The Baltimore Orioles are one of baseball’s most historic franchises. Through the words of the players, via multiple interviews conducted with current and past Orioles, readers will meet the players, coaches, and management and share in their moments of greatness and defeat. Dempsey recounts moments from the 1983 World Series championship, the rise of Cal Ripken Jr., and the current team under Buck Showalter. Orioles fans will not want to be without this book.
About the Author
The World Series MVP for Baltimore in 1983, catcher Rick Dempsey played 12 of his 24 major league seasons for the Orioles. Dempsey currently co-hosts with Jim Hunter on the Orioles' pregame and postgame shows. A veteran Baltimore sports writer, Dave Ginsburg covers the Orioles and other area pro and college sports for the Associated Press. Cal Ripken Jr. is a Hall of Famer and two-time MVP.
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If These Walls Could Talk: Baltimore Orioles
Stories from the Baltimore Orioles Dugout, Locker Room, and Press Box
By Rick Dempsey, Dave Ginsburg
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2017 Rick Dempsey with Dave Ginsburg
All rights reserved.
1979 World Series
The Year of Oriole Magic was 1979. It seemed like we were always down in ballgames and would always come back with some miracle hit in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and two strikes on somebody. It just seemed like fate intervened when the outcome was hanging in the balance. Sometimes, we got a clutch hit. Sometimes, the other team made an error, the roof caved in, and the Orioles came back and won the game. They started writing songs about Oriole Magic.
The 1979 Orioles were solid at the plate, in the field, and on the mound. With Eddie Murray in there, he brought another dimension. The guy would get locked in against the best pitchers in the game and hit home runs. When they made a mistake, he could hit it out to left field or right field from either side of the plate. He was just such a hard-nosed offensive player. Eddie and Doug DeCinces were really the two guys who created Oriole Magic. Eddie hit .295 with 25 homers and 99 RBIs. Doug was strong at third base and chipped in with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs.
But the guy who really put the offense together was Ken Singleton. No one talks much about Singleton, but his ability to get a walk when he wanted one was uncanny. He could take a ball a half inch off the plate with two strikes and the game on the line and get it called a ball. Umpires had a lot of confidence that he knew the strike zone. He played in 159 games that year and had 109 walks, 35 homers, and 111 RBIs. He never complained to umpires about bad calls either, and that might be why they respected him to a degree. Eddie and Singy would sit and talk hitting for hours. And you know what? I think Singy had the greatest impact on Eddie becoming a great major league player because Singy would not swing at a bad pitch if his mother's life depended on it.
Eddie was loose on the field, but he did not like the media. He didn't like them coming to him talking about a home-run streak or his batting average or the great hit that he got. He didn't want to be distracted, thinking about all the good things he had done. Today was a new day, they wiped the slate clean, and we start all over again. That was Eddie. He didn't really dislike reporters as people. He just didn't want to talk about baseball because it made him think too much about things like how many more home runs he needed to be leading the league. He didn't want those thoughts in his mind. He just wanted to go out and play baseball, focusing on each at-bat one at a time. Of course, that approach came back to haunt him later on after he retired. It was tough getting hired as a manager when you have a reputation for not being media-friendly. Then again, Eddie's changed a lot since those days.
Eddie was deathly afraid of me. We had our arguments, and I would say, "Eddie, I'm going to get you." I had a reputation for doing crazy things to people, and Eddie knew it. He had no desire to be pranked, so he would pretty much leave me alone.
Teams in those days would throw at you after you hit a home run. When they threw at Eddie, he never got angry. He got even. He just went into a concentration that we saw from the dugout, and we all said, "Thank you very much." We knew he was going to come back to get you. Eddie got a ton of big hits for us in 1979. That was the year when you started to see him become one of the best clutch hitters in the game.
Richie Dauer was another guy who got a lot of clutch hits for us. He always hit high in the order and was a good hit-and-run guy. Richie wasn't quick in the infield, but he never missed a routine ground ball to second base. He made a lot of great plays for us, too. He was as solid as they come.
