Memories bat 1.000 as Oriole fans look back 25 years

June 20, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

The little combo on the stadium parking lot stopped playing long enough yesterday to remember 1966, the year Baltimore had a winning team.

Back then, the guy on the accordion lost an eye to cancer, the trumpet player was picking up spare scratch blowing jazz in strip joints, and the tuba man was just a kid of 2.

Yesterday, Bob Crow, Don Arnold and Jay Miles came together as the Tony D Trio to play oompah music and fight songs for the 44,732 people who arrived at 33rd Street for a journey through the past.

Because yesterday at the old brick ball yard in Waverly it was 1966 again, and they threw a wingding to celebrate the quarter-century since the home team first became champions of the baseball world.

"Everybody knows 1966," said Bob Crow, an accordion strapped around his neck. "That's when the Orioles started winning."

The Orioles lost yesterday, but the ballplayers wore the team's old uniforms, the bright white jerseys with the club's name across the chest in friendly orange script.

Every fan got a '66 cap, the great ones with the smiling Oriole face that came to personify "the Bird" and the team.

Popcorn cost 25 cents, and the public address system boomed "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles.

On the parking lot, the Tony D Trio played the Colts fight song and was asked to play it over again because in 1966, before and after the Orioles' stunning sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, Baltimore was a football town.

"Oh man, Charles Street was still in a boom then with places like Ruby Koker's Blue Room," said Don Arnold, the trumpet player. "It was a better town in some ways if you were a musician. You had a lot of groups playing in clubs. But there was nothing below Baltimore Street downtown, and now you've got the Inner Harbor."

In 1966, Pratt Street remained a stretch of rotting wharves remembered by Jack Kerouac as a bum's flop on a par with New York's Bowery; the bleachers at the stadium were made of wood and it cost 75 cents to get a sunburn on them; and the Baltimore Orioles traded for a slugger named Frank Robinson, who turned a good team into a great one.

Jeff Kleeman was 12, and he had his ear up against a transistor radio to catch every minute of it.

"It was the greatest thing in the world, and I remember it like it was yesterday," said Mr. Kleeman, an accountant who watched the game yesterday from a box seat near home plate.

"Every night I'd be listening to the radio like it was all I was living for, and it was exciting to be a part of the first championship.

"I didn't get to go to too many games, but I remember they had a safety patrol day and kids who were school safeties could get in free. I was never a safety, but I pretended I was, and they let me in, and I got to see a Saturday afternoon game.

"And then, somehow, my Dad got tickets to the last Series game against the Dodgers, and I remember the last catch in center field by Paul Blair," Mr. Kleeman said. "The place just went nuts."

William Donald Schaefer was a city councilman from West Baltimore, Stu Kerr was "Mr. Fortune" on "Dialing for Dollars," and Jewel Trimble was at Memorial Stadium to see Paul Blair make that sweet last out in center field.

Did the place go wild?

"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Trimble, a 76-year-old widow from Brooklyn Park who still drives to Orioles games by herself for afternoons at the ballpark. "Very much so."

Olin and Myrna McLaughlin lived in the same house over in Edgemere near Sparrows Point back then, when they were both 45 years old and there was a lot more open space on their street, not as many houses around as there are today.

"We had our first grandchild in '66," Mrs. McLaughlin said.

"And celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary," her husband said.

They have come to many Orioles games since the team arrived from St. Louis in 1954, but they remember Memorial Stadium mostly as the house that rocked with the blue and white of the Baltimore Colts.

"In our living room we have pictures of this stadium from the outside and the inside," Mrs. McLaughlin said. "And in between them is a picture of Johnny Unitas."

Donna Beth Joy Shapiro was a skinny-legged cutie with long braids when she went to her first baseball game at age 7 in 1966, when, she says, "the city was a lot cleaner and a lot safer."

Her mother, Charlotte, was the big fan in the family, and when she wasn't bringing Donna Beth to Memorial Stadium for home games, she was home "jumping up and down on a green stuffed chair we had in the living room that she destroyed going nuts whenever the Orioles made a big play. She was the fan.

"I had such a fun time coming here with my Mom, and now they're going to [abandon the stadium], and it just makes me angry."

The stadium won't be home to the Orioles after this year, and Charlotte Shapiro has passed on, but a part of her lives through her daughter, who has taken up one of her mother's habits.

"On rainy nights when there's an out-of-town game on the radio, I sit and listen to Chuck Thompson and knit, and it's the most relaxing thing in the world, such a soothing thing to do," she said. "There's nothing like Chuck's voice -- nothing."

The old-timers in the Tony D Trio remember the differences in Baltimore between the year the Orioles were perched on top of the baseball world with a 41-21 record on June 19, 1966, and yesterday morning, when they were a half-game from the cellar at 23-39.

But Mr. Kleeman said the city still has the same heart.

"It's still a very provincial town, and people still take a lot of pride in the team, anything that's got Baltimore on it or anything Baltimore is known for," he said. "People still take a lot of pride in what Baltimore is."

And that is?

"Home," said Mr. Kleeman.

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