A teary-eyed Jim Palmer insisted he could still pitch at a May 15 news conference announcing his release. He gamely tried to field questions but broke down before answering the first one. Then he dashed from the podium.
The Palmer era was over.
The Ripken-Murray era had begun.
"It was definitely Eddie and Cal's team; there's no question about that," said John Lowenstein, half of the team's left-field platoon that season with Gary Roenicke. "It was for three or four years after that."
Ripken quickly replaced Palmer as the team's poster boy. He had begun endorsing milk and hot dogs - he stayed away from underwear. And he started making big money. Before the season began, Ripken received a four-year contract worth about $4 million. It was the largest contract ever given to a third-year player and similar to the six-year, $6 million deal that Murray signed after his fourth season.
They deserved to be the team's two highest-paid players. Both Ripken (.304, 27 homers, 86 RBIs) and Murray (.306, 29, 110) had MVP-caliber seasons.
Ripken became the second player in Orioles history to hit for the cycle. On May 6, he homered off the Texas Rangers' Dave Tobik in his final at-bat to accomplish a feat that only his childhood hero, Brooks Robinson, had performed as an Oriole. Ripken also set an American League record for most assists (583) in a season.
Murray was voted the Most Valuable Oriole at the end of the season and led the American League in walks, intentional walks, on-base average and game-winning RBIs. He also won his third straight Gold Glove at first base.
The Orioles won 85 games because of what Ripken and Murray did with their gloves, their bats and their determination. And because Mike Boddicker won 20 games and Scott McGregor won 15. Together, the hitters and two pitchers formed the nucleus of what was once a great team.
"Cal and Eddie and the pitching staff, the established Baltimore Orioles," said third baseman Wayne Gross, who came to the team from the Oakland Athletics that season and lives in Danville, Calif. "Those were the Baltimore Orioles that had just won the World Series."
But many Orioles who played such key roles in 1983 were different players in 1984. The injury list was like a who's who of the previous season's heroes: World Series MVP Rick Dempsey (sore shoulder), Joe Nolan (knee surgery), Dan Ford (knee surgery and broken wrist), Jim Dwyer (knee surgery), Tippy Martinez (chronic tendinitis) and even McGregor (broken finger).
"A lot of us just got older," said Ken Singleton, now a Montreal Expos television announcer, who missed two weeks with a bruised right foot in 1984.
The Tigers got off to one of the fastest starts in history - when they were 35-5, the Orioles were 23-20 and already 13 games out of first place. Lowenstein said the Tigers accelerated the Orioles' aging process. There was no reason to rush off the disabled list, because there was no pennant race.
"When someone's running away with the pennant, everybody gets older more quickly," said Lowenstein, who shrugged off his injuries that season as inconsequential. "What difference does it make anyway, with the Tigers playing that way?"
It didn't make a difference to Ripken and Murray. They played every inning of every game.
Many of their teammates watched in awe.
"It was always a privilege to watch Cal play, especially with Eddie and Cal Jr. together," Lowenstein said. "It didn't matter if you were playing beside them or watching them on the bench, it was a privilege to watch them play."
Ripken played in every inning for the second consecutive season, accomplishing the feat for the first time since Rudy York did it with the Detroit Tigers in 1940 and 1941. Ripken's innings streak stood at 3,991. His consecutive-games streak stood at 422 - second-longest in the majors behind the Atlanta Braves' Dale Murphy (495) and third-longest in Orioles history.
To his teammates, the 24-year-old's determination gave him the aura of a veteran.
"It seemed like the second year he'd played he'd been there 10," Gross said.
"He was a young player who played like he was 35 years old," Lowenstein said.
But Ripken was not 35. His teammates were. Palmer was already gone. Ken Singleton and Al Bumbry were released after the season. Lowenstein and Rich Dauer played only one more season.
Ripken quickly had ascended to the position of team leader. But his teammates had gotten older even quicker.