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"Playing Meaningful Games In September": An Unexpected Joy For Oriole Fans (slightly revised)

I never expected it to happen in 2022 and was skeptical about future years.  And yet

with 32 games left, 20 at home, as Labor Day weekend starts, the Orioles are 1 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays for the third and final wild card spot.  Seattle and Tampa Bay hold

down the first two spots with the Birds three lost games behind them. 


My long-held views that Every Baseball Season Is Different and There Is At Least One

Surprise Team Each Year have come true in the most pleasant and heart-warming manner. 


The Birds have 10 games left with Toronto, seven of them at home including an old-fashioned Labor Day doubleheader.  The Blue Jays were one of the pre-season favorites in AL East but they have not played very consistent baseball.  


Nor have the Yankees who just endured an August that was its worst since Stump Merrill's 1991 team. The Red Sox are in the AL East basement, following their recent pattern of boom-bust-boom-bust. 


I saw the Orioles twice last month during SABR's 50th convention held this year in downtown Baltimore a short walk to Camden Yards.  The Birds lost the makeup day

game with the Cubs, 3-2, but unheralded castoff RHP Spenser Watkins pitched well.


Before an enthusiastic crowd of over 30,000 on Friday night, including many of the SABR attendees sitting in the right field bleachers, the Orioles blasted the Red Sox, 15-10,

belting five homers.  It was a rare offensive outburst by a team whose rise to contention has been fueled by vastly improved pitching and often sensational defense. 


I had never sat in the outer reaches of Camden Yards and it brought back memories of Fenway Park's fabled section.  In both places, you feel a bond with the third base and left field fans, creating the kind of shared community that is ballpark viewing at its best.


The remarkable resurgence of the Orioles got an added boost in late August by the play of 21-year-old Gunnar Henderson, a second round draft choice who was signed after his graduation three years ago from high school in Alabama.  


All he did in his first game was hit a long home run in his second AB after being victimized in his first AB by Guardians' left fielder Steven Kwan's great catch. In his second game, Gunnar made two outstanding defensive plays at shortstop and stole his first base.


I've seen him play in the lower minors and twice earlier this season at Triple-A Norfolk.  He has that "it" quality, the art of making a difficult game look easy. And you can see his

love of the game is not an act.  


Ditto for catcher Adley Rutschman who was drafted a round ahead of Henderson.  Adley is scuffling at the plate now, but his catching and leadershp skills are not suffering.  


The Orioles suddenly look like they have a bright future. The 2023 option on the contract of   manager Brandon Hyde was quietly picked up earlier this year.  So was the same 2023 option on injured southpaw John Means' contract.  Nothing like stablility in an organization once there is light at the end of the tunnel


It will be a challenge for Hyde, Joe Maddon's bench coach when the Cubs broke their 108-year World Series-championship drought in 2016, to get playing time for all the players

arriving.  Jorge Mateo remains the incumbent shortstop, the former Yankee prospect who

has been a revelation in 2022 once given regular playing time. It is a nice problem to

have, too many good players, but I think Hyde will find a way. 


As for the SABR convention, a highlight for me was Boog Powell in conversation with local sportswriter Dan Connolly of the Athletic.  He shared warm reminiscences of playing for 

the Orioles and how after his retirement he hustled to get the Lite Beer commercial that featured him and umpire Jim Honochick. The lines for Boog's BBQ at the ballpark are deservedly long.


Before I close this return to blogging, here's a tip of the cap to the Mets Old-Timers Day that owner Steve Cohen organized last Saturday August 27.  Cohen is a genuine Mets

fan and many original Mets returned for the first Old Timers Day in almost 30 years.  One of them was Jay Hook who won the team's first game.


In a TV interview with SNY broadcaster Steve Gelbs, Jesse Orosco shared the moving story of what happened to the glove that he threw towards the Astrodome roof when the Mets

won the epic 16-inning game over Houston that propelled them into the 1986 World

Series.  He said he gifted it to Steven McDonald, the NYPD officer who was paralyzed in

the line of duty. 


