So, the World Series is back, and the Cubs and Indians are in it, both looking for their first world championship in recorded history. Or something like that.
Godspeed to both of them. As for those of us here in Baltimore, even though the Orioles gave it their best shot, this is the time of year where we remember how lucky we once were. For a time, it seemed the World Series was an annual Charm City event.
From 1969-1971, the O’s appeared in three straight World Series (part of a stretch from 1966-1983 where we made the series six times, the ALCS seven times, and were world champions thrice). For those three seasons, Baltimore was home to the “best damn team in baseball” (to quote Sports Illustrated).
And while we only won the series once in that span, that wasn’t really our fault: the ’69 Mets were the result of some Faustian bargain with the devil that New Yorkers may still be answering for, and it wasn’t the Pirates that beat us in ’71, it was Roberto Clemente, and of that even Orioles fans can be proud.
But 1970, now that was a year. The stars lined up properly, the fates acted as they were supposed to and the Orioles took the crown in five games, beating the Cincinnati Reds in a series that had everything. But especially, it had Brooks Robinson.
The 1970 World Series was where the legend of Brooks was truly born, or at least where it became known world-wide. Yes, his fielding in that series has gone down in legend, as well it should. Some of the plays he made at third, including one where he robbed future teammate Lee May of a sure-fire double by rifling a throw to first as he was falling toward the third-base stands, defy explanation. But the pride of Little Rock was no slouch at the plate, either, batting .429, collecting nine hits (a then-record for a five-game series) and launching two home runs. Rarely has the selection of a World Series MVP been so clear-cut.
Still, the 1970 World Series was more than just Brooks. It was pitcher Dave McNally hitting a grand slam, Paul Blair batting .474, Pete Richert getting a one-pitch save, Elrod Hendricks tagging a guy out at the plate even though he was holding the baseball in his other hand (thank goodness there was no video replay back then), Mike Cuellar overcoming a rough first inning in Game 5 to shut out the Reds for the rest of the game, and Frank Robinson, when the Orioles were down 3-0 in the first inning of that same game, smacking a two-run homer that assured the fans there was nothing to worry about.
The series was ours. And as it had in 1966, when the Orioles won their first world championship, the city went a little bonkers. As soon as Boog Powell recorded the final out (on a throw from Brooks, naturally), The Sun of Oct. 16, 1970, reported, “45,000-plus fans broke into spasms of orgiastic, frenzied screaming.”
Hundreds of those fans descended onto the Memorial Stadium field, determined to share in the winning exultation and maybe take themselves home a piece of history.
“The police made a futile try to herd them back into the seats, but it was like trying to pick up a Mexican jumping bean.
“The fans swarmed over the field ripping up clods of turf, scooping up infield dirt into paper cups and ripping apart the cloth covering the outfield fences.
“One youth ripped off quite a bit from the centerfield fence,” reporter Neil D. Rosenberg wrote. “He was arrested.”
Down on Baltimore Street’s Block, traditionally the hub of any frenzied Baltimore celebration, things were appropriately raucous.
“By 7:30 p.m.,” Rosenberg reported, “more than 1,500 celebrants had crowded onto the Block: little girls -- Oriole pennants streaming from their hair -- roller skated down the center of East Baltimore Street jostling the crowds; and The New Follies Burlesque Theater offered a 'World Series Double Header' featuring Camille 2000, the theater’s star attraction.”
Leave it to The Block’s most illustrious attraction, the formidable stripper and burlesque queen Blaze Starr, to keep the poor Reds in mind, even at such a celebratory moment.
She invited the team to a party at her 2 O’Clock Club, but curiously, none showed. “Actually, I suppose I scared them,” she told long-time Sun sportswriter Lou Hatter. “All that one of them could mumble was: ‘Gee, I think that would break curfew.’”