By most reports, Adam Jones and the Orioles are due a clumsy divorce. When the team’s longest-tenured player nixed a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in July, the club countered by benching Jones, a five-time All Star center fielder, in favor of players who might or might not fit into their future.
The snub doesn’t behoove a club that, generally, parts with its stars more favorably. When Cal Ripken Jr. decided to retire in 2001, after the last home game, the Orioles placed a lectern midway between the shortstop position and third base and let the Iron Man bask, for the umpteenth time, in the fans’ adulation. There were gifts and accolades from everyone from former President Bill Clinton to baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Ripken’s mother, Vi, threw out the first pitch in her son’s 3,001st game — the majority of which (2,632) he played in a row.
Though hitless that night, Ripken, 41, doffed his hat countless times to the announced crowd of 48,807. To a friend, he confided, “I’ve had my fill.” At the microphone, he announced, “I hope that if I’m remembered at all, it’s because by living my dream I was able to make a difference.”
Ripken bowed out on his own accord. Other Orioles Hall of Famers weren’t so lucky. Brooks Robinson announced his retirement Aug. 21, 1977, before a road game in Minnesota. Say what?
“I would have liked to have played the rest of the year,” said Robinson, 40, a 15-time All Star, 1964 American League Most Valuable Player and MVP of the 1970 World Series. “But we had a couple of guys hurt and had to get them back on the active list.”
In truth, Robinson fell on his sword. That night, fans at Metropolitan Stadium gave him a standing ovation and demanded two curtain calls from the Orioles third baseman. On Sept. 18, Baltimore celebrated “Thanks, Brooks Day” at Memorial Stadium as Robinson circled the field in a 1956 Cadillac convertible and the crowd of 51,798 — the largest ever to attend a regular-season game there — stood and cheered for 15 minutes. One sign read: “Brooks, Not Retired, Just Called Up To Cooperstown.”
Clearly, the Hall-of-Fame-bound Robinson was touched.
“When you never wanted to do anything in your life but play baseball, the goodbye is that much harder,” he said.
Jim Palmer bid adieu with tears in his eyes. On May 17, 1984, the Orioles held a news conference to announce the release of their three-time Cy Young Award winner and all-time winningest pitcher.
“Well, I really don’t want to be here [at the conference]. I still think I can pitch,” said Palmer, who, like Ripken and Robinson, played his entire career (19 years) with Baltimore. But at 38, his fastball had slowed to 80 mph, his ERA had ballooned to 9.17 and nagging injuries had sent him to the bullpen, when able.
General manager Hank Peters called Palmer “the greatest pitcher this team ever had, and probably ever will have.” To that end, the Orioles chose to pay the six-time All-Star his full-season ($500,000) salary.
Outfielder Frank Robinson, the catalyst in the team’s first two world championships (1966 and 1970), never got the send-off he deserved. Robinson was at his winter home in Los Angeles on Dec. 2, 1971, when he learned he’d been dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 1966 AL MVP, his most recent numbers had “slipped” (28 homers, 99 RBIs, .281 average in 1971) and at 36, he’d reportedly been trade bait for some time. Knowing that, Robinson had asked club officials to send him to the West Coast. They obliged.
“I just hate to leave a ballclub like the Orioles, and the people and city itself,” he said. “These have been the greatest six years of my life.”
Easily, the most fractious split involved slugger Eddie Murray, who after a bitter spat with owner Edward Bennett Williams, was dealt to the Dodgers in December 1988. Almost three years earlier, Williams had bashed his first baseman in the press, saying Murray “hasn’t given us a good year … and his fielding, it’s really hurt us.” Moreover, the owner questioned the winter training regimen of the Orioles’ all-time home run leader and the game’s highest-paid player.
Two days later, Murray — who’d missed nearly four weeks in 1986 with a pulled hamstring — asked to be traded. For two years he stewed and withdrew from fans and the media as chants of “Ed-die! Ed-die!” trailed off. Eventually, Williams apologized for his comments, calling Murray “a very sensitive guy.” But when Williams died in August 1988, Murray was notably absent from his funeral. Four months later, Murray was traded.
“I was unhappy,” he said. “After playing the way I did for nine years and to have people bury you is absolutely unbelievable.”
Eight years later, in the thick of the 1996 pennant race, the Orioles brought Murray back in a midseason trade. All seemed forgotten as, on Sept. 6, he hit his 500th homer and answered three curtain calls during an 8½ minute celebration by the home crowd. A free agent that December, Murray signed with the then-Anaheim Angels. He left town on the best of terms.