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Groovy times

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates are turning back the clock this weekend, but Richie Hebner would like to give it another spin. Why stop at 1979 when you can go all the way back to '71?

The same two franchises meeting in the World Series. And with the same result - the Pirates winning in seven games. But there's one key difference for Hebner, now the manager at Single-A Frederick: He played in the first one.

Hebner spent '79 with the New York Mets, so he missed Willie Stargell's two-run homer off Scott McGregor in Game 7 and the ensuing celebration after closer Kent Tekulve recorded the final out. But he was the Pirates' starting third baseman in '71, the highlight of his 18-year major league career, and he still wears his championship ring.

The Pirates lost Game 2 in Baltimore, 11-3, but even that memory is cherished because Hebner ruined Jim Palmer's shutout bid with a three-run homer in the eighth inning.

"When I got home, somebody said, 'Did you get the ball?'" Hebner recalled. "I wish I did, but it went in the stands and I never got it."

Jay Anderson almost did. Anderson, the director of facilities for the Babe Ruth and Sports Legends museums, was sitting in the right-field bleachers that day and dropped the ball.

"You can see fuzzy replays of a bleached-blond guy reaching up and then looking down," he said. "That was me."

Said his younger brother Jeff: "I can vouch for him. When we both stood up, he knocked the sunglasses off my head while getting in his stance. I was scrambling to save them from being trampled when the ball bounced off his hands. Probably the only ball of any type that's he's ever dropped in his life."

Palmer left the game after the eighth, and Dick Hall finished up. It was Hall's final appearance in the majors.

"I threw 171 pitches in that game," Palmer said. "We had a big lead, and he hit the ball down the right-field line. He was a great low-ball hitter, just one of those classic left-handed low-ball hitters. He also hit a home run off me in Rochester when I hurt my shoulder, in '67 or '68. I was throwing about 80 mph then."

Hebner returned to Pittsburgh last weekend for Richie Hebner Bobblehead Night, and he received a shipment of the collectibles yesterday at his office at Harry Grove Stadium. The Keys won twice while he was gone, leaving him 0-for-9 as manager before Wednesday's 3-1 victory. The game ball sits on his desk.

The Orioles named Hebner as Frederick's manager on Memorial Day after granting Tommy Thompson a leave of absence for personal reasons. Hebner was the hitting coach for the independent Nashua Pride when the Orioles called - giving one of the game's great storytellers one more tale to spin like that clock.

Hebner remembers his mother calling to break the news that Roberto Clemente, his teammate in Pittsburgh for four seasons, had died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972.

"It was like numbness for the next couple of minutes," he said. "It was just so hard to believe. There are a few things you remember, like where you were when the U.S. beat the Russians in hockey [in the 1980 Olympics] and when JFK died. I remember where I was when Roberto Clemente died."

The Pirates flew to Puerto Rico after the accident. Hebner expected to see a few people walking along the beach, mourning the loss of their beloved countryman.

"There must have been 5,000," he said. "They were just staring straight ahead, as if they thought he was going to walk out of the water. It was unbelievable. That's how big he was there."

Hebner was the hitting coach at Single-A Durham in 2006 when Delmon Young flung his bat and struck the plate umpire in the chest while protesting a called third strike, drawing a 50-game suspension. In that same season, shortstop B.J. Upton was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated, and volatile outfielder Elijah Dukes was suspended three times - twice by the Devil Rays, once by the International League.

"He got the hat trick. Unfortunately, it was in the wrong sport," Hebner said. "They were like Moe, Larry and Curley. You never knew what they were going to do next."

Better to skip over 2006 and go directly to 1971.

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