Michael's strokes, Tippy's pickoffs

August 17, 2008|By Dan Rodricks

As expected, it's all Michael all the time around here these days. With so much bling around his neck, the Incredible Phelps looms now as the most accomplished - if not the greatest - athlete to ever come out of Maryland, and if medals are the measure, he's the greatest Olympian ever. Someday, in Baltimore, there will be a new aquatic center named for him - hopefully in the lower level of the new downtown arena - with a magnificent, life-size bronze of MP in Speedo at the entrance.

We should all savor this for as long as possible.

The Incredible Phelps has brightened a kind of schlumpy year around here, and everywhere else.

Thank you, MP.

But, while all eyes of the world are focused on Phelps' success in Beijing, I need to point ahead to the silver anniversary of another sports feat that, while certainly not on the level of Phelps' performance in the Olympics, deserves our attention and brightens our memories. I mention this today so that, by next Sunday, we can at least get a cake and a few balloons ordered.

It was Aug. 24, 1983, when Tippy Martinez, then a relief pitcher for the Orioles, picked three runners off base - in one inning.

Among my friends around town, this stands as one of the greatest sports stories of all time, and it happened at Memorial Stadium in a season - unfortunately, the last of its kind in these parts - that ended with the Orioles winning the World Series.

I don't know if the 2008 Orioles of Camden Yards are planning a 25th-anniversary commemoration of this specific feat - they're home against the Yankees next Sunday - but they ought to. There's got to be video of Tippy's trifecta somewhere; a tribute on the big screen would seem appropriate.

Here's what happened: The Orioles were playing the Blue Jays on 33rd Street. The home team was losing, 4-3, in the top of the 10th inning when Martinez, a lefty, arrived in relief. Strange things had happened in the game. The manager, Joe Altobelli, had made a bunch of moves and Lenn Sakata, an infielder, ended up catching, something he hadn't done since Little League. That's an important part of the story.

The Blue Jays' base runners were, of course, cocky. Martinez was not known for a particularly strong move to first, and Sakata later said he had trouble seeing through the catcher's mask. The Toronto player on first, Barry Bonnell, had hit a single off the previous Orioles pitcher and was eager to steal. But Martinez nailed him with a throw to the Orioles' first baseman, Eddie Murray.

One out.

Martinez walked the next batter, Dave Collins.

Considering what had just happened to Bonnell, you'd think Collins would have been a tad more cautious about taking a big lead off the bag. But he wasn't, and Martinez nailed him, too.

Big roar from the crowd. Two outs.

Is this a beautiful story, or what?

The next Toronto batter, Willie Upshaw, hit a single off Martinez.

Now this Upshaw, who would later coach in the majors, must not have been paying attention. Or perhaps he was certain the two earlier pickoffs had been flukes.

You have to wonder what the guy was thinking because, before Blue Jays' first base coach John Sullivan could finish his sentence, "Whatever you do, don't get picked off," Upshaw got picked off.

(Someday, they ought to produce a television show called What Were You Thinking? and make Willie Upshaw the leadoff guest.)

There was another ecstatic roar from the crowd, and the Orioles ran off the field.

That's not the end of the story. The other day at lunch at New No Da Ji, the Korean buffet at 25th and Charles, Turkey Joe Trabert, one of the world's greatest experts, reminded everyone of something: Cal Ripken tied the game in the bottom of the 10th with a home run. Then Sakata, the no-experience catcher who had made the Blue Jays runners ripe for the pickings, hit a homer that won the game.

I looked it up, and Turkey Joe was right again. That's the kind of magical thing Orioles fans never forget, and it's a great story to tell kids who have grown up with the Camden Yards Orioles but without a pennant run.

In the annals of Maryland sports, Michael Phelps moves to No. 1 on the list of greatest achievements. But leave a little room on the list for Tippy, Lenny and that night they mowed the Blue Jays down.

Dollars and bills

I just saw a horror film called I.O.U.S.A. The Baltimore-based publisher of financial and lifestyles newsletters, Agora Inc., backed its production. It's the Inconvenient Truth of fiscal policy, an important documentary about our enormous, potentially devastating national debt - more than $9 trillion, plus trillions more in unfunded entitlement programs. Every American should get to see this. (Are we allowed to burn copies?) It affirms what we've all come to know: that we can't go on like this, racking up enormous institutional and personal debt, abiding a trade imbalance that threatens political stability, and tolerating dunderheads who refuse to see or talk about it.

Mourning Martick

Many readers responded to Thursday's column about the end of Martick's Restaurant Francais and the looming retirement of its owner, Morris Martick. Here's a memory from Mark Winebrenner, who used to work at Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood in Cross Street Market, where Morris Martick did his shopping: "When he came to the market to do his own shopping, he hand-picked everything and did his own filleting of the fish. No one touched his product. ... I could lament these losses of a city's characters and unique jewels, but I think it is best to just let go. They were a part of my life that I will never get back (just like my 20s and 30s). I suppose it's a good thing, or else I would be waking up like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day."

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks can be heard on "Midday," Mondays through Thursdays, noon to 2 p.m., on 88.1 WYPR-FM.

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