Kiddie Korps came of age in 1960

ORIOLES GREATEST MOMENTS

July 06, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

The Orioles trailed the Yankees by just .001 when the crucial four-game series began Sept. 16 in New York. When it ended, they trailed by four games.

For the Yankees, the series triggered a 15-game winning streak that carried them into the 1960 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the Orioles, audacious enough to challenge Casey Stengel's bullies, it marked their first pennant race experience.

"That was as exciting a time as I ever had in baseball," said pitcher Jack Fisher, who had a 12-11 record that year.

Although the Orioles wound up eight games behind the Yankees, their second-place finish was by far their best since they returned to the American League in 1954. They were sixth the previous two seasons and never higher than fifth.

"We were all kind of pleased we had made that much progress in only our seventh season," said farm director Harry Dalton. "We had gotten within two weeks of winning the pennant."

The team put together by manager Paul Richards and general manager Lee MacPhail included seven rookies and 10 front-line players in their 20s. The Orioles first demonstrated their impudence by sweeping three games from the Yankees on May 31 to June 2, as Jerry Walker decisioned Whitey Ford in the opener, Hal "Skinny" Brown pitched a one-hitter in the second game and Gene Woodling, then 37, won the finale with an eighth-inning home run.

"I felt like a grandfather with all those kids," Woodling said. "There we were, sixth the year before, going for a pennant. It was one of my most exciting times in baseball."

Brooks Robinson, who had 88 RBIs and a .294 average, became the team leader at 23. Shortstop Ron Hansen was the AL's Rookie of the Year and led the club in home runs (22), and first baseman Jim Gentile drove in a then-Orioles-record 98 runs. The infield was peppered with three rookies -- Gentile, Hansen and second baseman Marv Breeding.

The Kiddie Korps was complete with the addition of Chuck Estrada, 22; Steve Barber, 21; and Wes Stock, 26. The Orioles had six pitchers -- including Walker, Milt Pappas and Fisher -- in their early to mid-20s. With 18 wins, Estrada was the AL's Rookie Pitcher of the Year and Barber, from Takoma Park, was 10-7 after making the jump from Class D to the majors.

The highlight of the season was a three-game sweep of the Yankees in Baltimore on Sept. 2-4 that drew 114,000 fans.

The first two games were shutouts, Pappas beating Ford on Friday night with a three-hitter and Fisher spinning a seven-hitter Saturday, as Robinson drove in both runs. In Sunday's finale, Estrada had a no-hit bid until Bill Skowron singled with two outs in the seventh.

"Everybody was fired up after that," Dalton said. "We figured we were in great shape for the series in New York."

With less than a month left, the Orioles had a two-game lead. They led by a fraction of a percentage point when they headed for New York for the four-game series.

"We took all our employees to New York on a chartered bus," MacPhail said. "It would have been great had they had anything to cheer about."

In the opener, Ford beat Barber, 4-2, and the next day Jim Coates decisioned Estrada, 5-3. The Yankees swept Sunday's doubleheader, 7-3 and 2-0.

"All four were gut-wrenchers," catcher Gus Triandos said.

The Orioles' inexperience showed. Robinson recalls that he and Hansen were pictured in the New York Times colliding under a pop fly that dropped in for a hit.

"There were errors by some of our great players," outfielder Albie Pearson said. "We almost did it, but we just couldn't beat them."

The 1960 race raised expectations and gave birth to the slogan: "It can be done in '61." It wasn't, though, as the Orioles finished third, 14 games behind.

Remembering the moment

"The Yankees were pretty hard to beat in those days. I thought we'd be able to take care of them, but after losing in New York, we were so far behind we couldn't catch up."

-- First baseman Bob Boyd

"After 1958, I kept getting hurt, and it was Brooks Robinson, Ron Hansen and Jim Gentile who did all the damage that year. But it was nice to be part of the Orioles' first pennant race."

-- Catcher Gus Triandos

"All four of those losses in New York were close. Both teams had good pitching. Who knows why we didn't win? It wasn't inexperience, choking or pressure. They just happened to beat us."

-- Shortstop Ron Hanse

"Paul Richards had all those kids -- except me."

-- Gene Woodling, the Orioles' 38-year-old outfielder

"In the newspapers, writers wondered why the Orioles didn't pitch veterans like me and [Hoyt] Wilhelm instead of the kids in a pressure-filled series like that."

-- Pitcher Hal "Skinny" Brown

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