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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Remembering the (golden) boys of summer

BALTIMORE — A half-century sounds like an awfully long time. Changing it to 50 years doesn't help much, either.

But when you're part of a group responsible for a seismic change across an entire city, all those years ago can feel like just a few weeks or months.

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That's what the 1966 Orioles mean to Baltimore, and beyond.

Baseball came to town in 1954, but fans had to wait 12 years for the franchise's first World Series victory. And it was that series win, against the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, that thrust the Orioles into the fabric of this area.

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Baltimore was no longer just a football town.

Yes, it was 50 years ago. And so when the club recognized that special team Friday night at Camden Yards, bringing back 13 players from the 1966 world champs to honor in a pre-game ceremony, the old-timers got to don their jerseys and walk out to the diamond and hear it from the fans once again.

It seems as if the players from half a century ago understand these get-togethers are becoming rarer with time.

"You never know how many people you touch," said former first baseman Boog Powell, bigger than life after all these years, during an interview session inside the B&O Warehouse on Friday afternoon.

"I stand out here on [Eutaw Street] at night for an hour, talking to people. ... Someone is going to come up, at least 15 or 20 times a night and say, 'Thanks. Thanks for the memories.' And I'll say, 'Thanks for remembering, because if you didn't remember it didn't count.'"

It was 50 years ago, half a century, that Powell slugged 34 home runs and had 109 RBIs in helping the Orioles to a 97-63 record, and the franchise's first AL pennant. They headed west to face a 95-win Dodgers team backed by 27-win Sandy Koufax.

L.A. got good pitching. So did Baltimore — and it held the Dodgers to two runs, both of which came in Game 1.

If you're of age, of course, and from the Baltimore area, you don't need the history lesson. You know that 50 years ago, the Orioles swept Los Angeles, Jim Palmer beating Koufax 6-0 in Game 2 to start a three-game stretch of complete-game shutouts.

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The players themselves, however...

"Sometimes, honest to God, I don't remember even playing," joked Hall of fame third baseman Brooks Robinson.

To which Hall of Fame pitcher Palmer quipped, "Hey, by the way, you were pretty good."

Robinson and Palmer were both good. Brooks hit 23 homers and drove in 100, and said he knew things were looking up when the ballclub traded for 30-year-old Frank Robinson that offseason.

Palmer, meanwhile, won a team-best 15 games that year. He was 20.

And there was Frank, who won a Triple Crown with 49 home runs, 122 RBIs, and a .316 batting average.

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"You know, it's hard to win. It's not easy," Robinson said. "There's so many players that never get a chance to experience that. To me, that's what it was all about. I just said, 'I don't care if we ever do that again. That's it for me.'"

The Orioles made it to three more World Series with most of that team intact, winning it all again in 1970 (Palmer pointed out that 50-year anniversary coming four years from now) but coming up short in 1969 and 1971.

The defeats still stick with Robinson a half-century later.

"The disappointing thing was losing two of them, which we were favored to win," Brooks said. "And if we'd have won those two, I mean our group would have gone down as one of the greatest ever. That's the way I feel."

Palmer and Powell didn't argue with their teammate. But all three Orioles legends agreed time is eluding them.

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Brooks turned 79 in May. Boog will be 75 in August. Palmer, ageless as he seems, turns 71 in October.

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Their World Series anniversary celebration was a joyous one, but not without the notion that there might not be too many more of them.

"It's just like snapping your fingers," Powell said. "I don't know, it just seemed like it happened right now. It's all still real. Like Jimmy said, it was like living in fantasy land. After it went so fast, you know, what do we do now?"

Added Palmer: "The great thing about this game is, I always felt, that you compare generations to generations. Now, it is 50 years ago, and it's amazing that [the fans] can remember back then. But I think it shows how passionate Oriole fans are.

"And then you go back and think about it, it's the first time we were ever in a World Series. It was a pretty special time, I think, for all of us."

pat.stoetzer@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7894


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