The Orioles didn't have to travel far during the 1983 World Series, but they were carrying a lot of baggage when they faced the star-studded Philadelphia Phillies 20 years ago.
"We were determined - after what happened in 1979 - that this team was not going to let up," said Mike Flanagan, an Orioles pitcher then and now a vice president of the club, which is in the midst of a series with the Phillies this weekend and is commemorating that Series.
"We were up three games to one against the Pirates and didn't bring it home. In 1980, we won 100 games and went home, 1981 was the strike season and we lost on the last day of the season in 1982. We'd had good season after good season and had nothing to show for it."
The 1982 season, which came down to a climactic final series against the Milwaukee Brewers, was particularly disappointing, because the Orioles wanted to send retiring manager Earl Weaver out with another World Series championship.
"I remember seeing everyone come into spring training [in '83], and it was a completely different feeling," Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks said. "They were all business. You could see that there was something. ... Nobody ever said it, but they wanted it for Earl in '82, his last year, and they fell short. Once the '83 season started, they never looked back."
The '83 Orioles won 98 games and finished the regular season with a six-game cushion over the second-place Detroit Tigers. They lost the opener of the best-of-five American League Championship Series to a Chicago White Sox team that had won the AL West by 20 games, but won the next three games in a row to advance to the Fall Classic against a Phillies team loaded with future Hall of Famers.
"They had Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan and Steve Carlton," catcher Rick Dempsey said. "Those were names that were almost invincible. How were you ever going to overcome that winning tradition? I don't think anyone would have been surprised if they had won in five games."
Except that most of those superstars were in the twilight of their careers. The Phillies were so old that they were known affectionately as the "Wheeze Kids." They limped through a difficult season before upsetting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, then feigned offense when a solid majority of media prognosticators picked the Orioles to win the World Series.
"It was not our best team as far as personnel," said Flanagan, who started Game 3 at Veterans Stadium, "but the good thing was, they were a lot older than we were."
Falling in Game 1
That didn't seem to matter, however, when veteran right-hander John Denny gave up just five hits over 7 2/3 innings and home runs by Morgan and Garry Maddox carried the Phillies to a 2-1 victory in Game 1.
The Orioles could take some solace that they had lost the opener of the ALCS by the same score and rebounded by running the table against the White Sox, but the loss created tremendous pressure to salvage a split of the first two games at Memorial Stadium.
Rookie pitcher Mike Boddicker stepped into the breach and delivered a masterful three-hit performance to even the series with a 4-1 victory. The 26-year-old right-hander, who became the media darling of the postseason because he spent offseasons working in a grain elevator near his home in Iowa, struck out six and did not allow an earned run in his World Series debut.
In the turning-point second game, the turning point came in the fifth inning, when outfielder John Lowenstein tied the game with a leadoff home run and Dempsey gave the Orioles the lead with an RBI double to right field. No one could have known it at the time, but that hit would turn the 80th World Series into a life-changing experience for the occasionally goofy 34-year-old catcher.
"Charlie Hudson threw me a fastball up and away, and I hit it off the wall in right field," Dempsey said. "That one at-bat was the best at-bat of my career, and it lifted a great weight off my back. I finally had done something offensively for the club that was really significant."
It was only the beginning. Dempsey would go on to deliver a pair of doubles and score a big run in Game 3. He also had two hits and drove in a run in the decisive 5-0 victory that gave the Orioles their third world championship.
Dempsey still shakes his head in disbelief when he remembers the moment that he found out he had been named World Series Most Valuable Player.
"That was one thing that never crossed my mind the entire World Series," he said. "I came off the field and somebody yelled, `Hey, Dempsey, you're the MVP.' Then it hit me - boom - and I thought, `How the heck did that happen?' "
There were several strong individual performances, but no one dominated the series. Scott McGregor gave up just two runs over 17 innings, but split his two starts. Eddie Murray hit two home runs in Game 5 - one of them a mammoth blast that hit his name on the scoreboard - but was not a major factor in the first four games. Cal Ripken had won the American League MVP award during the regular season, but had just three hits in 18 at-bats. Dempsey made an impact on three of the four Orioles victories.
