When asked to reflect on their decisive run through the 1983 postseason, old Orioles rarely dwell on one player or moment.
Most athletes like to spread credit for team success, but it's more than that with this group. Look at those 25-year-old box scores and try to discern who was the star that October. It's hard.
The club's three future Hall of Famers had their moments.
Jim Palmer became the first pitcher to win a World Series game in three decades. Eddie Murray launched two titanic home runs to put his signature on the Series clincher. Cal Ripken Jr. caught the last out of the season.
But often, they ceded the glamour roles to others.
A rookie, Mike Boddicker, pitched complete-game gems to pull the Orioles out of 1-0 holes in the American League Championship Series and World Series. A career reserve, Tito Landrum, smacked the pennant-clinching homer. And a catcher who was better known for his slip-sliding hijinks during rain delays than for his potency with a bat walked off as the World Series Most Valuable Player.
"We had every component that you needed," recalled that unlikely MVP, Rick Dempsey. "Maybe we didn't have the very best in any one area - offense, defense or pitching - but we did it all well, and when you put everything together, it was so solid."
At the helm of this unglamorous machine sat an easygoing, humble man who had made his reputation managing the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Fittingly, Joe Altobelli claimed none of the flamboyant "genius" that brought fame to his predecessor, Earl Weaver.
"He was a realist," Palmer said. "Why come in and change things when they don't need to be changed? He was the perfect fit for us."
A quarter-century later, Altobelli sounds just as Zen in reflecting on the 1983 season. "Really, baseball is not a difficult game," he said from his home in Rochester. "A lot of people try to come in and overdo it."
The Orioles played in streaks through the regular season but won 98 games and took the AL East with room to spare. In the ALCS loomed the only team with more wins, the Chicago White Sox. The Orioles believed the White Sox would be a greater challenge than either team they could play in the World Series.
Cy Young Award winner La Marr Hoyt out-dueled Scott McGregor, 2-1, in the first game at Memorial Stadium. That set the stage for the signature game of Boddicker's career. The young Iowan, who still worked a grain elevator in the winter, had been a revelation all season, winning 16 games in the vacuum left by injuries to Palmer and Mike Flanagan.
But would he shine in the postseason spotlight? Dempsey had few doubts.
"I mean, he beat everybody that year," the catcher recalled. "He was just so locked in all season. He had that big sweeping curve that just hung out in front of the plate but then seemed to move right when the hitter reached for it."
Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and Harold Baines flailed at the bender in vain as Boddicker accumulated an ALCS-record 14 strikeouts in a 4-0 shutout.
Palmer, by then in his pitching twilight, took a connoisseur's pleasure in the masterpiece.
"Anytime you have a curveball and you can seem to walk it up to the plate and place it where you want, you're going to get a lot of outs," the Hall of Famer said. "And he had a changeup to go with it; he was a marvelous athlete. He didn't have great velocity, but he had great movement, great location. It's never easy to get hitters out, but when you're going like he was, it feels that way."
Boddicker's gem had the Orioles riding high on their trip to Chicago, where they delivered an 11-1 beatdown in Game 3. Murray kicked off the rout with a three-run homer into the upper deck at old Comiskey Park.
They desperately wanted to close out the series in four. "I remember thinking that we couldn't give La Marr Hoyt another shot at us," Ripken said.
Altobelli recalled the usually stoic Murray shouting, "I want to see this clubhouse in shambles after the game," meaning he was ready to close it out and celebrate.
But the Orioles couldn't do any more against left-hander Britt Burns than they had against Hoyt. Fortunately for them, 21-year-old Storm Davis matched Burns through six innings, aided by a brilliant defensive effort. Altobelli then handed the ball to his relief ace, Tippy Martinez. Closers don't pitch four innings anymore, but that's what the little lefty with the world-class curve did as the tense, scoreless game moved into extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, Landrum came up with one out. Maybe Burns was looking ahead to Ripken on deck and Murray in the hole, but he sent a fastball right over the upper-middle heart of the plate. The veteran utility player swung hard and sent the ball on a line, beneath the wind, into Comiskey's upper deck.
"He really kind of epitomized the Orioles of that time," Palmer said of Landrum. "They would go out every year and get guys who maybe couldn't play every day but who could subjugate their egos and, when the right moment came up, play a role."
After the Orioles tacked on two more, Martinez struck out Luzinski and Tom Paciorek to end the series. When the team's flight arrived back in Baltimore, hundreds of fans chanted, "Tito! Tito!" as the unlikely hero left the plane. Landrum would be right back in St. Louis the next season, but on that day, he entered Baltimore's heart forever.
As overjoyed as the players were, many of them had also played in the 1979 postseason, when the Orioles rolled to a 3-1 lead in the World Series only to lose. If they hadn't experienced that, they had watched a late surge come up short on the last day of the 1982 regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers.
