As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve been preoccupied with the Baltimore Orioles baseball season. They made it into the one game Wild Card Playoff, and Tuesday night in a heartbreaker of of a cliffhanger of a game, they lost in the bottom of the eleventh inning when the Blue Jays got a walk-off three run homer. It was a particularly hard way to lose.
If this were a blog devoted to baseball, I could give you my opinion of what went right and what went wrong with the Orioles’ season. After all they were in first place for have the year until their offense seemed to have taken a vacation, and instead of winning the division they had to settle for a wild card spot. But I'll spare everyone.
To my surprise, I came across George Weigel’s recent column where he talks about his memories of the 1966 Baltimore Orioles. If you’ve never heard of George Weigel, he’s a well known Catholic writer, social critic, and columnist. I did not know he was a Baltimore Orioles fan, let alone a baseball fan. Well his bio entry does say he was born in Baltimore.
!966 was the year the orioles won their first World Series, and Weigel delves on memories of that experience. From his article, titled, “Golden memories of a golden anniversary”:
There were no air-conditioned skyboxes in those days; there weren’t even seats, but rather wooden benches. So fans (who were not yet a “fan base”) bought a newspaper on the way in as anti-splinter protection, the working class folks sitting on a News-Post and the white collar types on an Evening Sun. Concessions were primitive in the extreme: rubbery Esskay hotdogs; salty, stale popcorn; Nation Boh for those who had achieved their majority and watery Cokes for us small fry. Then as now, Baltimore felt like Calcutta-on-the-Patapsco for months on end. So on hot, humid summer evenings you didn’t come to Memorial Stadium to be seen, or to close a deal, or to consult your broker or your therapist on a cell phone: you came for baseball, period.
Baseball works so well with nostalgia. It was fifty years ago to the day. The 1966 World Series win, by an underdog group of Orioles, who were not much older than kids, over the intimidating and domineering Los Angeles Dodgers was a stunner.
In the winter of 1965-66, the final piece of the championship puzzle fell into place when the O’s acquired Frank Robinson (discarded by the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager as an “old thirty”) in exchange for Miltiades Pappastediodis, whom you will likely remember as “Milt Pappas.” Robinson proceeded to win the Triple Crown in 1966, and to this day I have never seen a ballplayer who could bend a game to his will like Frank Robby. He, Brooks Robby, and the rest of the O’s waltzed through the American League, then flew to Los Angeles as underdogs to the mighty Dodgers in the World Series. But they beat Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax out on the left coast (with, perhaps, some assistance from the saliva of Mr. Moe Drabowsky in Game One). And on return to Baltimore, the Birds won Game Three of the Series with Dada and my brother John in attendance.
I’ve been a long time Orioles fan, but I have to admit I was not old enough in 1966. I became an Orioles fan at the ripe old age of eight, but that was in 1970, their second World Series win. The kids of ’66 grew to be the great Orioles of the late sixties and early seventies. If only I could attend an Orioles victory like that. Weigel concludes:
I was there with Dada for the fourth game, on October 9, 1966, sitting twenty rows or so behind first base. As Paul Blair caught Lou Johnson’s fly ball to complete Dave McNally’s 1-0 shutout and the Orioles’ four-game sweep, Memorial Stadium erupted, hoary south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line racial codes were abandoned as blacks and whites hugged and hollered, and I experienced a moment of unalloyed joy – a prolepsis of the Kingdom, if I may say.
Fifty years later, the glow remains.
The glow of loving your baseball team, win or lose, never fades. Despite the Orioles loss the other day, I love them to death.