Mark Belanger was still our shortstop. He broke into the big leagues with Baltimore in 1965 and was playing incredibly at shortstop 14 years later. He was a lifetime .228 hitter and batted only .167 in 1979. But he would grab a ball in the hole and then jump up and throw back to second base or first. He made plays that were inconceivable, just like DeCinces at third.
Gary Roenicke started in left field and contributed 25 home runs and 81 RBIs. He was backed up by John Lowenstein, who had a dry sense of humor, just like Mike Flanagan. Lowenstein was the one guy on the ballclub who could go to Earl during the course of a game and tell him what he should do. Oh my gosh, nobody would ever, ever think about telling Earl Weaver what he should do. Well John, he would speak up. He'd say, "You've got to send this guy up there. You've got to do this." If I had said something like that, I'd hear, "You just go back behind the plate and catch the fucking ball. Let me worry about managing the fucking team." But Lowenstein would suggest things, and Earl never contested it. And Earl would do some of those things, too. Or he would explain to John why he didn't. John was the guy who usually mimicked Earl on the bus after we won a game. Heck, Lowenstein even imitated Earl's laugh. But he only did this after we won, so Earl never did anything about it.
Dennis Martinez was a problem guy. Dennis had the best stuff I'd ever seen. I caught guys who ended up winning 16 Cy Young Awards, and Dennis had better stuff than all of them. He was amazing when he first came up. We worked together for quite a few games. You know how Earl was: when a guy had success with a certain catcher, that was going to be the battery. But Dennis went to Earl and said, "I don't like throwing to Dempsey. He yells at me, pushes me, screams, and all that."
Dennis was experiencing quite a bit of success at the time, so Earl tried Elrod Hendricks and Dave Skaggs with him. And Dennis couldn't win any games. So Earl called us into the office the day before Dennis was pitching. He said, "Dennis, Rick Dempsey has a 42–20 record with you as a starter. That's 22 games over .500. Dempsey is going to catch you until I die. So don't ever fucking come back in this office and say anything about who you want catching you. This guy is going to fucking catch you forever. Now get out!"
That was my compliment from Earl. He let me hear that after Dennis more or less dismissed me as his catcher. Really though, Dennis never came around with us. He was 15–16 in 1979. He had a lot of issues on the field and off the field. But boy, when Dennis went to Montreal, he straightened up his life and cleaned up his act and he became the pitcher he should have been with the Orioles. He was awesome. In 11 years with Baltimore, Dennis was 108–93 with a 4.16 ERA. Not bad, but with the Expos he was 100–72 with a 3.06 ERA over eight seasons.
Scotty McGregor, I caught him with the New York Yankees in spring training, and he was a power pitcher back then. He had a 90-plus fastball, great curveball, and a solid change-up. Then he hurt his arm and came back with the Orioles as a finesse guy. He learned how to pitch, changing speeds and things like that. He was like Jamie Moyer: slow, slower, and slowest. But Scotty could outpitch anybody. He changed his body rhythm, arm motion, worked his way through a lot of ballgames. He was incredible. Half the guys in the American League were scratching their heads after going a very nice 0-for-4, not knowing how they made all those outs.
We sent Scotty to the mound in Game 7 of the World Series in 1979. He gave up two runs in eight innings and should have gotten the W.
Sammy Stewart joined us the year before and set a record for most consecutive strikeouts for a pitcher in his major league debut. He struck out seven Chicago White Sox in a row on September 1, 1978. He only pitched in one game in the 1979 World Series, but during the 1979 regular season, he did it all. He went 8–5 with a 3.52 ERA, started three games, and picked up a save. His value to Earl was that he could start a game or finish a game, and he was pretty good at doing both.
