Orioles of the past and present reflect on the club's tenure in Baltimore
As the Orioles celebrate their 60th anniversary, Baltimore Sun reporters Mike Klingaman and Dan Connolly talk to some of the signature players in the club's history. Browse images of a key player from each decade to relive the highlights and lowlights.
For a look at the year-by-year capsules through Orioles history, click here.
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Rick Dempsey and the 1980s Orioles( Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / April 23, 2002 )
By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun
The Orioles finished the 1980s with a handful more victories than losses. But their near-.500 record fails to paint the picture of a tumultuous decade in which the team went from World Series champion to laughingstock to unexpected delight for fans who returned to Memorial Stadium in droves.
Baseball's best in 1983, when they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, the Orioles began a slow decline that bottomed out with an 0-21 start to the 1988 season. A franchise that had been a model for all of baseball for more than two decades was reduced to a national embarrassment.
"We developed ourselves as the most powerful team in baseball," said catcher Rick Dempsey, Most Valuable Player of the 1983 World Series. "We created 'Orioles Magic.' We were the team to beat. But time takes its toll on everyone. We wore down, and our era came to an end."
As the decade began, the Magic was in full bloom. In 1980, the team won 100 games, set a major league record for fielding percentage (.9849) and produced a 20-game winner for an unprecedented 13th straight year. Blame the second-place American League East finish on a sluggish spring, a typical start during Dempsey's 12 years there.
"We never began in good weather," he said. "It was so cold, the ball stung your hands. Those were more like endurance contests than baseball games. But we always had it in mind that if we were within six games of the lead at the All-Star break, we'd kick [butt] and the season was ours.
"Nobody else could endure [Baltimore's] humidity in summer. So if you didn't knock out the Orioles in the first half, you weren't going to. Put us away in the first seven or eight rounds, because if you didn't, by the 15th round, you were dead."
They barely missed the playoffs in the strike-shortened 1981 season and in 1982, when the Orioles -- having frittered April away again -- caught Milwaukee in the stretch but lost the division to the Brewers on the final day.
Not so in 1983, as they won 98 games and their third World Series. Cal Ripken Jr. edged teammate Eddie Murray for American League MVP, home attendance topped 2 million for the first time, and Dempsey, the Orioles' No. 8 hitter, muscled them to glory. In the five-game Series against Philadelphia, he batted .385 with four doubles and a home run.
"Hey, it wasn't a big offensive Series," Dempsey said. "Most of all, we wanted to rectify the situation we'd put ourselves in by losing in '79 to Pittsburgh [after leading the Pirates, three games to one]. In the clubhouse before we played the Phillies, somebody said, 'We've got a chance to make up for that now.' In that whole Series, we stayed very quiet, bore down and stayed focused until the final out."
His MVP award, a Pontiac Trans Am, was "icing on the cake," Dempsey said. He set two World Series records, one for most extra-base hits (five) in a five-game series. The other?
"I'm the only guy ever voted MVP who got pinch-hit for twice," he said.
Gradually, the Orioles regressed. The 1986 campaign marked the end of their string of consecutive winning seasons (18), second longest in major league history. In un-Orioles-like fashion, they dropped 42 of their last 56 games, were 10th in the league in fielding percentage and finished in last place for the first time in modern history.
In 1987, they lost 95 games, including, at one point, 17 of 18 in September. The team's ERA, a svelte 3.46 over the previous 33 years, ballooned to 5.01. Dempsey, who left that spring via free agency, had seen the slide coming.
"Guys got older, everyone was running out of gas at the same time, and the younger ones didn't have as much impact anymore," he said. "It was a lean era; we didn't have the [Mike] Boddickers and [Mike] Flanagans coming through the organization. And we started to do things differently. We weren't as fundamentally strong as we'd been before."
The 1988 Orioles landed with a thud, went 54-107 and never left the cellar. The string of 21 defeats in April set an American League record for futility. Changing managers didn't help. Six games in, the club fired Cal Ripken Sr., an Orioles lifer who'd fathered half the starting infield. And in mid-August, with his team 30 games off the pace, owner Edward Bennett Williams succumbed to cancer.
In an about-face, the Orioles won 87 games in 1989, spent 116 days in first place and finished two games out. In one season, attendance climbed by nearly 1 million as fans believed the Magic was back.
But times had changed.
"That era [1979-1983] was an amazing run. Why? We never made mistakes," Dempsey said. "The Orioles weren't afraid to try anything out there because, for seven weeks in spring training, we worked sunup to sundown on little things that gave us an edge and got us the extra outs -- pickoffs, cutoffs and relays -- until we could do them in our sleep.
"Think teams do that now? There are so many players in spring training that a manager can't focus on his own team. There's too much else to take care of. But that's what we did, and that's what made the Orioles the most respected organization in sports at the time."
For year-by-year capsules from the 1980s, click here.