A surprise package awaited new Orioles manager Phil Regan when he walked into his office at Camden Yards yesterday. Inside, he found a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, plastic lining around the rim, that had been taken from him 29 years ago and a letter of explanation.
Regan was playing for the Dodgers in 1966 when they clinched the National League pennant at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium. Fans went onto the field, and as Regan clutched his jacket and glove against his chest, somebody grabbed his cap.
Somebody turned out to be Jim McDowell, of Thorofare, N.J., and this is the text of his letter to Regan, dated Feb. 27:
"A friend and I went to Connie Mack Stadium to see the Phillies play the Dodgers in a doubleheader on the last day of the season. The Dodgers had to win one of the games to clinch the pennant.
"If I remember correctly, the Phils beat Koufax in the opener and were staging a comeback in the 9th inning of the second.
"We walked down to the gate by first and watched the Dodgers get out of the inning and clinch the flag. Everyone started running out onto the field, myself included. We were standing on the infield grass when you and the rest of the bullpen came running by trying to get to the dugout.
"You were trying to protect your jacket and glove, so I casually removed your hat.
"I was in the service at the time. When we got home, I showed the hat to everyone and then had to get back to the base. My mother put the hat away for safekeeping and it has lain in the bottom of a trunk for almost 30 years.
"When I saw that you had been hired as the Orioles manager, it occurred to me that this hat would probably look better in your trophy case than the bottom of a closet. Over the years I have acquired autographs, balls, bats, World Series tickets, etc. I know that these things are mine.
"I feel that this hat is yours.
"Hoping that the strike eventually ends and that you, Ripken and the O's have a good year, I remain yours truly, Jim McDowell."
Regan shook his head and smiled. "Isn't that great?" he said.
He stretched the cap and put it on his head.
But he's happy to have it back, anyway.