Three key members of the 1997 Orioles, the last team in club history to reach the American League Championship Series, gathered amidst the bustle of this year’s pennant series to reflect on the last great era of the franchise and give their thoughts on the one currently blossoming.
Former Orioles players Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Bordick, and Brady Anderson swapped stories of their successes in the mid-1990s, reflected on where the franchise went after those boom years, and savored the fact that the roar has finally returned.
“There was a period of time where we played really well at the beginning of the stadium, when the stadium opened, we were a playoff-contending team in '96 and '97, and the fans started expecting us to perform every single year,” said Anderson, now the Orioles’ vice president of baseball operations. “We dropped off and they got disenchanted, and now they're back. And I think everything has come full circle. The fans from Memorial Stadium are back into it, the fans from Camden Yards are going crazy.”
Never was that more apparent to the trio than during the AL Division Series last week against the Detroit Tigers, which Anderson and Bordick, now a MASN analyst, experienced in person, and Ripken, a color commentator for TBS, saw from afar as he called the Kansas City Royals-Los Angeles Angels game.
“Obviously, there was great intensity,” Bordick said. “I think Baltimore has been hungry to make it back to the postseason. Got a taste of it back in 2012, so I think there were expectations building. And then to finally get there — Baltimore is truly a baseball city. They have great passion. They missed it for 14 years getting back to the postseason. So I think they're kind of reflecting on what they've been waiting for.”
“We've all played in some pretty electric environments, but two years ago, when they returned to the playoffs, it was like I hadn't seen it,” Ripken said. “It was loud, it was crazy, it was electric, and so I expect it to be the same.”
The trio fielded as many light-hearted questions as they did baseball ones. Anderson and Ripken were asked to confirm that Bordick was the glue that held those playoff contenders together — and he was, his teammates said with a smile.
“It was like glue — always bothering you,” Anderson said. “He'd stick around.”
And Ripken was asked if, given how retired Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was sent off in his final home game with a walk-off hit, he resented Anderson for leaving him in the on-deck circle in his home finale.
Ripken brushed it off, joking that instead he held a grudge against manager Mike Hargrove, who batted Ripken behind Anderson.
All three provided perspective on what the current Orioles are going through, especially Ripken, who caught the final out in the franchise’s last World Series victory in 1983.
“When you're older, and we had a chance in '96 and '97, and we were this close to getting back to the World Series, I was in a position as an older person that had gone through it, to realize how difficult and hard it is to win a World Series,” Ripken said. “And it's probably more difficult now to win a World Series because you have extra rounds of playoffs, and that's a little bit more taxing for your team.”
If the Orioles do advance that far, Anderson’s front-office role would help him savor it even more.
“[It] feels great to be a part of it, sort of from the beginning of the turnaround,” he said. “You really can't overestimate Buck [Showalter]'s presence on and off the field, how he's contributed, how he's brought the organization together along with Dan Duquette, not just at the major league level, but throughout the minors. The way the whole system works is night and day from how it was. And it's nice to see the team rewarded that way.