O's should start last opener like first one, with Turley on mound

John Steadman

November 02, 1990|By John Steadman

WHAT THE Baltimore Orioles are hoping to do is create a mood of fun, frolic, excitement and nostalgia. Much like the glorious occasion when the American League returned to the city in 1954 after an absence of 51 years. This means that Opening Day, 1991, is going to be a special presentation. Another momentous moment to remember.

They will be playing the Chicago White Sox on April 8, which means the teams on the field will be of the same name as in the 1954 opener, but a different vintage. It'll mark the beginning of the end of the Orioles' final season at Memorial Stadium.

The Orioles are making plans to try to duplicate the scene. Throwing out the ceremonial first ball is a honor that should not be taken lightly. Such a distinction deserves to be bestowed upon the man who made the initial pitch for the club in that 1954 encounter with the White Sox.

His name is Bob Turley, originally signed by the St. Louis Browns and transferred to Baltimore with the franchise. He wanted to stay here, much the same as Babe Ruth, but baseball being the transient game it is, he was traded to the New York Yankees. But Turley delivered a masterful performance in that unforgettable opening game.

He won by a score of 3-1, struck out nine and only gave up seven hits. Line drive home runs were hit by Vern "Junior" Stephens and Clint Courtney. Present in the crowd of 46,354 spectators were vice president Richard M. Nixon, baseball commissioner Ford Frick and Rodger H. Pippen, sports editor of the News-Post, the man who led the crusade to return Baltimore to the majors.

But the name that was mentioned more prominently than any other was that of Turley, whose nickname of "Bullet Bob" symbolized the speed he could turn loose from his strong, smooth righthanded delivery. It was Turley who gave the Orioles their first significant performance leader. He showed the way by topping the league in strikeouts, with 185 in 247 innings -- 30 more than runner-up Early Wynn of the Cleveland Indians.

Turley's effort was highly commendable, winning 14 and losing 15 for a club that was poor offensively and, at one distressing stretch, lost 14 straight games. "But that Baltimore season means much to me, personally," says Turley. "I liked the city and the people so much. But, just like with Babe Ruth, not that I would ever compare myself to him, but the Orioles had to trade me away to get wholesale help to fill other positions."

Some members of that initial starting lineup have been called to the Great Game in the Sky, such names as Bobby Young, Eddie Waitkus, Vic Wertz, Stephens and Courtney, among others, but Turley has followed closely the progress of the Orioles.

He would never be presumptuous to suggest the Orioles designate him as their link to the past but Billy Hunter, who played shortstop in the Baltimore opener, hails it as an outstanding suggestion. Hunter, now the athletic director at Towson State, said "Gee, that would certainly be appropriate," when the idea was tested on him.

More importantly, Larry Lucchino, president of the Orioles, is receptive. But he explained the organization would wait until February before finalizing plans for the last Opening Day in Memorial Stadium, before moving to their new facility. "We have to stay flexible," he said. "[General manager] Roland Hemond had mentioned that a friend passed along the suggestion. Just say Bob Turley's name is currently No. 1 on a short list."

Lucchino, Hemond and the Orioles' front office are cognizant that Turley has been one of baseball's most remarkable success stories after leaving the game and entering private business. Last year, he built a $6 million house, encompassing five levels and 37,000 square feet of space, at his Marco Island, Fla., residence.

The final game in Memorial Stadium, which will be played Oct. 6, 1991, has the Detroit Tigers as an opponent. This is significant in that Ernie Harwell, who was the Orioles' first major-league play-by-play announcer, will be here with the Tigers and could have a role, along with Chuck Thompson, in the stadium farewell ceremonies.

Then spotlight the club's farewell stadium program to include the team's three Hall of Fame performers, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer. Put Brooks at third base, Frank in rightfield and Palmer on the mound for what would be one last throw for old times' sake by each of them. Then play "Auld Lang Syne" and get on with the move to the new ballpark.

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