Better late than never, Bumbry comes home

October 25, 1994|By KEN ROSETHAL

In December 1985, The Sun reported, "Bumbry will rejoin Orioles organization."

There are worse blunders.

We were nine years early.

The Orioles are nine years late.

Actually, Al Bumbry rejoined the organization last season as a minor-league instructor. But only yesterday did he get the job he should have had long ago -- on the major-league staff.

Bumbry, 47, will be the Orioles' first base coach next season, finally.

Indeed, it was no small embarrassment when he made the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1987 while working for the -- gulp -- Boston Red Sox.

Bumbry spent eight years with Boston, eight years helping a division rival when he should have been working for his former team.

But don't blame old No. 1.

The Orioles offered to make Bumbry a minor-league instructor and public relations assistant after his retirement in 1985. They just forgot to offer him a reasonable salary, that's all.

Reasonable, heck, the Orioles' offer fell somewhere between insulting and disgusting.

The Red Sox gave Bumbry $35,000 to be a minor-league instructor. The New York Mets and New York Yankees also offered more money than the Orioles under former general manager Hank Peters.

How far did Peters sink?

Under $30,000? Under $20,000?

Try $12,500.

"That's somewhere in the neighborhood," Bumbry said yesterday.

After firing Peters in 1987, late owner Edward Bennett Williams cited racism as a "deadly illness" ravaging the Orioles. Bumbry ,, might not have been Exhibit A, but $12,500?

The offer spoke for itself.

"I was a little bit upset," Bumbry said. "But that was, what, 10 years ago? I've pretty much put that in the back of my mind."

If anything, Bumbry was more bitter at Peters for releasing him in 1984 than for sending him into a decade-long exile.

Bumbry hit .270 in '84, John Shelby .209. Bumbry was 37, Shelby the center fielder of the future. Bumbry . . .

Ah, never mind.

The "B" is back.

Back in Baltimore, where he belongs.

"He went above and beyond, on and off the field," pitching coach Mike Flanagan said. "He was as true blue an Oriole as they come."

Bumbry, Flanagan, Elrod Hendricks, Lee May -- together, they played in nine World Series as Orioles. Now, they're reunited on Phil Regan's staff.

"He [Bumbry] has always been an Oriole, even when he was gone," Hendricks said. "He never said, 'You guys.' He'd still talk about 'we.' "

Bumbry was the first Oriole to collect 200 hits in a season, and in 12 seasons with the club, became its all-time stolen-base leader.

He was a player who would run extra sprints if he ate dessert the previous night -- and was an equally tireless worker in the community, making last-minute appearances when others backed out.

Years after Bumbry left for Boston, former club president Larry Lucchino would tell him, "You should be in an Orioles uniform." But until yesterday, it was an elusive goal.

Bumbry served two years in the minors with the Red Sox, then six as their first base coach. Orioles GM Roland Hemond asked permission to interview him after the 1987 season. The Red Sox declined.

By then, Bumbry was on the major-league staff and felt a sense of loyalty. He survived the firings of managers John McNamara and Joe Morgan, only to be removed from Butch Hobson's staff in '93.

Bumbry reportedly didn't work hard, but the Orioles saw just the opposite last season at Double-A Bowie. He helped polish Alex Ochoa and Curtis Goodwin and aided in the development of Bo Ortiz, the outfielder the Orioles traded for Dwight Smith.

"A lot of ex-major-leaguers don't want to pay the price of going back to the minors," assistant GM Frank Robinson said. "He was willing to do it -- and do it with his head up."

Bumbry said the return to the minors was difficult, but described the experience as "more satisfying and more enjoyable than I anticipated it would be."

Three weeks ago, he sent Hemond a resume, assuming nothing. He never sold his home in Lutherville. Now, he's back in Baltimore, back where he belongs.

"In '89, the Red Sox opened the season with the Orioles, and when I got introduced, only a couple of Orioles players got louder applause," Bumbry said. "The Red Sox players couldn't understand that.

"I always felt I had a special relationship with the fans. Even when I had a bad game, I didn't hear the boo-birds. And I still get choked up talking about the parade and how the fans responded after we lost the '79 World Series."

Opening Day '95?

"I'm sure it will be an emotional time," Bumbry said.

Emotional, and overdue.

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