As club prepares to honor its past, the Oriole Way reigns again

Orioles will honor past with postgame celebration, other 60th anniversary events Friday

(Elsa, Getty Images )
August 07, 2014|Peter Schmuck

On the final day of the 1991 season, the Orioles and their fans said goodbye to Memorial Stadium with an emotional celebration of everyone and everything that forged the bond between Baltimore and its beloved baseball team.

There really wasn't a dry eye as the theme from "Field of Dreams" enveloped the ballpark and dozens of the greatest stars of yesteryear slowly took the field to the cheers of fans who were preparing to enter a new era at brand-new Camden Yards.

That new era hasn't always been so warm and fuzzy. But when the Orioles celebrate their 60th anniversary with a full day of nostalgia-packed events Friday, they will be able to pay tribute to the team's storied past at a time when the Oriole Way is no longer just a historical footnote for a new generation of fans.

The Orioles are in first place in the American League East, and they got there by doing the same things that made them the most successful team in the major leagues during the franchise's golden years. They have re-established a tradition of strong fundamental baseball and top-to-bottom organizational development.

Thank Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette for that, and don't forget Andy MacPhail, who took a lot of heat while he was doing the dirty work of re-establishing a coherent front office blueprint after a decade of dysfunction.

Maybe this isn't exactly your grandfather's Oriole Way, but there is certainly a strong resemblance.

"It looks a lot like it," said Boog Powell, who will be among the 23 Orioles greats introduced during a glitzy postgame laser light and fireworks show after the Orioles open a three-game interleague series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night. "We were missing something during all those years when we weren't in contention."

Powell is in a position to know. He was there when the Orioles went to the World Series four times in six years (1966-71), and he's still around the team on a daily basis, running his famous barbeque stand. This incarnation of the Orioles doesn't have four 20-game winners, but he sees plenty that reminds him of the terrific teams of the past.

"It's great," he said, "but it does make me nervous when they play so many close games. I know how that feels. We played a lot of close ballgames, but we didn't worry about it. We knew we were going to win."

This Orioles team exudes the same confidence, thanks largely to an airtight bullpen and a defense that set major league records last year for fewest errors, most errorless games and highest fielding percentage. The starting pitching has come together at midseason, and Earl Weaver wouldn't complain about an offense that entered Thursday's series finale in Toronto leading the major leagues in home runs.

"Buck and Dan Duquette have just revitalized the entire organization," said Rick Dempsey, who was named World Series Most Valuable Player after the Orioles won their last title in 1983. "The hands-on approach Buck has had has put the organization back on the map.

"I think we had lost a lot of credibility, but we're moving back in the right direction, developing young players inside the organization and finding players that are good all-around players, not just hitters."

The celebration also will include a sold-out luncheon honoring members of the Orioles Hall of Fame and a pregame tribute to the Oriole Advocates and fans who have had season-ticket plans since the inaugural Orioles season in 1954.

Obviously, it's no coincidence that the 60th anniversary observance is taking place while the St. Louis Cardinals are in town, since it was the old St. Louis Browns that moved to Baltimore 60 years ago to renew the city's love-affair with major league baseball that dates back to the 19th century.

The Oriole Way doesn't go back quite that far. It started in the 1950s with general manager and manager Paul Richards, who insisted on a standardized instruction program throughout the relocated organization and placed a strong emphasis on pitching development. Many of the great players who will be honored Friday learned the fundamental aspect in the minor leagues from Cal Ripken Sr., who was a stickler for perfect practice and execution.

"There was one way to do it all the way through the system," Powell said. "When you got here to the big leagues, everyone knew all the same cutoff plays … they knew the way we expected thing to be done. So, when a Bobby Grich or a Don Baylor came up, they had no problem making the adjustment, except adapting to big league pitching. Those things you didn't have to worry about."

Sound familiar? Showalter has made a practice throughout his managerial tenure of keeping in very close contact with the minor league managers and coaches, and that has been reflected in the seamless way players have shuttled back and forth between the major and minor leagues.

Dempsey also sees similarity in the way Weaver embraced new ideas and the way Showalter seems to be constantly looking for new ways to put the Orioles in the best possible position to win.

"I think back then everybody looked at the Baltimore Orioles for the innovative ways to approach major league baseball," Dempsey said. "All of the sudden, we lost that, and now it's back again."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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