Calling the Pen: When the Orioles had their way - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Calling the Pen

Calling the Pen: When the Orioles had their way

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

When I was developing an interest in baseball, the Orioles were developing the best team in the sport. Steve Barber caught my attention in 1963. He was a left-hander, which I always thought was more stylish, and he became the Orioles’ first 20-game winner that season. In 1964, third baseman Brooks Robinson was the Most Valuable Player, leading the American League with 118 RBIs while collecting one of his 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. In 1965, the Orioles won 94 games, but the Twins of Oliva and Killebrew were the best team in the American League. Finally, in 1966, Frank Robinson arrived as an “old 30” and led the Orioles to their first World Series title by winning the Triple Crown.

Other teams were envious of the Oriole Way. They had talent throughout their system, holding back gifted players such as Don Baylor and Bobby Grich, and played in three more World Series, winning one, in the next five years. Oriole Magic wouldn’t arrive until 1979, and their third World Series championship would come in 1983.

Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.

My grandfather, my mom and the Orioles were primarily responsible for my love of baseball. I took their success for granted, just as I thought the Colts would always belong to Baltimore. Seasons change. The Orioles of today feel like the day we move the clocks back and darkness falls at 5 o’clock. We are in a season of darkness.

Orioles general manager Mike Elias calls what is happening a rebuild, a restocking of talent throughout the system. It reminds me of the home restoration shows when something neglected and ugly is turned into something beautiful and lasting. We see the before-and-after shots to reinforce the transformation. We are sometimes as stunned as the homeowners with the finished product, even though we see the rebuild taking place a little at a time.

Maybe we’d feel better about what the Orioles are doing if Chip and Joanna were involved. Maybe you have to hit bottom before you see the dark knight rise.

After Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay, Orioles analyst and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said about the rebuild, “We never thought it would be this bad …” It was the Orioles’ 14th consecutive loss, the second time this season they had lost 14 in a row. On Thursday afternoon, they extended their latest losing streak to 15, six shy of the 21 in a row they lost to start the 1988 season. They have the worst record in baseball at 38-82 and will lose more than 100 games for the third time in four years, with the pandemic-shortened 2020 season not counting.

There are promising players in the farm system, led by top prospect Adley Rutschman. What the Orioles were doing before Elias arrived wasn’t working; the Orioles needed a new foundation. Baseball America ranked the Orioles’ farm system second this week, the highest it’s ever been. Matt Blood, the director of player development, said the Orioles were pleased by that ranking but that there was a still a lot of work to be done. In other words, this is not the time to celebrate.

It’s difficult for Oriole fans to know how to feel. Certainly embarrassed by what’s happening at the major league level. And probably encouraged by what’s happening at the minor league level. But possibly losing faith overall. And interest.

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Sports is entertainment. When the Rays’ Brett Phillips talked about his inside-the-park home run against the Orioles on Monday night, he was the embodiment of joy and enthusiasm. He said how much fun baseball is, and you could tell he meant it.

The Orioles have had their moments this year, mostly because of those whose last name begins with M. John Means pitched a no-hitter on May 5th. Trey Mancini finished second in the Home Run Derby contest and lifted those battling cancer. Cedric Mullins started in center field the next night in the All-Star Game and has been the team’s best player. Ryan Mountcastle shook off a bad start and has 20 home runs.

But the losing and, in particular, the lack of competency and competitiveness have made the Orioles painful to watch. Passion has been replaced by apathy among a number of fans, and that will require a rebuild of its own.

Every other team in the American League  East is above .500. Toronto, which is in fourth, is 10 1/2 games behind first-place Tampa Bay. The Orioles are 36 games back in the toughest division in baseball. Each of the teams in front of them — Tampa Bay, New York, Boston and Toronto — added talent before the trade deadline. When the Orioles were playing the Red Sox over the weekend, their fans already were anticipating the next series with the Yankees. No one takes the Orioles seriously these days.

