A few of the boys whooped it up as the Orioles clinched the Eastern Division title. Pouring the traditional champagne toasts are (left to right), Billy Hunter, Dave McNally, Boog Powell, Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson.
A few of the boys whooped it up as the Orioles clinched the Eastern Division title. Pouring the traditional champagne toasts are (left to right), Billy Hunter, Dave McNally, Boog Powell, Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Though inevitable, there was a sweet sense of revelry 50 years ago when the Orioles clinched the American League Eastern Division. They’d taken first place in mid-April and built a staggering 22-game lead before season’s end. But that didn’t curb the jubilation in the clubhouse on Sept. 13, 1969, when the Orioles locked up a postseason berth for the first time since 1966, when they won the World Series.

Champagne flowed. Slugger Boog Powell doled out a hot foot or two. Frank Robinson turned the shower hose on his teammates, full blast. And players threw both owner Jerry Hoffberger and personnel director Harry Dalton in the whirlpool bath, fully clothed.

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“That’s all right," Dalton exclaimed, "it’s a drip-dry suit.”

It was, statistically, the best Orioles team of all-time (109-53), with six All Stars (Powell, Paul Blair, Dave Johnson, Dave McNally, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson) and four Gold Glove winners (Blair, Johnson, Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger). Pitcher Mike Cuellar (23 victories) shared the AL Cy Young Award.

A young fan reaches out to touch fingers with Frank Robinson while Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer (right) look on as thousands of the Orioles faithful turned out at Friendship International Airport to greet the O's home after the World Series in 1969.
A young fan reaches out to touch fingers with Frank Robinson while Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer (right) look on as thousands of the Orioles faithful turned out at Friendship International Airport to greet the O's home after the World Series in 1969. (Pearson / Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

At one point, the Orioles were 60 games over .500. So it was no surprise when, in the AL playoffs, they swept the Minnesota Twins to meet the New York Mets in the World Series. There, improbably, the favorites folded, four games to one, and flew home in dismay.

"There were probably 5,000 people waiting at the airport, holding up signs and crying,” Powell remembered. “We stayed for half an hour, shaking their hands through the fence and crying, too.

"But you know what? That’s the closest I ever felt to the city of Baltimore.”

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