Flanagan kind of picked up the slack for everybody, going 23–9 and winning the Cy Young Award. Flanny was very strong. He had a lot of endurance. He wanted to go deep in ballgames and never wanted to turn it over to the bullpen. This guy could throw 150 pitches and still come back out and win his next ballgame. I remember he experimented with a lot of things. He had a three-quarter delivery and every now and then he'd go to a sidearm curveball against some left-handers in tough situations. Sometimes he would pound his left foot down, stop his body rhythm, then go into slow motion, and throw the ball. It really threw hitters off. He had the hardest two-seam fastball to catch of anybody I caught with the Orioles. I turned my glove over one time to catch an inside pitch on a right-handed batter, and the ball hit me so hard that it tore the ligament off the knuckle of my left index finger. I can still feel the hole in my knuckle where they shot it with cortisone to dissolve the bone at the end of that tendon. My God, that was a lot of pain.
* * *
We started the season 3–8 and then won 15 out of 16 and starting taking over the American League. Another nine-game winning streak from June 13–23 improved our record to 47–22, and we coasted to the finish. The only AL team that had a winning record against us was the New York Yankees (6–5).
We finished 102–57 and took three of four from the California Angels in the American League Championship Series. John Lowenstein won the opener for us with a three-run, opposite-field walk-off homer — yet another example of Oriole Magic. Unfortunately, the plot changed before we could conclude our magnificent season with a happy ending.
Coming into the 1979 Series, we were pretty confident, even though the Pittsburgh Pirates on paper were the best team in the National League. Certainly, Pittsburgh was the best offensive team in baseball. They had a lot of power with Willie Stargell and Dave Parker and Bill Robinson and Bill Madlock. Tim Foli was a good contact hitter, and Omar Moreno was an outstanding leadoff hitter.
Mike Flanagan started it off. We won 5–4, and Flanny did something you may never see again: he threw 154 pitches in a complete game. That's one thing I'll always remember.
We had Jim Palmer pitching out of the No. 2 slot. Palmer pitched well in Game 2, but we didn't score much for him in a 3–2 loss. In the first inning of the first game, we scored five runs. We didn't score anymore in that game after that and we put up only two runs in the next game. In Game 3 we got back in gear. Kiko Garcia went 4-for-4 with four RBIs, Benny Ayala contributed a home run, and we won 8–4.
In Game 4 we were down 4–0 and ended up winning 9–6 after scoring six runs in the eighth inning. At that point I thought we were going to defy the odds and win the whole thing.
As time went on after the 1979 World Series, I began to understand what happened, why we lost the final three games, and why I walked away from that season with the most disappointed feeling I ever had in the game of baseball.
I take responsibility for the ballclub losing that World Series. It was a simple remark I made to Pirates manager Chuck Tanner during introductions before Game 1. We were introduced, and I came out and shook hands with everyone. Weaver was the last guy I shook hands with, and I looked over at Tanner and said, "Chuck, if you want to get this World Series over real quick, every time you get somebody on, let him try to run."
Well, he did just that. I threw out Parker in the first game and got Madlock and Matt Alexander in Game 2. Alexander was the fastest human being in the game at the time and he was there for one reason: to steal bases. I threw out those three guys, and from that game on, they just never attempted to steal a base while I was catching. That really gave them more opportunity to get some at-bats. Instead of giving away outs on the bases, they got to the plate more times.
That's how they kind of put their World Series back together again. Down three games to one, they started to put up the kind of runs we really expected to see from that offensive ballclub. Moreno got off to a slow start in the World Series, but he got three hits in each of the last two games and never attempted to steal off me. That gave the second hitter, Foli, the chance to get better at-bats, and he put the bat on the ball and got five hits over the last three games.
I really believe the momentum started to change after Tanner decided the Pirates weren't going to win the World Series by trying to steal bases. What he needed to do was get his team's offense on track instead of giving outs away to the catcher.
After we won the first game, Palmer did well for seven innings. But Don Stanhouse gave up a run in the ninth inning, and we lost. In that second game, I thought Earl made a huge mistake — and it showed up after it was all over. In fact, it showed up again the next year.