That wasn’t the case when they first got my attention. In April of 1968, I listened to a transistor radio, while working on my grandfather’s lawn, as Tom Phoebus, a Mount St. Joe grad, no-hit the Red Sox. That was the year Detroit’s Denny McLain recorded 31 of the Tigers’ 103 victories, and the Orioles finished second despite winning 91 games.

Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.

51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. CalsPals

    August 20, 2021 at 7:52 am

    Very well said Jack, 1966 w/my grandmother was when they caught my eye, first game, 3rd base side, a wave from Brooks, I was hooked, a much simpler time…hopefully it’s not 5 more yrs…go O’s…

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      August 20, 2021 at 11:46 am

      Granny was an O’s fan? Awesome bra!

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 11:58 am

      Her nephew played for the Indians, free tickets, Brooks waved, O’s won the WS, fan for life…go O’s…

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks for sharing, CalsPals. It was a simpler time. At least it felt that way.

  2. TxBirdFan

    August 20, 2021 at 8:34 am

    Thanks for the wonderful read Jack! My affection for the O’s started in 1965 thanks mostly to my grandmother who worked at Hutzlers, and my grandfather who worked at Greenspring Dairy. We lived in NOVA but I looked forward to Sunday doubleheader’s at Memorial. The Orioles were the best team in baseball for the ensuing 20 years and they were great to follow. Yes….those days we thought would never end…..and it was totally unimaginable that they would fall this far for so long.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks, BirdFan. My dad worked for Koontz Creamery, which was advertised as first with the carriage trade. I didn’t understand what it meant as a kid until I saw a picture to illustrate it. Hutzler’s, Stewart’s, Hecht’s, Hochschild Kohn’s and Hess Shoes were among the stores we’d visit. Good memories.

  3. 5brooks5

    August 20, 2021 at 8:50 am

    I will always cherish those years of great Oriole baseball. And I will forever be a fan of the Black and Orange, whatever the record. What worries me is ownership. When you decimate your broadcast team to save money, those things worry me. If you can’t afford to spend the money, then sell the team. They are investing at the minor league level and now it seems internationally, which is fantastic.. But there comes a time when ownership has to spend at the major league level,when and if that time comes is above my pay grade..Go O’s!

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:21 pm

      They will have to spend sometime soon, 5brooks5, and one would hope they’ll be in position to pay the talent they’re developing and to augment it with a similar quality.

  4. Joe Stevens

    August 20, 2021 at 9:01 am

    While the 65 Twins were very good and lost in seven games to the Koufax led Dodgers in the Fall Classic, despite having a 2 – 0 games lead, HoFer Rod Carew was not a member of that squad. He didn’t make his MLB debut until 67, winning ROY honors for the Twins. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, the piece was spot on. Just hoping I am still around with Grayson pitches to Adley in Game One of the 2025 WS.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 9:16 am

      Thanks for the catch, Joe. Shortstop Zoilo Versalles was one of their stars, along with Harmon Killebrew.

  5. A Brave Oriole

    August 20, 2021 at 9:10 am

    I really enjoyed the memory-log. I became a fan back in 1966, because my PE teacher, Mr. Clark, talked my teacher into letting us watch the World Series in the classroom. The next year, 1967, I attended my first baseball game, a spring training game in my hometown, Ft. Lauderdale, between the Orioles and Yankees, And that was that. In spite of living nowhere near Baltimore, I have remained an Orioles fan, having been able to attend a few games at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards over the years. In fact, our family was at Cedric Mullins’ first MLB game.
    When the losses are piling up, I just think of the better draft position the Orioles are in.
    What does concern me is the lack of development of pitching. As one of the Orioles’ management observed, no pitcher in Norfolk is knocking down the door to promotion to the big club. Which means we are probably still seasons away from being competitive on the pitching side. And as anyone knows, pitching is the way you win consistently. Just ask the Angels.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:29 pm

      A Brave Oriole, I agree that there doesn’t appear to be enough quality pitching in the pipeline, although there some, most notably Grayson Rodriguez, to be excited about. There was reason to think Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin would take a step forward this year, but it hasn’t happened. Can’t build a winner without pitching.

