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1966 World Series champion Orioles gather for 50th-anniversary reunion

Peter Schmuck talks about the 1966 Baltimore Orioles. (Emma Patti Harris/Baltimore Sun video)

Fifty years ago Friday, the first-place Orioles defeated the California Angels, 2-1 on Boog Powell's walk-off home run before a jubilant 19,312 at Memorial Stadium.

"Marcelino Lopez threw a hanging curve," Powell recalled. "I just reached out, jerked that S.O.B. — and we went home."

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It was another in a season of storybook victories for the 1966 Orioles, who went on to win it all. Prior to playing the Angels at Camden Yards on Friday night, the club will pay homage to that team, trotting out a number of players from Baltimore's first World Series champion in a pregame tribute.

Fifty years later, Jim Palmer vividly remembers his disbelief as he walked from Memorial Stadium on the evening of Oct. 9, 1966, a newly minted world champion. Palmer is the only player who participated in each of the Orioles' six World Series appearances, all crammed into a remarkable 18-year run of winning baseball. But never did success feel quite so fresh as it did for the 1966 club, which won the organization's first title.

Perhaps Powell would like to linger on the field and take a few cuts?

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"The mind says, 'Yeah, go play,'" said Powell, 74. "The body says otherwise."

"Damn, we had a good time, didn't we?" said Powell, the first baseman who hit 34 homers and drove in 109 runs. "There was no one on that team you didn't want to go into battle with. That's why we became close and kicked everyone's [butt].

"In the clubhouse, I'd sing Charley Pride songs with Eddie Watt, a country boy we called 'Squatty Body.' And John Miller's wife taught my wife how to make crab soup. The neat thing is, the friendships we developed back in 1966 are still good."

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For Bob "Rocky" Johnson, a utility man and pinch hitter, the celebration is well-timed.

"A month ago, I was in a wheelchair in a nursing home [in Minnesota] with neurological problems," said Johnson, 80. "When I heard about the reunion, I said, 'I've got to get in shape to go.' So I did my [physical] therapy and got out of there."

He was to arrive in Baltimore with a delegation of 10 family members and lots of tales to tell.

"Once, after a game in Cleveland that year, Brooks and I were dining in the Kon Tiki Restaurant in the Sheraton when a guy approached our table," Johnson said. "He asked if I was [Indians slugger] Rocky Colavito, whom I looked like."

Johnson nodded.

"You look shorter," the man said. (Colavito was 6 feet 3; Johnson, 5-10).

"I'm out of uniform," Johnson replied.

The man asked for an autograph. Johnson whispered to Robinson, "How do you spell Colavito?"

Memento in hand, the man nodded toward Robinson.

"Is he a player?" he asked.

"He's a rookie we just called up," Johnson said.

"Have a great year, son," the man said, shaking Robinson's hand.

Robinson obliged, batting .269 with 23 home runs and 100 RBIs.

"I can't believe it has been 50 years," Robinson said recently. "Sometimes it seems like yesterday; other times, it's like 1966 never happened. That year was a dream for me. I'd been here since 1955 and it completed my baseball life. The ultimate is to win the World Series. Then you say to yourself, 'Hey, if I never do it again, so what? We were the best in the world for a year.'"

Robinson said his mail that season convinced him of the loyalty of Orioles fans:

"One letter said, 'We never miss a game on TV or radio.' It was from two nuns in Cumberland," Robinson said.

Back then, Powell said, he fraternized routinely with fans in the stands as he strode from the dugout to the on-deck circle.

April 12: In his first game as an Oriole, Frank Robinson hits a home run in a 5-4 victory at Boston. Brooks Robinson does the same. The next day against the Red

"I think I knew everybody's first name in the first- and second-row seats," he said. "I'd say, 'Hey Jim. Hi Bill, how ya doin'?' Then someone would ask, 'Boog, are you gonna bunt tonight?' And I'd say, 'Yeah, I'll drop one down. What do you think, first or third base?' And we'd all laugh."

If he could speak to the crowd Friday, Powell said, "I'd thank them for their support in '66. I don't think we could have done what we did to an empty stadium."

Friday's reunion will be heartfelt, said Robinson, 79.

"I just want to see the guys and tell them to hang in there, because it'll probably be the last time for a lot of us," he said.

The gathering will be bittersweet, said Powell, "because a lot of guys — Dave McNally, Paul Blair, Curt Blefary — went long before their time." When Blefary died in 2001, the outfielder had his ashes spread over home plate in what remained of old Memorial Stadium.

If there's a hereafter, Powell said, "Those guys will be hanging out up there [Friday] saying, 'Yeah, gang, we were great.'"

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Honoring the 1966 Orioles

Fans are encouraged to arrive early to Friday's game. Pregame ceremonies begin at 6:00 p.m. with a 40-minute highlight video from the 1966 season. Thirteen members of the 1966 World Series team will be introduced on the field at approximately 6:40 p.m.

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