We came up in the bottom of the eighth inning with the score tied 2–2. Murray leads off with a single, and Doug DeCinces reaches on an error, so we have runners on first and second with Lowenstein coming up. Earl hated to bunt, but it was really the absolute perfect time to bunt. We had Billy Smith hitting after Lowenstein. Smith was a switch-hitter, and I was up after him, having a pretty good playoff and a solid World Series at that point. It would have been worth the gamble that late in the game. I mean, if it was the sixth inning, then having Lowenstein swing away would have been fine. But here in the eighth, the move itself proved to be a bad one because John hit into a double play, and Smith made the last out. Had Lowenstein been able to bunt those guys over to second and third, they would have walked Smith to get to me. If I got a hit, or someone after me got a hit, we would have won and just maybe closed it out in four straight.
So, the game stayed tied, and Pittsburgh scored in the ninth on a base hit by Manny Sanguillen to right field. It was a bang-bang play at home plate. I remember Eddie Murray cutting the ball off at first base. I would have preferred he didn't cut it off and I would have taken my chances. But Ed Ott was safe at home.
Now, go to the next year. We're playing against the Yankees in a big series. We come up in the top of the ninth with men on first and second with nobody out. Lowenstein is hitting, followed by Smith and me — again. Earl chose not to bunt, Lowenstein hits into a double play, and Smith makes the last out. The Yankees and Orioles both won 100 games, but we lost the division by three games, and that defeat sure didn't help things.
Despite that loss in Game 2 of the World Series, though, we were in great position after Game 4. We just needed one more win. Except that the roof caved in. We lost Game 5. After taking a 1–0 lead into the bottom of the sixth, we got blown out 7–1. Then the series came back to Baltimore, and we missed another chance to finish them off, losing 4–0 with Palmer on the mound.
It just seemed like everything they did worked out perfectly. We hit so many line drives that just ended up going into their gloves. The outfield was horrible at Memorial Stadium. The Colts had already played a football game on it earlier. In Game 6 Eddie hit a liner to right field, Parker slipped and fell down, and just stuck his glove up in the air, and the ball landed in it. We couldn't catch a break when we got a break. We should have scored a lot more runs, but it all turned around for us — and not in a good way.
Going into the seventh game, we tried to stay positive, even though it seemed like nothing was going our way. We felt sure we could turn it all around, but all it ended up being was Willie Stargell day. He hit the home run that ended up winning the game for them. He put them up 2–1, and they won it 4–1. We were just devastated at the end of it all. It was such a depressing feeling.
Afterward, driving down the highway in Baltimore, it was just a bad, bad feeling. We just felt like we choked. That's not a good feeling in professional sports. We felt like we were going to beat any team, like we were going to be the new powerhouse in baseball beginning that season. It all appeared to be playing out that way because we had Pittsburgh on the run. They were chirping a lot, they were talking a lot, and that pissed us off. We nearly shut them up, but we didn't finish. We carried that with us until 1983.
I'll tell you, I can't listen to the song "We Are Family" at all. I hate that song, which the Pirates adopted during that season. I will always hate that song. I liked it up until the World Series, but now I'd like to break every one of those records.
We tried to recover after that, but it was tough. We had a decent season in 1980. We should have been in the playoffs in 1981, but there was a baseball strike, and they changed the rules. They decided to divide the season, and we came in second in both halves. The Yankees took a one-game lead and then they ended the first half. We finished with a better overall record than the Yankees (59–46 to 59–48), but they ended up in the World Series and we didn't even get a sniff of the postseason.
Excerpted from If These Walls Could Talk: Baltimore Orioles by Rick Dempsey, Dave Ginsburg. Copyright © 2017 Rick Dempsey with Dave Ginsburg. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Cal Ripken Jr. ix
Chapter 1 1979 World Series 1
Chapter 2 1983 World Series MVP 15
Chapter 3 From Bank Robbers to the Bronx Zoo 39
Chapter 4 The Earl of Baltimore 61
Chapter 5 This Game Is Fun 83
Chapter 6 From Behind the Plate 103
Chapter 7 The Iron Man 123
Chapter 8 The Lean Years 137
Chapter 9 The Buck Stops Here 147
Chapter 10 Sharing the Knowledge 165
Chapter 11 The Best of the Best 183
Chapter 12 From Behind the Microphone 195