  6. Boog Robinson Robinson

    August 20, 2021 at 11:43 am

    I’m feeling kind of young reading all you old fogies love stories about the O’s.

    I didn’t get hooked until 1969 and was in my 2nd year of wearing the O’s uniform in Baumholder Germany’s little league, when my saint of a mother let me stay up wicked late to listen to the O’s lose the the Mets during the world series on Armed Forces Radio. I was smitten. Moving stateside to Western Pa in 1970 and watching them beat up on Cincinnati a year later sealed the deal. It was officially love.

    And I’m still in love after all these years despite what Mr. Loserpants is doing to them. He’d better gosh darn redeem himself next year!

    PS….nice article as always Mr. Gibbons. I always enjoy your romantic view of the game.

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 12:00 pm

      Notice the lack of youngens commenting on this AWESOME story, one of all-time favorite articles here…go O’s…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        August 20, 2021 at 12:08 pm

        They don’t get it. Never will. The game simply isn’t the same for this generation.

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 12:17 pm

      Totally agree, totally different times, work wasn’t a 4 letter word like today, players had jobs during the “off” months…lmao…go O’s…

    • TxBirdFan

      August 20, 2021 at 1:06 pm

      My millennial kids still wonder why “we” root for the Orioles. I brought them up right rooting for the Bords with memories of Brooks and Cal, but sadly the team has never been very good during their lifetime. So the ‘younguns’ don’t have the same memories to hold onto line the rest of us old fogies.

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 1:11 pm

      Agree Tx, our son is in the Army, from Ohio, diehard O’s fan…his buddies can’t figure it out, me neither sometimes, lol, he says “Born an O’s fan, die an O’s fan”, just hope he gets to experience a WS championship like we did, 3x…go O’s…

    • BarstoolSleeper

      August 20, 2021 at 1:36 pm

      I’m one of the “youngens” on this site. I wasn’t alive when the Orioles won any of their World Series. My earlier memories were staying up late watching 2130 and 2131, the ‘96-‘97 seasons etc. While I enjoyed reading this article and appreciate the nostalgia, I can’t connect to it because I didn’t live through it. I’m still and always will be an Orioles fan and let’s be honest, they can use all the fans they can get including us on this site.

      • Jack Gibbons

        August 20, 2021 at 1:42 pm

        BarstoolSleeper, The Orioles made it easier for longtime (older) fans to connect with them. 2130 and 2131 were extraordinary moments in Baltimore and in baseball. Appreciate your perspective.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:37 pm

      Boog, You bring up a painful memory, the 1969 World Series, when the Mets appeared to be a team of destiny, although they did have an exceptional pitching staff. That was also the year the Jets beat the Colts and the Knicks beat the Bullets. The 1970 Series was a showcase for Brooks, who shut down the Big Red Machine. Glad you still have a soft spot for the Orioles, although I realize how much it’s being tested.

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 1:47 pm

      Thx for sharing Barstool, totally agree, thx for joining in w/us fogies…go O’s…

  7. dlgruber1

    August 20, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    As long as we’re telling old time O’s stories I became truly hooked in ‘70, which was a great year to become hooked. I was in class in 5th grade with a small transistor radio stealthily by my ear when Dave McNally hit a grand slam. I let out a scream and of course my teacher was curious as to why. Being an honest little boy I excitedly said “Dave McNally just hit a grand slam!” My teacher then let out a “YES!!!” Which was probably louder than my original scream. God those truly were the good old days. I only hope youngsters today can experience even a little of what a lot of us took for granted back then.

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 1:11 pm

      Awesome story…go O’s…

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:45 pm

      That’s a great memory, dlgruber1. They’re the kind of moments that hook you as a fan and that younger fans are missing.

