Thursday, October 16, 2014

How Long It's Been: The Baltimore Orioles Won a Pennant

Last night, the Kansas City Royals won their 1st Pennant in 29 years, beating the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 at Kauffman Stadium, to sweep the American League Championship Series in 4 straight.

The San Francisco Giants lead the St. Louis Cardinals 3 games to 1 in the National League Championship Series, and can wrap up that Pennant tonight, preventing a repeat of the All-Missouri World Series of 1985.

Three weeks ago, I did a "How Long It's Been" for the Royals. Today, it's the Orioles' turn.

The Orioles have played 8 ALCS games at Camden Yards since it opened in 1992. They have won exactly 1 of them. And that it why they haven't won a Pennant since October 8, 1983, when Tito Landrum hit a 10th inning home run to beat the Chicago White Sox 3-0 at Comiskey Park.

Just 8 days later, after dropping Game 1 of the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies at Memorial Stadium, they finished off a 4-game streak to win the Series at Veterans Stadium, 5-0 on a shutout by Scott McGregor. It's still their World Series game.

October 16, 1983, 31 years exactly. How long has that been?

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Cal Ripken Jr. caught the final out of the World Series, and was about to become the 1st player (and still the only one) ever to win either League's Most Valuable Player award the year after he won Rookie of the Year. No sophomore jinx.

Joe Altobelli had taken over for Earl Weaver as the Orioles' manager, having previously managed the San Francisco Giants, and was the Yankees' 3rd base coach when they won the 1981 Pennant. Cal Ripken Sr. was one of his coaches. The only Oriole holdover from their last World Championship, in 1970, was Jim Palmer, who became the 1st (and still only) pitcher to win World Series games in 3 different decades. Eddie Murray was one of the top 5 players in the game. Palmer, Murray and Ripken Jr. all made the Hall of Fame.

Other Oriole stars included current Yankee broadcaster Ken Singleton, Series MVP Rick Dempsey, Disco Dan Ford, Al Bumbry, John Lowenstein, and pitchers McGregor, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, Tippy Martinez (no relation) and ALCS MVP Mike Boddicker. They played at Memorial Stadium, and so did the Colts -- for 2 more months, anyway.

Major League Baseball had 26 teams. The Colorado Rockies, Florida/Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays had yet to debut. The idea that the Montreal Expos would move was not even being considered. But the Minnesota Twins, in spite of having the relatively new Metrodome, were already listening to entreaties from Tampa Bay, whose dome hadn't even begun construction. The Seattle Mariners were also listening.

The Orioles beat the White Sox for the Pennant. The ChiSox hadn't won one since 1959, or a World Series since 1917. The Royals had never won a World Series. The Cleveland Indians hadn't won a Pennant since 1954. The Atlanta Braves hadn't won a Pennant or a World Series since 1957 (as the Milwaukee Braves). The Minnesota Twins hadn't won a Pennant since 1965, or a Series since 1924 (as the Washington Senators). The Detroit Tigers hadn't won a Pennant or a Series since 1968. The Mets hadn't won a Pennant since 1973 or a Series since 1969. The Boston Red Sox hadn't won a World Series since 1918, and the New York/San Francisco Giants since 1954. The San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, California Angels, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, had never won a Pennant. The Padres, Blue Jays, Rangers and Seattle Mariners had never even been to the postseason. The Chicago Cubs hadn't been to the postseason since 1945. All those facts have since changed.

Baseball had domed stadiums, but no retractable roofs. Wrigley Field in Chicago did not yet have lights. Of the 26 teams, 10 played on artificial turf. There were lots of black and Hispanic players in the major leagues, but as yet hardly anyone from the Eastern Hemisphere. There was Interleague play, but we called it "spring training" and "the World Series."

The Cubs do still play at Wrigley, albeit frequently under lights, although they still play far more home day games than any other team. Surprisingly, there are only 6 stadiums in use by MLB teams in 1984 that are (barring a disaster) still going to be used in 2015: Wrigley, Kauffman Stadium (then still Royals Stadium), Fenway Park in Boston, the Oakland Coliseum, and the two Los Angeles-area stadiums, Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium of Anaheim).

