O's took memorable route to bring first World Series title to Baltimore


Orioles got their kicks in '66

40 years later

September 24, 2006|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun reporter

Forty years ago last week, the Orioles bagged a pennant and threw themselves a party. For three hours, the new American League champions whooped and hollered and turned the visitors' clubhouse in Kansas City into Lake Champagne.

Players sloshed through the bubbly, pelted one another with sandwiches and reveled in having brought Baltimore its first AL flag.

Manager Hank Bauer received a mustard-and-mayonnaise shampoo. Slugger Boog Powell dunked sportswriters in the whirlpool bath, upside-down. And when the 72 bottles of champagne ran out, pitcher/prankster Moe Drabowsky phoned a liquor store pretending to be the club's owner and ordered 72 more.

The best was yet to come. Seventeen days later, the Orioles swept the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, winning the World Series in four games and triggering a wingding that rippled through the city.

Horns blared. Firecrackers exploded. City Hall rang its bell 66 times. And people toddled down confetti-strewn streets bleating a single word: "O-o-o-o-rioles!"

It was, The Sun proclaimed, "the zaniest celebration that Baltimore has seen since the U.S. defeated Japan in World War II."

"Bomb 'Em, Birds!" was the slogan in 1966, and the Orioles complied, leading the league in batting (.258) for the first time and hitting a then-club-record 175 home runs. They won the pennant by nine games (the AL was then one 10-team division), then shocked the Dodgers, thereby sating fans wracked by years of late-summer swoons.

"There had been so many close calls back to 1960 that, to the end, people couldn't believe [a title] could happen," said Frank Deford, Baltimorean and senior writer for Sports Illustrated. "It meant a great deal that we had finally reached the mountaintop."

For the Orioles, it was a season marked by streaks, hijinks and close shaves. Catcher Andy Etchebarren survived a beaning. Rookie second baseman Davey Johnson was almost drummed into the Army. And in August, Frank Robinson, the outfielder whose aggressive play gave the club its soul, nearly drowned while frolicking at a pool party.

"Needless to say, after that [incident] we were told not to party until we'd won the pennant," outfielder Russ Snyder recalled.

The race was a blowout. The Orioles won 11 of 12 games in April and 25 of 33 in June. They won 10 in a row, then seven straight, then seven more. By August, they led by 13 games. Good thing. From then on, they played .500 ball.

Does that explain the empty seats down the stretch? In mid-September, just before the Orioles sealed it, a six-game homestand at Memorial Stadium averaged 8,731 fans. Three days before they clinched, an afternoon game drew 2,280. A crowd four times that size had just heard a concert by the Dave Clark Five at the Baltimore Civic Center.

Charmed from start

The Orioles seemed charmed from Opening Day, winning that game in the 13th inning when Boston Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg balked home the winning run. The gifts piled up. Three times that season, the Orioles hit cheap home runs that skittered off a foul pole. Once Powell hit a pitch, broke his bat ... and watched the ball sail 400 feet into the right-field stands.

Everyone pitched in.

"Ours was a ham-and-egg relationship," Powell said last month. "We felt like, `Today you win the game and tomorrow, I will.'"

Three times shortstop Luis Aparicio, best known for his glove, collected five hits in one game. Three times Snyder, a journeyman outfielder, got the game-winning hit in extra innings.

No one expected much oomph from Etchebarren, whose bushy eyebrows seemed more imposing than his swing. But in June the rookie went on a tear, knocking in 22 runs in as many games.

Few thought Jim Palmer, 20, ready for the starting rotation. He was raw, wild and hadn't thrown more than five innings all spring. But a shake-up at the end of camp left Palmer to pitch the Orioles' second outing. He went the distance and won, throwing 172 pitches.

"I might have left him in too long," pitching coach Harry Brecheen surmised.

Brooks Robinson hit like gangbusters for half a season, leading the league in hits and RBIs by the All-Star Game. There, he hit a triple off Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax - an omen? - and earned Most Valuable Player honors. Then Robinson fell into a second-half funk.

Cue Powell, the first baseman who helped to carry the club after an abysmal start. In July, he knocked in 11 runs in a doubleheader, tying an AL record. Next game, Powell hit a 410-foot home run to beat the California Angels, 2-1.

Afterward, in the locker room, Robinson teased Powell: "Hey Booger, just remember the sun doesn't shine on the same dog's back every day."

That was the Orioles' mantra.

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