  8. Old Orioles Fan

    August 20, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    When the Orioles had their Way, the team had an outstanding owner (Jerry Hoffberger), an outstanding general manager (Frank Cashen), and outstanding managers with the parent club (Hank Bauer, Earl Weaver) as well as in the minors (Weaver, Joe Altobelli, Cal Ripken Sr.).

    This version of the Orioles has a horrible owner, and a general manager who apparently believes the only way to make the team better is to intentionally lose for as long as possible. Hyde is a nonentity as a manager and his staff is not doing a good job of teaching fundamentals, based on what I have seen over the past several years.

    At what point do we all agree that the “rEbUiLd” is a failure? 5 years from now? 10?

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 12:19 pm

      Sadly agreeing:(…go O’s…

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      August 20, 2021 at 12:39 pm

      Can’t agree more with your assessment of the owner. He’s the worst the league has seen since Rachel Phelps.

      As far as I’m concerned, it’s a failure right now. This team should have been at least competitive this year.

      Big picture, it’s a failure until they win.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:54 pm

      Old Orioles Fan, Harry Dalton also played a big role in the Orioles’ success back then. It’s a problem when rebuilds — see Elias’ former team, the Astros — lead to the perception, or reality, that teams aren’t putting enough resources toward the current major league team so they can get the best draft choice. Major League Baseball needs to address it.

  9. PC in OC

    August 20, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    You all brought, some Good Memories back. I’ve said this before and regrettably, I’m going to say it again. With what I’ve seen and heard, I can only come to one conclusion. “ TENNESSEE ORIOLES “

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 1:13 pm

      Can’t argue, would be a sad day, Rich will…go O’s…

  10. willmiranda

    August 20, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    First, I like “the dark knight” pun. As for the rebuild, is this Japan after a war or Haiti after an earthquake? As for the old days, I remember the 50’s and winning that 55th game so that you wouldn’t lose a hundred. Time warps things, but the feelings seemed different. There was a positivity and energy with the team. They were really going after that 55th win, for a franchise whose historical highlight had been losing a wartime World Series. Paul Richards was working to bring in proven major leaguers to improve the roster while the farm teams amped up. And they went after the Bonus Babies, sometimes a little too zealously. I loved the blockbuster deal with the Yankees although some people still think the Yanks made out better. He brought in a whole boatload of players steeped in the tradition of a real dynasty; not all-stars, except for Triandos, but solid guys like Gene Woodling. (To defend the trade, I would add that the key piece for New York was Bob Turley, who had some great moments but who was expected to be a Hall of Famer.) There was player movement, but it always seemed with a purpose, and the players acquired would become fan favorites. I just add that Richards was a career baseball man, who knew both players and executives first-hand and knew how to evaluate them.

    • CalsPals

      August 20, 2021 at 1:50 pm

      Thx for sharing Will…go O’s…

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 1:57 pm

      willmiranda, Paul Richards had a keen eye for talent and helped build the framework for the Orioles’ success.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      August 20, 2021 at 1:59 pm

      Will … let me quote something you just wrote ….

      “Paul Richards was working to bring in proven major leaguers to improve the roster while the farm teams amped up.”

      Awesome statement. That’s the way to build a team in my opinion. Show a bit of class why don’t you. Tanking is bush.

  11. CanOfCorn

    August 20, 2021 at 2:23 pm

    Moved here in 71 and Dad took me World Series that year. What a thrill. Remember when Boog came to bat and the place would go crazy Booooog! Just moving here I didn’t understand why is the home team Boooing one of there own. I asked the guy next to me why and he said “That’s Boog Powell son”. I’ve been hooked on O’s ever since. So are my Son, Daughter and Grandkids! Sure hope this team turns it around soon. It’s been hard watch !

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 3:58 pm

      That’s a fun story, CanOfCorn. The Ed-die chant would have been much easier to understand. Thanks for sharing.

