The Baltimore Orioles' return to the American League after an absence of 51 years was a momentous moment. Tom Phoebus, then a child, was so impressed with the celebration he still remembers where he watched the parade: Charles and 24th streets.
Phoebus, a student at St. Philip & St. James Parochial School, dared not to dream. He helped cheer the players as they rode past in open cars and aboard floats on Opening Day 1954.
He didn't realize it then, but Tom was to create a baseball identity for himself and with the Orioles, his hometown team, right there in Memorial Stadium, which was easy walking distance from the neighborhood where he was raised.
Now today, at age 48, he steps forward for enrollment in the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, joining such elite hometown heroes as Babe Ruth, Al Kaline, Bob Williams, Tommy Byrne, Jack Scarbath, Tommy Thomas, Harry Jeffra, Calvin Hill and others. Phoebus was a major-league pitcher seven years, five as an Oriole. After finishing his career with the San Diego Padres and then the Chicago Cubs in 1972, Phoebus' record stood at 56-52 with a 3.33 earned run average.
But he is best remembered for his no-hitter in 1968 against the Boston Red Sox.
It was an occasion when a substitute catcher, Curt Blefary, by trade an outfielder, handled him for what evolved into a record book event. "I remember how strong I felt that day," said Phoebus. "The last batter was Joe Foy. My final pitch was a slider that didn't break. It took off like a fastball. By the time Foy swung, the ball was in the catcher's mitt."
No-hitters were a part of Phoebus' past. In high school, at Mount St. Joseph's, he blanked Southern High on an afternoon when he posted 15 strikeouts. Four more no-hitters came with the Leone's Boys Club and then there was still another with the Rochester Red Wings.
Mention of Mount St. Joe brings fond recall. "I can't say enough for the education I got from the Xaverian Brothers who founded the school over 100 years ago," Phoebus said. "I realize this more than ever since now I'm a teacher. Brother Clyde made me a pitcher with the junior varsity and on the varsity I had John Plevyak, our coach and a nice man who knew baseball.
"He gave me a lot of encouragement and once made a statement I was the best pitcher in the city and state. That was at a time when Baltimore had Don Gallon, John Miller, John O'Connor and Dave Jones. They were all outstanding young pitchers. His encouragement really helped me."
Phoebus says one of the Leone teams he played on won 103 games, lost only four and took championships in five different leagues. "Walter Youse and George Henderson were excellent coaches. It was Henderson who took me to the Orioles in 1960 for a workout. I signed for a bonus of $6,500 and a stipulation I'd get $4,000 more if I made the big-league roster."
It took six years of perseverance in the minors, which tells much about the determination of Phoebus. Symbolic, too, is that in 1985, at age 39, he went back to college, the University of South Florida, and drove 104 miles a day, round trip, for classes to earn a degree.
He's qualified to teach physical education from kindergarten through high school and is working in Port St. Lucie, Fla., at the elementary level. Only a few of his pupils realize he's a former major-league pitcher who authored a no-hitter and won a 1970 World Series game.
"When I think about baseball I always remember my coaches, Harry Brecheen, George Bamberger and Rae Scarborough, and
managers Hank Bauer and Earl Weaver," Phoebus said. "They all helped me. Bauer called me at home when I was a rookie and asked if I had eaten yet. I told him I just had a hamburger. He said you better go back and have a steak because you're pitching tonight."
So Phoebus went out to face the California Angels, in the same stadium where he had cheered the Orioles in earlier years. It was easy to pitch with the Orioles then, he says, considering they had such a superb infield: Brooks Robinson (who made a brilliant play on Rico Petrocelli to save the no-hitter), Mark Belanger, Dave Johnson and John "Boog" Powell, plus Paul Blair in centerfield.
That coming out party in Baltimore before family and friends is a precious recollection. He pitched a shutout against the Angels in the park where he used to watch games as a child holding a 60-cent ticket in the bleachers.
He was thrilled to be there, to be an Oriole, and now comes another achievement, a place of perpetuity in his home state's Athletic Hall of Fame.