Orioles are sending stadium out in championship style

John Steadman

June 26, 1991|By John Steadman

Nostalgia plays well for the Baltimore Orioles, who take justifiable pride in what has been a glorious past and the myriad of heroes who passed in review. It's regrettable that their most famous discovery, Babe Ruth, isn't still with us because he'd no doubt be invited for what would be a command performance.

The Orioles are to be commended for thinking with profound recall of what to do in their final season at Memorial Stadium. They have focused attention on a varied selection of some of the historic events that transpired in the 37 years the reborn American League franchise has played there. Before that, the International League team was based in the stadium from 1944 through 1953.

It's an exciting replay of the past . . . such as Frank Robinson hitting the 499th and 500th home runs of his career and native son Al Kaline collecting his 3,000th hit in Baltimore while playing for the Detroit Tigers. Yes, the Orioles are conversant with achievements by the opposition. They, too, can't be minimized.

Plans are to have Tom Cheney of the Washington Senators commemorate his 16-inning pitching performance, when he struck out 21 Orioles. There's even hope of having Dr. George Medich, a pitcher for the Texas Rangers, now a Pittsburgh physician, who went into the stands during batting practice to revive a fan stricken with a heart seizure, one Germain Languth, who the Orioles, so far, have been unsuccessful in locating.

Jim Palmer's no-hitter in 1969 and Reggie Jackson's sixth home run in as many games will be spotlighted, plus a return of four 20-game winners in 1971 -- Dave McNally, Pat Dobson, Mike Cuellar and Palmer, for what will mark another happy occasion. It's a fond ongoing salute to Memorial Stadium that so many illustrious names have been invited to return for an encore.

This Friday, Doug DeCinces, who hit a two-out, two-on home run in the ninth inning in 1977 to defeat the Tigers, will be spotlighted. The club points to the moment as being responsible for creating a spiritual experience known as "Oriole Magic." Not to be forgotten, either, is the night in 1983 when Tippy Martinez, with an emergency catcher, Lenn Sakata, retired the Toronto Blue Jays by picking off three straight runners from first base in the same inning.

Already this year, the Orioles have had Bob Turley and Virgil "Fire" Trucks, pitching rivals in the first major-league game played here in 51 years, the opener of 1954, throw out ceremonial pitches. And then, too, appearances have been made by Tom Phoebus, to mark his no-hit game; Harmon Killebrew's tape-measured home run to centerfield; and Bobby Grich's three home runs in one game, the only time an Oriole was able to do it in Memorial Stadium.

Rocky Colavito, then of the Cleveland Indians, hit four home runs against the Orioles in 1959 but isn't interested in being a part of this marvelous mosaic of memorable moments. He declined the invitation but the show, indeed, goes on.

It would be fitting if the Orioles would consider some identity with the 1944 team, the first to play in Memorial Stadium, after dilapidated Oriole Park mercifully went up in flames. The Orioles won the pennant, playoff and Junior World Series. They sparked enthusiasm by drawing a then minor-league record crowd of 52,833 for a game against the Louisville Colonels.

Also the fact the Colts were occupants of the same facility. The Orioles haven't established a format but it seems something will be done to provide a reunion of sorts for John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker and Art Donovan, four Hall of Fame members who live in Baltimore, even though the organization stole away to another city.

Most of the season-long program that ties into the history of the Orioles in Memorial Stadium is the result of a combined effort by Bob Brown, Rick Vaughn, Dr. Charles Steinberg and Evelyn Ehlers, the granddaughter of Art Ehlers, the team's first general manager.

"It's something the Orioles wanted to do before leaving Memorial Stadium," explained Vaughn. The appearance of the players hasn't been underwritten by a commercial sponsor. It's a club expense and is a lead in to the grand finale that, no doubt, will be a spectacular show.

What's been seen so far has been exhilarating and represents a cross-section of accomplishments by Orioles and visiting players. The best is yet to come.

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