By Matthew Taylor
The retro California Angels uniform and the “Orioles Classics” logo in the corner of my television screen were dead giveaways. Upon seeing both last week I knew immediately that MASN had transported me back to 1989 for Mike Devereaux’s ninth inning “Fair or Foul?” blast. The moment exemplified that season’s “Why Not?” theme and was unforgettable for this Birds fan, and surely many others as well.
Here are a few reasons that a regular season home run during an 87-win, second-place season could be meaningful enough to provoke nostalgia for Birds fans nearly 20 years later.
It was Oriole Magic at its Best
I’d like to think that Oriole Magic hasn’t disappeared; the rabbit’s just stuck in the hat. Sunday’s MASN broadcast reminded me why I started believing in the first place.
Down 7-3 in the seventh inning against the Angels? No problem. Still trailing by two headed into the bottom of the ninth? All according to script. Final score: Orioles 11, Angels 9.
Losing wasn’t nearly as much the norm in the ‘80s as it is now; comebacks were. On any given evening, during any given season, the O’s gave fans reason to believe. After posting their worst record in post-St. Louis Browns team history in 1988, the Birds followed up that effort with the riveting ‘89 campaign.
Songs like “Oriole Magic” and “Why Not?” only contributed to the myth making.
We never talked about ghosts the way they do at Yankee Stadium, but, as Mike Devereaux demonstrated, we had our own, less pretentious version of the same. Think less Monument Park and more Earl Weaver tomato patch.
Times have changed, but there are occasional hints that remind us, naiveté be damned, to keep believing.
Ron Snyder explained in a touching Examiner column last year that the Magic is alive and well for his young son, who this past season witnessed Nick Markakis’s three-homer game in person. Snyder states, “In its purest form, baseball can still hold a special place in the hearts of frustrated Charm City residents.”
It does for me, and the 1989 season is a big part of the reason.
Mike Devereaux was a Hometown Hero in the Making
We’ve made the case before on this blog that Mike Devereaux has a special place in Orioles lore, largely because of his controversial, game-ending home run against the Angels. Easily forgotten is the fact that he did nearly the same thing against Texas less than a month later. In other words, two of Devo’s eight home runs during his rookie season were game winners.
This explains, in part, how a .254 lifetime hitter with 105 home runs became a hometown hero and now ranks as one of the 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles.
Devo’s popularity is further understood when you consider his defensive prowess, which Baseball Library describes as follows: “He also earned a reputation as one the league's most spectacular center fielders, using his speed to rob batters of sure hits, and his fantastic leaping ability to climb outfield walls and rescue long drives that appeared destined for the bleachers.”
Before Kenny Lofton made a habit of torturing O’s fans with his over-the-wall grabs in Jacobs Field, Mike Devereaux used the outfield fence as a personal springboard to defensive success in Memorial Stadium. The metal bleachers on 33rd Street – the same ones that nonjudgmentally welcomed Devo’s controversial July home run – often offered the best views of his outfield theatrics.
Mike Devereaux was easy to love. When the “Roar from 34” crew offered up the traditional “Devo” cheer prior to a 1995 White Sox game at Tiger Stadium, Chicago’s new free-agent acquisition responded with his familiar smile and a modest tip of the cap.
Later that same season, after he was traded from the White Sox to the Atlanta Braves, Devereaux earned NLCS MVP honors for delivering in the clutch.
Just like his days in Baltimore, Devo was an unlikely hero.
Things Happened Then That Wouldn’t Happen Now
On July 15, 1989, you would’ve seen:
-Forty-seven thousand screaming fans packed in Memorial Stadium.
-An $80,000-a-year rookie go deep in the clutch.
-TV broadcasters leave a controversial call alone after a few replays and accept that the game was every bit as over in slow motion as it was in real time.
-A game ending home run that wasn’t called a “walk off.”
-The Birds go 12 games over .500.
-Oriole legend Frank Robinson managing in the home team’s dugout.
-A celebration at home plate that didn’t seem to come out of a playbook. Had each of those men dropped their season’s earnings out of their pockets during the raucous celebration they still couldn’t cover Javy Lopez’s 2006 salary.
-The Rookie of the Year (Gregg Olson) sitting in the Birds bullpen.
-A player wearing the number 88 (Rene Gonzalez) taking his cuts.
-"The Moose" -- no, not Mike Mussina.
-Chuck Finley, but no thought of Tawny Kitaen.
Want more facts about the Devereaux game or the ’89 season?
-The July 15, 1989 Box Score, courtesy of Baseball Reference.
-Birds statistics from 1989, courtesy of Baseball Cube.
-A review of the “Why Not” season, courtesy of Birds in the Belfry.