Smokey Joe Wood, hero of the 1912 World Champion Red Sox, was still alive. So were Fred Thomas, the last survivor of the 1918 World Champion Red Sox; Edd Roush, Hall-of-Famer of the 1919 World Champion Cincinnati Reds; Bill Wambsganss, hero of the 1920 World Champion Indians; and Whitey Witt of the 1st Yankee World Series winners of 1923.

The defining players of my childhood? Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Bench had just retired. Pete Rose probably should have, but he wanted that hit record. Reggie Jackson and Tom Seaver had something left. Mike Schmidt had one more MVP season in him. Nolan Ryan, already the all-time leader in no-hitters and strikeouts, had another 10 seasons, 2 no-hitters and over 2,000 strikeouts in him.

Derek Jeter was 9 years old. Alex Rodriguez was 8, David Ortiz was about to turn 8, Jimmy Rollins was about to turn 5, Robinson Cano and David Wright were about to have their 1st birthday. Miguel Cabrera was 6 months old. Current Oriole star Adam Jones wasn't born yet. Nor were Matt Kemp, Yoenis Cespedes, Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, Masahiro Tanaka, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout or Bryce Harper.

Joe Torre was managing the Braves. Joe Girardi was at Northwestern University. Current Met manager Terry Collins was managing the Dodgers' AAA club. Current Oriole manager Buck Showalter batted .276 for the Double-A Nashville Sounds in 1983, and just .238 for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. He wasn't going to make the Yankees, not because he was a 1st baseman and they already had Don Mattingly, but because he wasn't good enough to make any major league team.

As I said, there was an NFL team in Baltimore, but it was the Colts, not the Ravens. There was one in Houston, but it was the Oilers, not the Texans. There was one in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams. There were 2 teams in Los Angeles, not none like today. The USFL had played its 1st season, and had debuted Herschel Walker and Reggie White. The NBA had a teams in Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City. The NHL had teams in Quebec City and Hartford.

The team the Orioles had dethroned as World Champions was the St. Louis Cardinals (the baseball version). The reigning Super Bowl winners were the Washington Redskins, and complaints about their team name being racist were soft murmurs rather than the outcry of today. The New York Islanders had just begun defense of the Stanley Cup for the 4th year in a row -- they haven't won one since. The defending NBA Champions were the Philadelphia 76ers -- they haven't won one since. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Larry Holmes.

The Olympic Games have been held in America 3 times, Canada twice, Yugoslavia, Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Russia. Yugoslavia has since broken up into 7 countries (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Kosovo and "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), while Russia, in the fall of 1983, was still the main part of the big bad Soviet Union, and it was one of the chillier times in the Cold War.

The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan, and he was doing a terrible job: Not only was the Cold War especially frigid at that point, in large (but not sole) part due to his escalating rhetoric, but unemployment was 8.5 percent, much higher than the 7.1 percent he'd inherited from the unfairly maligned Jimmy Carter.

George Bush was his Vice President -- we generally didn't add the "H.W." initials until his son, George W., became President.  George W. was drinking like a fish and running an energy company into the ground. Bill Clinton was in his 2nd term as Governor of Arkansas. Barack Obama was at Harvard Law School. Former Presidents Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, and their wives, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, were still alive.

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo. The current Governor, his son Andrew, was one of his policy advisors. The Mayor of New York, uh, was, uh, Ed Koch. The current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, was studying at New York University, and was still using his birth name, Warren Wilhelm Jr. The Governor of New Jersey was Tom Kean. The current Governor, Chris Christie, was a student at the University of Delaware. The Governor of the Orioles' home State, Maryland, was Harry Hughes. The current Governor, Martin O'Malley, was attending the Catholic University of America in Washington, and working on the Presidential campaign of Senator Gary Hart. The Mayor of Baltimore was William Donald "Dud" Schaefer. The current Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, was in junior high school.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau. The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. Liverpool were the holders of the Football League title, Manchester United of the FA Cup.

Major novels of 1983 included Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins, On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett, Ironweed by William Kennedy and The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre.

This was the year of the blockbuster film sequel, including Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Superman III, Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (the working title had been Smokey IS the Bandit, which is essentially the plot, with Sheriff Justice taking up the Enoses' latest challenge, and Burt Reynolds only appears at the end), the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact (introducing Clint Eastwood's line "Go ahead, make my day"), the Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive, and battling James Bond films, the official Octopussy with Roger Moore and the unofficial Never Say Never Again with a one-time-only return for Sean Connery.

