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Orioles greats reminisce over franchise's 60 years, then turn attention toward 2014

With 23 Orioles greats gathered Friday at Camden Yards for the franchise's 60th-anniversary celebration, there were plenty of stories told about the glory days. But there was also a sense that maybe, finally, more magical Orioles moments are coming.

"I've seen the caliber of players on all the other teams. No reason we can't win this division," Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson said of the 2014 Orioles. "After that, it's a little pot luck. That's all. You got to play well. You are going to face better pitching. But the teams I see in the AL East now, the Orioles should win it. That's the way I see it."

After attending a Hall of Fame luncheon Friday at the Warehouse, many of the club's former stars met with the media. They championed the direction of the club over the past three seasons, after having watched it walk aimlessly in the baseball wilderness for a decade and a half.

"Believe me, it is a relief," former outfielder Al Bumbry said. "During those lean years, it was difficult going out to the public and talking and speaking and trying to explain why the Orioles were in the state they were in. The last couple years it's been very enjoyable to go to the public and speak, because it's easy to see what they are doing."

For the first time since 1997, the Orioles are up five games in the American League East in August. They are doing it with a homer-hitting lineup, solid pitching and good defense — components essential to the Orioles' run of success from 1966 to 1983 and again in 1996 and 1997.

"The Orioles now, I can see a lot of similarities in the way they are playing and how they are approaching the game. It's similar to the way we approached it, in that Earl [Weaver] stressed good defense and, of course, three-run homers," Bumbry said. "They aren't hitting as many three-run homers, but they are hitting home runs and their pitching has been good. And the combination of those three things helped us win a lot of games back in the day and, obviously, the club now is winning a lot of games the same way."

There's also another obvious comparison: Current manager Buck Showalter, when in uniform, resembles Weaver, the franchise's Hall of Fame manager. And they both have gotten results.

"I think Buck's got it. I think he's got it figured out. I think he's got everything figured out," former first baseman Boog Powell said. "He's got the pitching figured out. Looks like he's got the defense figured out. Earl had it all figured out."

Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson said he feels like he's a part of something special when he comes back to Baltimore and Camden Yards these days, and he credits Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette for fostering that atmosphere.

"Here, with this organization now, you're welcome. And the players are happy to see you and talk to you," Robinson said. "The feeling is back here."

Former outfielder B.J. Surhoff, who still lives in Baltimore, said he has been waiting for that level of excitement to return. The Ravens' success has largely overshadowed the Orioles in recent years, but the club seems to be sharing in that fan frenzy again.

"Rightfully so, the Ravens kind of dominate everything. All I saw was purple," Surhoff said. "But every time you turn on the game [now], I'm amazed by how much orange and black [you see]. When I drive down the street or go to a store and you hear people talking about it — the excitement is back, and, to me, I find great joy in that."

Of course, this club isn't without its flaws. And the Orioles' greats see that, too.

"I don't think these guys are hitting the way they are capable of. Let's put it this way: These guys are a lot better," Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray said. "But they seem to be winning the close games, and that's what it really takes. It's nice to see those one-run victories on your side."

The next two months will determine whether the Orioles can make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons and win the division for the first time in 17 years. The guys who were in the playoffs years ago are enjoying this year's ride.

"I love it. Glad to see it. A lot of young people out there enjoying the games. The number of orange shirts you see in all these other towns, it's exciting," Brooks Robinson said. "I'll tell you what: It's hard to win. And to win a world championship , it is tough. You never know what is going to happen."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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