The Baltimore Orioles are celebrating their 60th anniversary in Charm City with a ceremony Friday at Camden Yards, and over those 60 years, their fans have led a charmed baseball life.
They might not feel that way after more than 20 years of ownership under Peter Angelos — even with their team comfortably in first place in the American League East. It’s not easy to forget the pain of 14 straight losing seasons before this turnabout of good times.
But what made it particularly painful was what Baltimore fans grew up with from 1966 through 1983 — six American League pennants and three World Series championships, as the Orioles became the gold standard for baseball excellence in the post-New York Yankees player draft era.
It was the Orioles Way — a pennant contender over three decades — that gave Orioles baseball credibility.
But it was the personalities and the players who the city and its fans fell in love with. It was the six statues erected (finally) in 2012 at Camden Yards that were the flesh and blood that made Baltimore a passionate baseball town.
Few relocated franchises (the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns, relocated to Baltimore in 1954) are as charmed as the Orioles have been to have players like Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, and a manager like Earl Weaver — all Hall of Famers — wear their uniforms and become the identity of their new home.
Baltimore — once a legendary baseball town when Jack Dunn ran the International League Orioles and had a young prospect named George Herman Ruth — adopted their new team when the Browns arrived in 1954. They appreciated major league baseball back in the city.
But they didn’t fall in love with baseball until a young third baseman from Little Rock, Arkansas, arrived in Baltimore and, after several seasons under his belt, played the position as well as it had ever been played before. When 23-year-old Brooks Robinson led the Orioles to 89 wins — their first winning season — in 1960, the city fell in love with the team.
It wasn’t just the winning, it was Brooks and his warm, friendly style, combined with his standard of excellence at third base, that started the love affair.
That love affair grew when Frank Robinson arrived for the 1966 season and brought pride, intensity and competitiveness to the team. Frank had one of the great seasons in modern baseball history in his first year in 1966 — 49 home runs, 122 RBI and a .316 average, a Triple Crown season, leading the Orioles to a four-game sweep over the favored Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1966 World Series.
Jim Palmer broke in as a rookie in 1965, and was part of that 1966 World Series team. He was nearly out of baseball quickly following his 15-10 record that championship season, with arm problems, missing nearly two seasons. But he bounced back in 1969 with a 16-4 record and became the face and conscience of Orioles pitching, and the bridge from that 1966 championship roster to the last one in 1983.
Earl Weaver was, ironically, born and raised in St. Louis, but you would have thought he came right out of the steel furnaces of Dundalk — a diminutive tough, passionate fighter when he took over for Hank Bauer in 1968 and demanded the best from his players, winning five pennants and one World Series title. However much you cared as an Orioles fan sitting in the stands at Memorial Stadium, you knew that Earl Weaver cared more.
Eddie Murray took the lessons that Brooks and Frank Robinson taught the clubhouse about winning — and the right way to be a ballplayer — and instilled those values in the next wave of great players to come, starting right from his Rookie of the Year season debut in 1977. They say some ballplayers are the heart or the soul of an organization. Eddie was the backbone by which those excellent teams from 1979 through 1983 — two pennants, one World Series title — were built on.
Then, of course, there is Aberdeen, Maryland’s favorite son — the son of Cal Ripken, Sr., who was Weaver’s right-hand man and, as a minor league manager, taught generations of players the Oriole Way. Cal Ripken arrived in 1981, and made his presence felt in 1982, winning Rookie of the Year honors and starting his historic 2,632 consecutive game streak.