"I think I was the first MVP [position player] to ever get pinch hit for, and not once but twice," Dempsey said. "I had five hits in the series. Scott McGregor pitched two great games and could easily have been voted MVP. Eddie didn't have a lot of hits up to the last game, but he hit two home runs. If the series had gone seven games, I'm sure that Eddie or Cal would have been the MVP.
"That didn't matter. The only thing I was thinking about was vindicating ourselves after what happened in the '79 Series."
Ripken ends it
Ripken, then 23, would catch the final out of the season, squeezing a soft line drive off the bat of Maddox and then leaping for joy to begin a world title celebration that would have to last him his entire career. The Orioles would come close again in 1996 and '97, but Ripken would retire in 2001 with only that first World Series ring.
"I loved the ending with Eddie Murray," Ripken said. "He was criticized [after the '79 Series], maybe unfairly, because in a series like that, there's a strategy that's for Eddie Murray, it's not for the rest of the players in the lineup. Sometimes you pitch around him and make the strategy saying you'll let somebody else beat you. Eddie was living with that burden, and he very much wanted to contribute."
The two had gone out to dinner after Game 4, Ripken said. "And we laughed and we talked and we had a good time in anticipation of the next game and what could happen, and sure enough, Eddie hits two home runs in the game. Me being around him and understanding what his thoughts were at that particular time, having him go out and basically carry the offensive load for the next day and clinch the World Series, that was the moment I'll always remember."
Everyone who was on that team still remembers the ride home. The Orioles headed toward Baltimore in a four-bus caravan and found clusters of cheering fans lining Interstate 95. The crowd that greeted the buses at Memorial Stadium was estimated at 30,000.
The number of celebrating fans swelled to 100,000 for the downtown parade the next afternoon.
"It's a hell of a good feeling," Dempsey said at the time.
He wouldn't know how good until he saw his face on the cover of Sports Illustrated a few days later.
"Never in a million years would I have expected that," he said last week. "I was the most surprised person in the whole world. I still sign hundreds of those books every year. My kids and grandkids are so proud of that, which makes it even better.
"That [the World Series] was absolutely the biggest highlight of my career. Those are the things you dream about since my dad took me to the drive-in movies when I was a kid and they showed World Series highlights between the movies. You wanted to be in the World Series, and you wanted to be the MVP."
Maybe it was appropriate that someone from the lower third of the batting order ended up with the hardware. The last three hitters in manager Joe Altobelli's everyday lineup - Dempsey, Rich Dauer and Todd Cruz - had been dubbed "The Three Stooges" by designated hitter Ken Singleton during the regular season, which gained them some national acclaim when the club reached baseball's biggest stage.
Singleton, meanwhile, would see his role greatly diminished in the World Series because the DH rule was only in effect in the first two games.
"There were a whole lot of guys who could have been the MVP," said Hendricks. "Eddie could have won it. Richie Dauer could have won it. Kiko Garcia could have won it. That's the type of series it was."
Dempsey would play nine more seasons, but nothing would happen again to compare with that wonderful week in October 1983. Future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer was wrapping up his great career, but he would have one more magic moment - getting the win in relief in Game 3.
"My initial recollection was how far away from home plate I was, looking through Plexiglas [in the Veterans Stadium bullpen]," Palmer said in jest, "but it was rewarding to see a lot of guys I had been around and had mentored get the chance to do the job.
"Obviously, I was disappointed that I could not have contributed more, but to go from 15 wins [in 1982] to five shows how well-rounded that club had to be to still get there. That's what the Orioles were about ... continuity. If someone struggled, somebody was there to take his place. The whole crux of that year was, it didn't matter if I had only five wins. We won."
Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell and Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.
The Orioles will commemorate the 20th anniversary of their 1983 World Series title during this weekend's series with the Phillies. Events:
Today: Home Run Derby between Eddie Murray and Mike Schmidt, 6:40 p.m. Orioles season-ticket holders who use their early entrance privileges will have the opportunity to get autographs from the 1983 players who are on the field and throughout the concourse during pre-game batting practice.
Tomorrow: Old-timers game between 1983 Orioles and Phillies, 12:30 p.m. Gates will open at 11 a.m. for batting practice. Among the Orioles scheduled to play are Mike Boddicker, Rich Dauer, Storm Davis, Rick Dempsey, Mike Flanagan, Dan Ford, Elrod Hendricks, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and Ken Singleton.