This was the year Tom Cruise became a star with All the Right Moves and Risky BusinessEddie and the Cruisers and The Big Chill helped to launch the 1960s nostalgia wave that didn't quite catch on in the late 1970s with film versions of Beatlemania and Hair. Brainstorm, Natalie Wood's last film, delayed because of her death 2 years earlier, finally premiered. October 1983 also saw the premieres of film versions of Stephen King's The Dead Zone and Tom Wolfe's Mercury astronaut drama The Right Stuff.

Major TV shows that had just debuted included the M*A*S*H spinoff AfterMASH, Webster, Scarecrow & Mrs. King, the game show Love Connection, The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, the cartoon Inspector Gadget, a new cartoon version of Alvin and the Chipmunks, a cartoon that took G.I. Joe into a far less wholesome direction.

NBC debuted a bunch of new series that turned out to be laughably bad. These included The Rousters, with Chad Everett as the leader of a family of carnival promoters that was descended from Wild West hero Wyatt Earp, including a crazy brother played by Jim Varney (basically doing his Ernest P. Worrell character) and a crazier mother played by Maxine Stuart that made Granny Clampett look like Jessica Fletcher. Hoyt Axton and Mimi Rogers also starred on this turkey, which NBC said was "going to sink The Love Boat."

NBC also tried to copy Three's Company, only instead of a guy chef with 2 women, 1 of them a bouncy blonde, We Got It Made was a bouncy blonde maid with 2 guys. That was less ridiculous than Bay City Blues, a bad show about a bad minor-league baseball team. (The fact that the baseball season and the TV season don't match up well is a big reason why, unlike football and basketball, there's never really been a successful TV show about baseball.) More ridiculous still was Mr. Smith, about an orangutan in a science lab that got exposed to radiation and developed an I.Q. over 200, making him smarter than the scientists working on him. But that was still better than Manimal, with Simon MacCorkindale as a shapeshifter. Was that supposed to be NBC's attempt to copy The Incredible Hulk? If so, it didn't work, and it remains a pop-culture joke on the level of My Mother the Car from the '60s and Cop Rock from the '90s.

R.E.M. made its TV debut on Late Night with David Letterman. The following month, 2 shattering programs were broadcast: ABC's nuclear thriller The Day After, and Sesame Street's episode discussing the death of Mr. Hooper (whose portrayer, Will Lee, had died a year earlier).

Michael Jackson was riding the crest of Thriller, and was now the biggest pop-culture star in the world. The Clash fired guitarist Mick Jones. Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott had to apologize for his onstage remark that El Paso, Texas was "that place with all the greasy Mexicans."

Cyndi Lauper released She's So Unusual, featuring "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Time After Time." John Mellencamp released Uh-Huh, featuring "Pink Houses." KISS released Lick It Up, and appeared in public without their makeup for the first time. Motley Crue released Shout at the Devil. Quiet Riot's Metal Health was about to become the 1st metal album to top Billboard magazine's album charts. Billy Joel was riding the success of An Innocent Man, The Police of Synchronicity. The Number 1 song in America was "Total Eclipse of the Heart," sung by Bonnie Tyler, written by Jim Steinman.

The first analog cellular system widely deployed in North America was introduced in October 1983: The Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS). There were personal computers, but almost nobody had yet heard of the Internet. Even VCRs weren't in every home yet. Home video games were a battle between the Atari 5200 SuperSytem and ColecoVision -- Nintendo's systems were yet to come. Chrysler introduced the 1st minivan, the Dodge Caravan.

In October 1983, a U.S. Marine barracks was blown up by terrorists in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 305 people, including 241 Marines. Two days later, another group of Marines invaded Grenada, settling things down there after the overthrow and assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Argentina held a democratic election, ending 7 years of brutal military rule. And a pair of close calls nearly leads the Soviets to launch a nuclear first strike.

Knute Rockne, All-American star Pat O'Brien, and NFL founder George Halas, and Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones, 3rd baseman for the 1950 Phillies' "Whiz Kids," died. Jesse Eisenberg, and Joey Votto, and Zack Greinke were born.

October 16, 1983, 31 years ago today: The Baltimore Orioles were World Champions. They haven't even won a Pennant since.

And if they can't defend their house in the postseason, another Pennant might be a long time in coming.

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