Introducing the 1970 Orioles Retro Recap Project
If you were born after October 16, 1983, there was no Orioles World events championship, or even the Orioles playing in a World Series, in your life. Anyone under the age of five probably doesn’t have many memories of the local baseball team that won it that whole year. That’s been a lot of people, including me, for whom the Orioles winning a title is something they can only imagine what it must have been like.
In the pilot episode of The SopranosTony Soprano says of his role in the family business: “I feel like I’ve come to the end. The best is over. It’s a line that I thought about a lot as an Orioles fan, although there was, at least, the great streak of 2012-16. The best was before I was born.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Orioles victory. In the same way that a radio show of a baseball game might play an old game as alternative rain delay programming, Camden Chat will be celebrating the championship. of this O as our coronavirus Alternate programming with a series of retro recaps of some of the best games this team has won in their title season.
For those like me in the squad “weren’t alive yet” when these legendary Orioles teams did their job, it’s even hard to get a feel for what a team as good as the 1970 Orioles did. had to watch. The 1997 Orioles, who have gone from wire to wire in Eastern AL, were pretty good, and they still won 10 games less than the 1970 team. The 2014 team, the best of my adult life, won 12 victories ahead of the Birds of ’70.
Another way to think about how good the 1970 Orioles are is to think for a minute about how serious the 2019 Orioles are. It was a difficult thing for Orioles fans to watch, or even think about, this team. upgraded getting butt kicked night and night. They have lost 108 times, or two-thirds of the games they have played. That’s exactly the number of games the 1970 Orioles won.
When you look who was on the team and how they did that year, it is not a surprise. That’s about all the old orioles your dad mentioned. The three future Hall of Fame members, Brooks and Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer, have had good seasons, and Earl Weaver led the team in his only win.
Of course, it wasn’t just the Hall of Fame that made the O’s win it all year. Boog powell brought the AL’s MVP to Baltimore with a season in which he beat .297 / .412 / 0.549, hitting 35 home runs and driving 114 points. I can’t even imagine an Oriole having a base percentage of 0.400+. Powell was one of two that year: outfielder Don Buford, who walked 109 times, posted an OBP of .406.
Powell and Buford weren’t exactly outliers. The whole team was good at getting on the base. They led the AL in OBP and scored points.
Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally joined Palmer in the rotation, each of which ended up winning a grand slam in the 1970 playoffs. Oh yes, it was so long ago that there was no designated hitter yet. Cuellar and McNally combined to rack up 37 full games and five shutouts alone. Their performance plus Palmer’s is a big reason the O’s had the best ERA in the AL.
Most games the receiver was Elrod Hendricks, who to me was just a coach. Hendricks ejected 48% of the runners who attempted to steal him that year. It is breathtaking. In the middle of the infield was Davey Johnson – yes, the same one who handled the O’s in the mid-90s – and Mark “The Blade” Bélanger, who was really as good in the field as he was bad at the batter. Manning’s center fielder was Paul Blair, on track to win the fourth of his eight Golden Gloves.
Even the bench was filled with names you heard over and over again. Bobby Grich, who should probably be in the Hall of Fame, was just a rookie who appeared in 30 games. Future manager Johnny Oates was there for five games. Terry Crowley – the future batting coach you might have wanted to fire for years before he was – faced off against the righties. Don Baylor, Andy Etchebarren – they were all there and they all brought something to the table.
Incredibly, they weren’t even the best Orioles team of all time. They had won 109 games the previous year before falling to the “Miracle” Food in the World Series. This is something I can’t imagine either – the disappointment of such a great O team that ultimately lost, but you didn’t have to be this disappointed since they won everything in 1966. As it was before the days of free agencies, they were able to bring back pretty much the whole team with no problem, and they did.
The result was another phenomenal performance of a dynasty. The Orioles had a winning record in every month of the regular season. They had a winning record against every team they played, except the twins, which they ended up sweeping into the ALCS. They led the AL East in earnest from their 16th game of the season. They have won 14 wins and have never lost more than three games in a row.
I got lost in the amazing 1970s Orioles tunes all weekend and I don’t want to give them all at once before the big game retro recaps start, so I’m going to end with this one. The 1970 Orioles finished the regular season with an 11-game winning streak that began after previously winning the AL East title. The 2014 team has never won more than six consecutive victories; in 1997, they won seven consecutive victories. Eleven in a row! It is unfathomable.
Check back any day of the week from now on until Orioles baseball returns for a little retro throwback to a bigger Orioles team than ever in my life. I’ll start things off tomorrow morning with the win on O’s Opening Day, where they immediately got back on the road to what the Miracle Mets denied them.