Decades later, 'Orioles Magic' still resonates

October 13, 2014|Wesley Case | The Baltimore Sun

Facing a daunting 0-2 deficit in the American League Championship Series, the Orioles will need more than a little luck to make it to the World Series. They need some magic.

For more than three decades, the team's penchant for comebacks has been captured in a song many fans still sing today. "Orioles Magic (Feel It Happen)" has accompanied the O's through the heyday of Wild Bill Hagy, through a 1983 World Series championship, through Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,632-consecutive-game streak and through a 14-season playoff drought that ended in 2012. Now fans hope the anthem can help the team achieve the improbable by beating the Kansas City Royals.

Those fans might not know they have the Royals to thank, in a way, for their enduring anthem.

In the late 1970s, a jingle writer from Cleveland named Walter Woodward was hired by Kansas City to write a song called "Royalmania." It caught on quickly, and teams wanted their own — including the Orioles, who were riding the momentum that won them a trip to the World Series in 1979. Al Harazin, then an Orioles executive, invited Woodward to Baltimore after the 1979 season to discuss the magic that kept occurring at Memorial Stadium, and to see whether he could capture it in a song.

"We came away from that meeting having a sense that something was going on in Baltimore that was awesome," Woodward, now a University of Connecticut professor and the state historian of Connecticut, said on the phone from his Columbia, Conn., home last week. "Could we get it on music? I loved that challenge."

The only non-negotiable requirement from the team was the title, he said. After sleeping on it, Woodward picked up a guitar and had the song finished before breakfast.

"I may have written the piece of music itself in about an hour," said Woodward, now 65.

"I remember feeling at the time, 'This is it.' "

His latest jingle would be adopted by generations of Orioles fans.

It's "probably the most identifiable audio element of the ball club," says Greg Bader, vice president of communications and marketing for the team. After the Orioles' come-from-behind win in Game 2 of this year's American League Division Series, he said, "Orioles Magic" played throughout the stadium as fans exulted in the victory.

"'Orioles Magic' is that link to every generation, every moment, every memory," Bader said. "It's still [as] appropriate today as it was 35 years ago."

A fan since 11, Debbie Roland said she has "Orioles Magic" on her cellphone and plays it before games. The 53-year-old Parkville resident loved the 1979 team that inspired the song and sees similarities to the current club.

"They never give up. Somebody new will just step in there and do it, and it was the same thing in '79," said Roland, who has an original "Orioles Magic" 7-inch vinyl record. "I get those same feelings. I guess that's why the song means so much still. You hear it, and you can't help but go with it."

Without Roland's favorite player at the time, Doug DeCinces, there might have been no song. In June 1979, the third baseman led the O's to a come-from-behind win via a walk-off home run against the Tigers. With one swing, "Orioles Magic" — a phrase that captured the unlikely ways the team managed to win — was born, Bader said. During the team's meeting with Woodward, executives emphasized DeCinces' home run, superfan Hagy, beloved manager Earl Weaver and a tight-knit band of blue-collar players as sources of inspiration.

"Orioles Magic" — which was recorded at Nashville's Woodland Sound Studios and debuted on April 15, 1980, when the O's beat, of all teams, the Royals at home — is timeless for many, but it is very much a 1980s artifact. At the time, Woodward pictured Neil Diamond, one of the era's most reliable hitmakers, singing on the track, even though he knew it would not be possible.

"He sort of sounds like Neil Diamond," Woodward said, chuckling, of the session singer he hired but whose name escapes him today. He could not recall how much the Orioles paid for the song but estimated it was between $7,000 and $10,000.

Another longtime fan of the song is Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation.

"Baseball is the great community unifier," Gibbons said. "We can all get into it and all feel good together, and I think the song contributes mightily to that."

Jacob Pomrenke, a staff member of the Society for American Baseball Research, said there was a trend in the early 1980s of teams adopting theme songs similar to "Orioles Magic," but nearly all eventually fell out of favor with fans.

"Generally, those songs are short-lived," Pomrenke said.

He said the staying power of Woodward's tune is unusual. Only a few teams can boast songs that have had similar longevity: "Meet the Mets," "Go Cubs Go," "OK Blue Jays" and "Tessie," a song that has been associated with the Boston Red Sox for more than a century.

For the record, the Royals no longer use "Royalmania."

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