"Those experiences were so devastating, really hard to live with for a long time," Dempsey said. "So I think there was more of a focus. We weren't going to do the same things we had in '79 or '82."
The players also wanted to prove they could win without ex-manager Weaver, who had gotten so much credit for the club's run from 1968 to 1982.
On an airplane trip early in the season, United Airlines didn't serve the players their usual shrimp cocktail. "Where's the shrimp?" second baseman Rich Dauer wondered.
"He's retired, playing golf in Florida," Flanagan cracked, in reference to the diminutive Weaver.
Said Palmer: "It's not that we were vindictive toward Earl. We just felt that if we played the way we were supposed to, the organization would be in good shape whether he was there or not."
The Orioles were confident they had already beaten the best team they would face. The Philadelphia Phillies had five future Hall of Famers, but the Orioles regarded them as past their peak.
Game 1 of the World Series was supposed to be a special night at Memorial Stadium, with President Reagan in the crowd and John Denver singing "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" live during the seventh-inning stretch. But it was a dreary occasion in practice, as drizzle filled the air and the Orioles failed to score after a first-inning homer by Jim Dwyer. Again, they squandered a strong opening start by McGregor, who walked no one and allowed but two runs.
Again, Boddicker came back with a remarkable start in Game 2.
"He was probably the difference-maker for us," Ripken said. "He was that hot pitcher you need."
The third game fell the day before Palmer's 38th birthday. Back and shoulder troubles had forced him to watch most of the team's success from the bullpen. But when Flanagan went out after the fourth inning, Palmer entered in long relief. Serendipitously, Phillies shortstop Ivan DeJesus let a ball trickle through his legs to give the Orioles a one-run lead. After three more shutout innings from Sammy Stewart and Martinez, Palmer had his win.
"I really hadn't pitched much, and I didn't think I had very good stuff," he said. "I was in the right place at the right time. I just wanted to be part of the process, really. Every time I see Ivan DeJesus, I say thank you."
Another one-run win put the Orioles exactly where they wanted to be, up 3-1 in the Series with 18-game winner McGregor set to start. The lefty was certainly among the most confounding standouts in the majors. His pitches rarely broke 85 mph and, unlike Boddicker's, didn't seem to move much, either.
"He looked like he was throwing batting practice," Dempsey said. "The trick was that these big sluggers tried to hit every pitch hard. But every one, by the time it got to the plate, was cutting or sinking or sailing just enough."
Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt, for example, went 0-for-7 with two strikeouts in his attempts to hit the soft tosser (part of a frustrating 1-for-20 Series for Philadelphia's best player).
This time, the Orioles backed McGregor ably, with Murray's two homers and Dempsey's one giving him more runs than he needed. As the final soft liner popped off Garry Maddox's bat, Ripken thought he might have to leap. But the ball settled comfortably into his glove.
"When you close your hand over that ball, there truly is a sense of satisfaction and finality that comes over you," Ripken said. "You know, as a kid, you always dream of winning the World Series. And there's just a sense of fulfillment, of 'We did it.' ... You really can't get that anywhere else."
Ripken said nothing that followed in his career could "compare at all" to the feeling.
McGregor's shutout completed an almost surreal run of pitching excellence. The Orioles allowed 12 runs total in nine postseason games. Their top two relievers, Martinez and Stewart, held the White Sox and Phillies to one run over 18 1/3 innings.
After their champagne celebration in Philadelphia, the Orioles got to watch as fans saluted them from the side of Interstate 95 on the whole ride back to Baltimore. Thousands greeted them at Memorial Stadium that night, and an estimated 100,000 lined the streets downtown for a parade the next day.
For his homer and four doubles in the Series, Dempsey won a Pontiac Trans Am, dined at the White House and got to see his mug on Sports Illustrated's cover, which labeled him "The Hero!"
"No one," he said, "was more surprised than me."
5 who made a difference
Orioles who made an impact in the 1983 postseason:
: In both the ALCS and World Series, the Orioles lost the openers. In Game 2 of each, Boddicker pitched complete-game gems to pull them even.
: Closer Martinez allowed one run in nine postseason innings and held the White Sox scoreless over four tense innings to win the ALCS clincher.
: The unheralded reserve outfielder put the swing of his life on a fastball by Britt Burns to put away the White Sox in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS.
: Far from an offensive star most of the time, Dempsey captured the World Series MVP with five extra-base hits in five games, including a homer in the clincher.
: The slugger took criticism early in each series, but his titanic home runs were the key hits in Game 3 of the ALCS and Game 5 of the World Series.
What was the pivotal moment of the 1983 postseason? PG 2