Recalling Brooks, Scraps and sweeps: magical memories of Memorial Stadium


April 21, 1991|By BOB MAISEL

With the Orioles in their final year at Memorial Stadium, a gu who has been closely related with the previous 37 seasons, and who covered many of the games for this paper, can't help but have a ton of memories stored away.

As I sat down to recall some of them for this piece, I purposely didn't do any formal research, or compile a list, because I wanted to let the memory bank take over and see what came out.

The first thing I thought about was what a privilege and pleasure it was to be there to follow the careers of Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, from the first time they put on an Orioles uniform through the farewell days of appreciation they were given at the end. Being a sort of sentimental slob, I had very sizable tears running down at those goodbye affairs.

Not only great players, but good guys, Brooks and Jimmy, and they put down roots, became solid citizens here, giving something back to a community that gave so much to them.

The first world championship in 1966, and the way it was won, stands out now. The Dodgers were favored, so how could anybody expect the Orioles to sweep?

The last out and the celebration that followed were something to see. There was Dave McNally, protecting a 1-0 lead, saying to himself, "I hope they hit it to Brooks," and Brooks admitting later to telling himself, "I hope they don't hit it to me." What actually happened was a high, lazy fly to center that Paul Blair easily took care of. Brooks sailed through the air, landing on McNally, as Andy Etchebarren joined them, then all hell broke loose near the mound. Terrific!

The 1970 World Series, which turned into a personal showcase for Brooks, was a kick. During those five games against the Reds, he had a chance to make every great play we had seen him make over a period of years -- diving left, diving right, coming in, going back, and he made them all. He also hit .429, with two home runs.

Frank Robinson's Triple Crown year of 1966, along with the only fair ball to be hit out of Memorial Stadium, will never be forgotten.

Having the opportunity to observe closely two great baseball men in action -- Paul Richards and Earl Weaver -- was another privilege. Richards built the foundation that made the Orioles a standout organization, and Weaver got as much out of his material as any manager ever.

Some seemingly fairly trivial stuff comes back now. Rocky Colavito appears in two scenes for me from the early days. Remember how the first row of boxes stood about 10 to 15 feet above field level before another row was installed later? And, there was an iron bar fronting the top of those boxes, serving as a railing.

Colavito had as strong an arm as any outfielder I've ever seen, but it wasn't always the most accurate. Early Wynn was pitching this day, and an Oriole was advancing from first to third on a single to right. The Rock, trying to nail him, let loose a mortar shot that was so high all the way that the third baseman, and Wynn, who was backing up the play, just stood and looked up as if following the flight of a plane.

The ball hit -- boooinng -- off the iron bar atop the box railing and caromed hard back toward second base. Wynn cupped his hands, yelled something, and later the infielders laughed. After the game I asked Wynn, "What was that all about?" He grinned and said, "I yelled, 'Cut it off, before Rock gets it again.' I thought he might throw the next one up in the seats."

Then there was the night Colavito hit four home runs, each longer than the other. Years later I asked him about the two incidents. He said, "I don't remember the throw, but the homers came on June 10, 1959." Selective recall.

Maybe there was never a more exciting evening in the old yard than Sept. 20, 1961, the night Roger Maris came into the game with 58 home runs. In the third inning he hit No. 59 off Milt Pappas, leaving him one short of tying Babe Ruth in the Babe's hometown. The air was charged from then on. Dick Hall struck Maris out in the fourth. He later hit several long foul drives to right that had the crowd on its feet, before flying deep to right in the seventh off Hall. A Robinson went back and caught it -- no, not Frank, but Earl. Remember him?

Then, with one more shot, and the whole place on edge, Maris dribbled a knuckleball from Hoyt Wilhelm back to the mound in the ninth and it was over.

Wilhelm pitching the Orioles' first no-hitter; Clint Courtney, alias Old Scraps, stalking a foul fly with that big mitt Richards designed for catchers to handle better Wilhelm's flutterball, looking for all the world like a waiter carrying a tray of pizzas . . . on and on.

Something I didn't see in Memorial Stadium also comes back now. After watching disgraceful demonstrations in Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, where fans (?) used exceptional onfield success by their teams as an excuse to riot, loot, plunder, tear up the field and everything else in sight, it's good to look back and be able to say nothing like that has happened in Memorial Stadium. May future generations be able to say the same about the new one.

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