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Standards high in Orioles' past Club's glove story meant a happy ending; 1970

Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks remembers having a conversation back in 1970 with Lee May, then a slugging first baseman with the Cincinnati Reds. Hendricks was a catcher on the team that gave Baltimore its second world championship that year, rolling over May's Reds in five games, and he was about to gain a greater appreciation for it.

May watched the defensive exploits of Brooks Robinson at third base, Mark Belanger at shortstop, Davey Johnson at second and Paul Blair in center field, and theorized why the American League didn't have as many .300 hitters as the National League.

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"When they have to face Belanger and Brooks and Davey and Blair, he said it makes you change your mind about hitting line drives and hard ground balls. You try to hit the ball out of the park and wind up hitting pop-ups," Hendricks said.

Hendricks looks at the Orioles defensive alignment today, with an infield of Cal Ripken, Mike Bordick, Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro, plus Brady Anderson in center, and is reminded of May's words.

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"If there is a comparison, I think it would be to the 1970 team because we had the perfect mixture," Hendricks said. "Defensively, you couldn't find a team that was as good as that ballclub. We had Gold Gloves all around the infield. Even though Boog [Powell] never got credit for being a great first baseman, he saved a lot of errors. And you had Blair in center field, who caught everything."

That team, which won 108 games, was sandwiched by more greatness. The '69 and '71 Orioles also stormed to the World Series, combining for 210 victories, though both failed to live up to their roles as favorites.

"We won more games than anybody in that span," Hendricks said. "Unfortunately, we only won one World Series. I still think the 1969 team was the best team that I ever played on. We did not win the World Series, but that was a great ballclub, very well put together. There really were no weaknesses at all. But that was just the Mets' year."

Hendricks sees other similarities between this year's model and the '69 through '71 versions, but only "when we're in full force."

"As the team stands right now, not really," he said. "When we had all our pistons going, this team reminded me an awful lot of the '69, '70 and '71 teams, with the edge [this year] being the depth of the pitching staff. And the minus is the bench, because we had a pretty strong one back then. But don't forget those three years were played under the original baseball rules, so pitchers hit and we had a stronger bench. We had the Chico Salmons and Curt Mottons and people like that. We had Terry Crowley, [Clay] Dalrymple, Bobby Floyd."

And they had an air of invincibility.

"In the seventh inning, if we were down by a couple of runs, we'd laugh and say we had them right where we wanted them," Hendricks said. "And people talk about powerhouses, but we didn't blow people away. We won a lot of one-run games. We had people who would hit-and-run and bunt, sacrificing for Brooks and Boog and Frank [Robinson]."

The Orioles bullpen has been a blessing this year, but it's also in more demand than during Hendricks' time as a player, when the Orioles cranked out 20-game winners who finished what they started.

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And usually in front of less than a packed house.

"We scuffled to get to a million [fans] on the final week of the season those three years," Hendricks said. "It was a football town back then. It bothered me, because I thought we did as much for Baltimore as the Colts did."

Pub Date: 7/06/97


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