They came back, almost all of them, and it was easy to see why they were so good for so long.
The 23 members of the 1983 World Series championship team who assembled at Oriole Park yesterday still had that certain something - call it chemistry, camaraderie, whatever - that bonded them together and allowed them to scale baseball's highest peak a quarter century ago.
It wasn't nostalgia, though there was plenty of that in the air as Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and Company were introduced on the field before last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. And it wasn't that chicken-or-the-egg kind of man love that either comes with winning or causes it, but you really never know.
What they had was truly special, and you could sense that all these years later as they passed the microphone around at the MASN media memoryfest before the on-field celebration.
"We seemed to have one thing in general about this ballclub," first base coach Jimmy Williams said. "In '82 and '83, it was a bunch of ballplayers who came to the clubhouse, played hard and had fun. The consensus of the coaching staff was these players were the greatest players they had ever been associated with."
Who knows if that was true, but they believed it, they believed in each other and they were hell-bent to turn the bitter disappointment of their aborted comeback in '82 into something special the next season.
"This was pretty much a ballclub that after '82 we knew we were going to win," Murray said, "and it played itself out."
Cal Ripken was entering only his second season - the year he would win his first of two American League Most Valuable Player awards - but he could see that something had changed after the Orioles came up one win short of a four-game sweep that would have upended the Milwaukee Brewers on the final day of his rookie year.
"Going into spring training, it was a whole lot more businesslike," he said. "We weren't going to let it go down to the last day of the season."
It was a serious team with a not-so-serious alter ego. How could it not be with Rick Dempsey always willing to loosen things up in the clubhouse or in the stands?
So no one should have been surprised that the two-tiered news conference felt more like a five-year fraternity reunion than a silver anniversary. When Al Bumbry got a little long-winded with a recollection, Murray made a great show of looking at his watch until "B" passed the microphone to Dempsey. When Dempsey spoke a little too long, he also got an earful.
When it was time for the first group of players to clear the room, Murray playfully thanked everyone for coming to the "Bumbry and Dempsey Show" and dragged Bumbry toward the exit.
"It's time to go, Al," he said. "Get off the stage."
Sometimes, the players at these turn-back-the-clock events look like they're waiting for a train, but it was obvious this group of middle-aged ex-jocks would gladly put the whole 1983 season on rewind and play it back if they could.
The on-field festivities brought a heartfelt response from the crowd, which jacked up a particularly spirited "O!" during the national anthem and bestowed warm ovations on all the old-timers.
The Orioles are working hard to forge a new link with their storied past after years of neglect. They haven't reached the point where a celebration like this is going to fill the ballpark with legions of forgiving fans, but the team definitely is projecting a more fan-friendly image, and this kind of throwback event certainly doesn't hurt.
"I think it's a very good idea on multiple levels," Orioles president Andy MacPhail said. "First, for the fans and the organization to take some pride in what happened in the past, and I'm glad we're doing it for our [current] players. Dave [Trembley] also brought in former players in spring training, even if they didn't win a championship."
Trembley has talked often of the importance of legacy players having a presence around his developing team. Maybe some of the real Orioles Magic just might rub off.
"Well, I'd like to get them here, come more often than just on these types of occasions," the manager said yesterday. "I'd certainly like them to know that they have an open invitation to come anytime. We're here because of what they did, and I'd certainly like to welcome those guys to come in our clubhouse and be in our batting cage and sit in my office and have a cup of coffee. There's no substitute for guys who've been there and done it before."
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