The National Anthem played on Old Timers Day was a recording by Jane Jarvis, the team's only organist from its first days at Shea Stadium in 1964.  I was fortunate to get to know Jane during her career as a jazz pianist when she left the team after the 1979 season.


Jane had been a child prodigy on both piano and organ in Indiana, proficient in classical music but loving jazz and all kinds of music. She later lived in Milwaukee where, among her other gigs, she became the Braves' ballpark organist.  


That's all for now.  But here's one TCM tip - Thursdays in September will be devoted to the

many films of Humphrey Bogart, some of them real classics.  


Always remember - take it easy but take it!  





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Orioles Honor 1966 Champs + Musings at All-Star Game Break

On Friday July 8th the 1966 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles were honored at a luncheon sponsored by the Oriole Advocates, a longtime charitable organization in Charm City. There was also an evening pre-game ceremony at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. More than a dozen players and coaches from Baltimore’s first World Series champion gathered for the events.

Of course, Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson attended - both have established roots in Baltimore since their playing days, Palmer as an excellent TV analyst and Robinson as a truly beloved year-round resident.

No surprise that slugging first baseman Boog Powell was also on hand – his barbecue stand is a popular feature at Camden Yards.

Unfortunately, Frank Robinson did not come, citing a previous commitment.
His arrival in a pre-1966 season trade from the Cincinnati Reds was the catalyst that put the Orioles over the top in 1966. He went on to win the Triple Crown and American League MVP, the only season incidentally that he ever led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI.

Though not there to hear the plaudits, Frank Robinson’s role on the 1966 team was universally praised. His intense desire to win was infectious. Some teammates even thought that the moment he hit a home run in his first batting practice was the moment the whole team knew they would win it all.

The most amusing speaker was knuckleballing relief pitcher Eddie Fisher (no relation to the pop singer who married Debbie Reynolds and then Elizabeth Taylor).
A retired golf director for the Oklahoma tourism department, Fisher said he developed the knuckle ball because "my spitter was so slow that it dried up before it reached home plate."

After the late Moe Drabowsky pitched over six innings in relief and won the first game of the 1966 Series over the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, the bullpen was not needed. Fisher said that he warmed up a couple of times just to get on television. He added that he thought about applying for unemployment because he hadn’t worked at all in the Birds' stunning four-game sweep.

Sadly, Friday's day of celebration ended on a sour note when Ubaldo Jimenez imploded again in a starting role for the 2016 Orioles. Baltimore fans are generally not savage – they are more likely to cheer sacrifice bunts and the animated ketchup-mustard-relish race on the ballpark scoreboard than boo the home team.

But after being knocked again in the second inning, Jimenez heard the catcalls. He is
still owed $27 million through 2017 so an outright release is not likely yet. But there is much speculation that his place in a very suspect starting rotation may have been irretrievably lost.

The happier news is that the Orioles bounced back to win two close games on Saturday and Sunday. The also-ran Los Angeles Angels were in a giving mood and the Orioles were gracious hosts and accepted the breaks.

On Saturday former Mets reliever Joe Smith dropped the ball before he started to pitch. A balk was called, allowing the O’s to tie the score at 2-2. Emerging star second baseman Jonathan Schoop gave the O’s the lead with a RBI single in the 8th inning.

On Sunday shortstop Andrelton Simmons, like Schoop a native of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, let an easy popup fall in short left field. It set up a big insurance run in an eventual 4-2 Orioles win.

The O’s enter the All-Star Game break with a two game lead over Boston with Toronto right behind. The Yankees pulled to .500 with a 3-1 series win at Cleveland.
They are only 8 back of the Birds in the lost column. The Birds make their first trip to NYC July 17-20 and they will be crucial for both teams, especially the Yankees.

Lots of baseball still to be played. Even teams totally out of the playoff races like the Braves in the NL and the Twins in the AL are playing better.

As always the team that wins will not necessarily be the best team but the team that plays best down the stretch. After their sizzling start, the Cubs have looked mortal and what was once a 14 game lead over the Pirates has been cut in half. The Cardinals are even a little closer than Pittsburgh.

So as always in baseball as in life the advice is the same: Take it easy but take it!
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