three pennants, 318 regular-season wins, three World Series appearances but only one world championship. That came in 1970, a year after they were stunned by the Miracle Mets in the ’69 Series and a year before they would run into Roberto Clemente and the Pirates in 1971.
Fifty years ago, however, the Orioles won their second title, when Brooks Robinson worked his magic at third to help shut down Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.
In 1970, the Orioles breezed to an American League title, winning 108 games, including the final 11 in a row, blitzed the Minnesota Twins for the second straight season in the American League Championship Series, and then went on to the World Series.
The season before, the Orioles had won 109 games, captured the AL East by 19 games, beat the Twins in three straight games in the first ALCS, and were prohibitive favorites in the World Series against the upstart New York Mets.
After winning the first game of the Series, the Orioles lost four straight to a Mets team that had outstanding pitching and backed it with some spectacular defensive plays. It stung, and made the Orioles more determined heading into 1970.
“After we came back to the airport in Baltimore after we lost that last game in Shea Stadium, there were 5,000 people standing behind the fence,” Boog Powell said in a video conference call.
“They were all standing there with their hands and their fingers sticking through the fence. I went over there and touched as many hands as I could, and told them, ‘Just wait until next year.’ They were all screaming and hollering.”
Powell and his surviving teammates, some of whom are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the World Series title this weekend, remember the feeling the following spring training when the Orioles gathered in Miami.
“I didn’t dwell on it over the winter,” Powell said. “I thought about it every now and then, but then when I got to spring training, there weren’t any meetings where anybody came out and said, ‘We got our butts kicked last year, let’s go get ‘em guys.’
“It was just the inner knowledge that all of us had and a feeling that we all had that we were going to make it right. There wasn’t a thing where we went public with it. We just knew what we were going to do.”
In 1970, the Orioles were overlooked, and the Cincinnati Reds, who won 102 games and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series, were favored to win the World Series.
But the Orioles won the World Series in five games. It’s remembered as the Series of Brooks Robinson, whose remarkable fielding won him the World Series MVP.
“He did stuff like that, and he did better stuff over the course of the year,” Powell said. “I’ve always maintained that if Brooks Robinson had been playing at Yankee Stadium in New York, I think he could have run for president. He was that special.”
Powell and another teammate, Don Buford, admired Robinson’s work ethic
“Those plays he made, I guarantee that he practiced those plays 1,000 times throughout the season,” Buford said.
The Orioles are one of just three American League teams to win three straight pennants during the League Championship Series era, which began in 1969. In 1995, it became harder to repeat because the Divisional Series was added, and this year, and perhaps in the future, there will be a best two-of-three Wild Card round.
Powell’s 1966 Orioles had only the Los Angeles Dodgers to beat in the World Series, although that team featured the incomparable Sandy Koufax and the intimidating Don Drysdale. Now, a winning World Series team could play as many as 22 postseason games.
“The first year that we had the playoffs in ’69. it just didn’t’ seem right,” Powell said. “I think we won the American League East by 19 games, and then we had to go out and prove ourselves again. All of a sudden, we beat Minnesota in three games. We didn’t lose a game to anybody in the playoffs. At the beginning it didn’t seem fair, but it’s probably the right thing for baseball. I think it was a good thing for baseball overall.”
Ten years ago, many of the 1970 Orioles gathered at Oriole Park to mark the 40th anniversary. Brooks Robinson remarked poignantly that it might be the last time he saw of his teammates.
Since then, Paul Blair, Andy Etchebarren, Tom Phoebus, Frank Robinson and manager Earl Weaver have died.
Besides Buford, Powell, Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson have participated in virtual events this weekend. Other survivors include second baseman Davey Johnson, pinch-hitter Terry Crowley, outfielder Merv Rettenmund and relievers Dick Hall, Pete Richert and Eddie Watt.
“I always look forward to seeing my teammates,” Powell said. “These are people I went to war with, I went to battle with. They’re my dearest friends. I trust them explicitly. I think we all feel the same way. When you play 162 games in 175 days, you get to know a lot of things about your teammates. Your teammates get to know a lot of things about you.”
Buford has similar warm memories.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to communicate and get together as a group,” Buford said. “Like Brooks said, we were like family. We’d go on road trips. We’d go out to dinner together. It was never one guy by himself. It was a group of four, five or six guys. You’d go out to dinner on a day off. If you flew into Cleveland the night before a ballgame, you probably ended up having hamburgers and playing poker in the room for half the night. It’s always nice to see the guys and know their families are well.”
Roster move: The Orioles sent infielder/outfielder Andrew Velazquez to he Bowie alternate site and recalled right-handed pitcher Evan Phillips before Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Velazquez hit .159 with three RBIs in 40 games. Phillips is 1-1 with a 3.65 ERA in 12 1/3 innings. He struck out all four batters he faced in the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Rays as the 29th man.
Davis won’t play: Manager Brandon Hyde said that first baseman Chris Davis would remain on the 10-day injured list and won’t play for the Orioles again this season.