Sign-off begins with announcers Harwell's presence adds to nostalgia

October 05, 1991|By Peter Schmuck

Perhaps it was providential that the Detroit Tigers would join the Baltimore Orioles for the final weekend at Memorial Stadium. Longtime broadcaster Ernie Harwell had to wonder.

He was the original voice of the fledgling Orioles in 1954. Now, he is in the last of 32 years with the Tigers, so the weekend figures to be a double-barreled trip down memory lane.

"I guess I've kind of come full circle," said Harwell, who was honored along with Chuck Thompson, Tom Marr, Rex Barney and Jon Miller in pre-game ceremonies last night. "It's important to me to be here for the final games. I was here for the first game, so it's something that I'll enjoy being a part of."

The evening began with a series of pre-game awards presentations. Cal Ripken, perhaps the only Oriole who can truly call this a season to remember, carried away an armful of trophies, which came as a surprise to no one who watched him fashion the best all-around year of his career.

But the first night of festivities on this final weekend focused largely on the past. The Orioles paid tribute to the International League Orioles who played in Baltimore from early in the century until the St. Louis Browns moved here for the 1954 season. Then the club honored the men who have carried Orioles baseball to the masses for the past 38 seasons.

Harwell was on hand for the first game at Memorial Stadium, a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox. He continued to broadcast Orioles games until the Tigers persuaded him to move to Detroit in 1960. Tomorrow, he will broadcast the last game here and his last game with the Tigers. Full circle, indeed.

"It's sort of a topsy-turvy weekend," Harwell said. "There has been an inordinate amount of attention paid to my situation. Either I work or I retire. Either one is fine."

Thompson received the loudest ovation during the pre-game salute, which featured favorite calls from the past by each of the broadcasters who were being honored. Thompson, the voice of the Orioles and the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, paid a personal tribute to the late Bill O'Donnell, who was his partner in the broadcast booth for more than 20 years.

The program did not come off without a glitch. It was delayed several minutes when the on-field microphone went dead. But the crowd of 47,983 had come here for nostalgia, not technical excellence. No one seemed disappointed.

Barney remained in the press box to announce the pre-game program, but got a standing ovation when he was introduced by Miller. The four broadcasters on the field took part in a quadruple first-ball ceremony before the Orioles took the field for the first of three games against the Tigers that would hold little intrigue if it weren't the last series in a retiring stadium.

"I've seen a lot of parks go," Harwell said, "but this is a bit different. All of the other parks were much older than this. They had outlived their usefulness more than this one. But there's still a lot of nostalgia here. It's always sad when you pull away from a ballpark."

Last night's game was followed by a fireworks display that was billed as the most spectacular pyrotechnic display ever at Memorial Stadium, but last night apparently was only the beginning.

The series resumes today and so do the extracurricular activities. The Orioles' all-time greatest lineup will be introduced during pre-game ceremonies. During the game, the club will give away 200 prizes -- some of them one-of-a-kind items from in and around the stadium -- to highlight Fan Appreciation Day.

Club officials have been tight-lipped about much of the final-day celebration, except to say that it will be full of surprises for tomorrow's sellout crowd. The pre-game program will include two Dixieland bands, a Caribbean calypso band and the Colts Marching Band. The first-ball ceremony will include Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas. The festivities figure to be dripping with nostalgia, and the Orioles are just hopeful that's all that is dripping at gametime.

The weather forecast for the weekend includes the possibility of some showers tonight and tomorrow morning, but the skies are expected to clear by the early afternoon.

Tomorrow's events

Gates open: 12:05 p.m.

Game time: 2:05 p.m.

Entertainment: Two Dixieland bands and a Calypso band will perform songs, including "Come To Birdland."

Colts Marching Band: The band will perform before the game and play the final national anthem.

1954 team introduced: Six members from the first Orioles team -- Bob Turley, Billy Hunter, Joe Durham, Gil Coan, Chuck Diering and Billy O'Dell -- will be honored before the game.

Elrod Hendricks honored: Hendricks has spent more games in )) an Orioles uniform at Memorial Stadium than any other player (1,771).

First pitch: Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas will handle the honors. Robinson will throw a baseball, and Unitas will throw a football.

Final-day giveaway: The grand prize of the season is a 7-day cruise for 2 to the Mexican Riviera.

Post-game: (almost immediately after the final out) The farewell tribute should last about 45 minutes.

A part of the activities will involve ceremonially transplanting home plate from Memorial Stadium to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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