It has been 35 years since Cal Ripken squeezed that last out in Philadelphia and the Orioles became world champions for the third time in the history of the Baltimore franchise, which makes some members of that 1983 team shake their heads in disbelief.
“It was Cal’s second year and we won the World Series,’’ said Ken Singleton, who was the full-time designated hitter that year, “and he was thinking it was going to be like this every year. Unfortunately, he found out that wasn’t going to be the case.”
Singleton joined many of his teammates from that championship season for “An Evening With the 1983 Orioles” on Wednesday night at the Renaissance Hotel Inner Harbor. The event was hosted by the Sports Boosters of Maryland and the Babe Ruth Museum.
It was a night to reminisce, but it was also an opportunity to get a sense of how the Orioles greats of the past view the franchise in its present state.
“They’ve had some decent teams, but they just couldn’t put it over the top,’’ Singleton said. “Buck [Showalter] did a great job. It’s just that the playoffs are tougher to navigate now. It’s tougher to get through the playoffs. So, yeah, 35 years … as Eddie [Murray] said, ‘Until they win, they’re going to keep bringing us back.’”
Right-hander Bill Swaggerty only pitched in seven games in 1983, but he knew what kind of talent the Orioles had at that time and — like Ripken — figured the postseason would be a formality the following year.
“When we won it in ’83, we thought it was going to happen again for sure,” Swaggerty said. “To be 35 years and have a reunion like this, we would have never thought for a second it would be 35 years and it hadn’t happened. And we hope it does. We’d love for it to happen to Baltimore, for the city.”
Of course, it was a different time back then. The Orioles had a winning record for the 16th consecutive season in 1983 and they would go on to extend that streak to 18. Contrast that with the string of 14 straight losing seasons (from 1998 to 2011) that finally ended when Showalter and Dan Duquette teamed up for their first season together in 2012.
“We were always one of the top teams in winning percentage,” said Rich Dauer, who played most of his 140 games in 1983 at second base. “The Orioles are the Orioles and they’ll always be the Orioles. I don’t know what went wrong this year.”
Just about everything, of course, but the 2018 season was not emblematic of the entire 35-year World Series drought. The Orioles just missed the postseason during their “Why Not?” year in 1989 and reached the American League Championship Series in both 1996 and ’97 before lapsing into that long string of sub-.500 seasons.
“It shows you how hard it is to get to the World Series and win,’’ said outfielder Gary Roenicke. “Back then, you only had four teams that were in the playoffs. Nowadays you have more [playoff teams], but it’s still hard because you've got to go through those different playoff formats to get there.
“They’ve had some great teams since that ’83 team, but unfortunately that’s just the way it works out. Sometimes, you don’t get to the playoffs, and when you do, you have to beat some great teams to get that opportunity to win again.”
Roenicke, like a lot of his ’83 teammates, found it hard to follow the Orioles this past season. No O’s team had ever lost so many games and collapsed so completely.
“I think anybody who enjoyed their time here, it was just terrible to watch what was going on,’’ he said. “I don’t think anybody foresaw that. The American League East is always a tough division, but you never figure when you go to spring training you’re going to lose over 100 games. That was bad to see from afar.”
Singleton certainly agrees, but he seemed heartened by the reports Wednesday that the Orioles were close to signing Houston Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias to be their new head of baseball operations.
“In ’79 and ’80, we lost a total of 119 games in those two years,’’ Singleton said. “To see a team lose 115 in one year, that’s tough to watch. I’m sure Orioles fans were disheartened, disgruntled — any type of word you want to use, and the Orioles have some catching up to do. But I think with the signing of this young guy, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
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“One thing I like, he’s young and he’s going to need all that energy.”