  12. CharmtasticGuy

    August 20, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    Hey Jack, The Oriole started going south in 1988 when the O’s traded Eddie Murray. In the scope on an organization that developed at the time the 3rd player to hit 3000 hits an amass 500 homers was not a good sign. If we could go back that would be the moment that the “Oriole Way” lost its luster. Tonight is Boog Powell t-shirt night let’s enjoy a celebrate what he meant to the team and fans.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 4:42 pm

      CharmtasticGuy, Boog meant a lot to the team when he was a player — still one of the smoothest swings I’ve seen — but he has meant even more to the Orioles and their fans since he retired. He deserves a T-shirt and more. Glad Eddie Murray came back and hit his 500th home run at Camden Yards. He was a great player.

  13. CalsPals

    August 20, 2021 at 5:07 pm

    Jack, really appreciate all your comments, you seem to say the honest thing while not offending the bosses (drink the orange Koolaid), in the media today many are more apt to say the pc thing, not rock the ship for fear of retribution, again don’t think you’ve ever said anything wrong, but it seems to me a spade is a spade to you, REALLY appreciate it…go O’s…

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 10:16 pm

      Thanks, CalsPals. No Kool-Aid for our crew at BaltimoreBaseball.com

  14. Nellie

    August 20, 2021 at 5:07 pm

    Great stuff, Jack.
    I was the bat boy and then clubby for their Triple A team in Rochester from 61-65. In fact I introduced Boog to a high school classmate and they eventually got married. It was a special time watching guys like Boog, Blefary, Davey, Etch, Phebee, and so many others on their way to the Big Time.
    The most disappointing news mentioned on this sight by Rich was the comment about the deterioration of the scoreboard, sound system and concession stands among other things. It’s like the owners are getting ready for an “as is” sale. They are breaking a lot of hearts.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 20, 2021 at 10:21 pm

      Thanks, Nellie. Camden Yards remains a beautiful setting for baseball but some upgrades are needed.

  15. Rsaxon

    August 20, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    You point is well taken. Orioles need to make some effort to be competitive for the fans and young players. Additionally, if there is some outside talent brought in , they teach and show young players how to play and win. Coaches can only do so much. Someone needs to show these kids the guts, fortitude and pissed off attitude needed to be winners.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 21, 2021 at 9:30 am

      Rsaxon, Austin Hays, who made two sterling plays in left field, expressed some of the feelings you’re describing after last night’s loss to the Braves. It doesn’t sound as if the Orioles are taking this skid lightly. https://bit.ly/3z9lvUi

  16. PC in OC

    August 20, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    The Outside talent, that they bring in ( and we have had some ) They trade them, during the same year, they were obtained or they trade them, the very next year. They don’t stay long enough, to spread their knowledge.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 21, 2021 at 9:35 am

      PC in OC, You make a valid point, although I don’t think the Orioles have acquired anyone yet that they thought would be around for the long haul; they’re just plugging the gaps at this point.

  17. Hallbe62

    August 20, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    Great article Jack. Those were the days.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 21, 2021 at 9:37 am

      Thank you, Hallbe62. It was good to see the celebration for Boog’s 80th birthday last night.

  18. 89Ghost

    August 21, 2021 at 12:46 am

    Thank you for a great piece. I was born in 1978. My grandparents/parents instilled in me a great appreciation and respect for those mid-60s through 70s teams, and I respect the hell out of those guys and what they accomplished. I do not remember 83. Most kids my age had 89 and some good teams 1992-1997 before entering the wilderness of irrelevance for 14 years, which makes this (even worse) stretch 2018-2021 so bitter. But I am still watching and hoping.

    • Jack Gibbons

      August 21, 2021 at 9:42 am

      89Ghost, The Why Not? team of 1989 was remarkable in what it accomplished a year after the 1988 season. And the ’96 and ’97 playoff teams were loaded with talent. Jim Palmer was pointing out last night how the Orioles reassembled a winner after the 14 straight losing seasons. This front office is giving the team a complete makeover in the hope of building a long-term contender. Time will tell.

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