Friday, February 26, 2010

Flashback Friday: Orioles Basketball (Yes, you read that right: Basketball)

We all know about Brooks Robinson's exploits at the hot corner; less is known about his jumper from the short corner. That is, unless you were following the exploits of the Major League All-Stars and the Baltimore Orioles basketball teams during the late '60s.

Long before the Ironman staged pick-up games at his home with fellow major leaguers and college players from around Maryland, Brooks Robinson was hooping it up with the likes of Jim Palmer, Paul Blair, Jim Bouton, Pete Rose, and Jeff Torborg (who caught Sandy Koufax's World Series perfect game).

In 1966, for example, Robinson joined the Major League All-Stars, described by the New York Times as a basketball team made up of major league baseball players from half a dozen clubs, in games against high school, fraternal, and charitable organizations.

Joining Brooksie on the All-Star squad were teammates Frank Robinson and Dave McNally; Bouton and Al Downing (Yankees); Rose (Reds); Dick McAuliffe (Tigers); Al Jackson (Cardinals); John Orsino (Senators); Torborg (Dodgers); Ed Kranepool (Reds); and Dennis Ribant (Mets/Pirates).

One thing's for certain: I wouldn't want to mix it up in the post with Pete Rose even if it were for charity.

Back home in Baltimore, the Orioles' legendary third baseman competed with faculty members of local schools as a way of staying in shape during the off-season. As this 1969 article from the Washington Afro-American reports, Blair, Palmer, McNally, Dick Hall, Eddie Watt, Pete Richert, Bobby Floyd, and Billy Hunter took to the hardwood with Robinson as part of that effort.

Said Hall, who played college basketball at Swarthmore: "We are looking forward to having a lot of fun with with this while staying in shape at the same time."

Pictured at the top of this post is a warm-up top worn by a member of the off-season basketball team between 1967 and 1973 that now serves as an auction item. Special thanks to my friend and fellow baseball fan Jon Bloom, who blogs at Wasted Food and BBQ Jew, for the tip.

Image Source: Huggins & Scott Auctions


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Team Pictures with Arthur Rhodes

I always appreciate a solid Arthur Rhodes reference; even better if it has a good story attached. This MLB Fanhouse article scores on both counts.

Josh Alper shares the details of a Cincinnati Reds auction that gives the winner a chance to be included in the 2010 team picture.
The Reds are auctioning off the chance for a couple of fans to throw their arms around Arthur Rhodes and be part of the 2010 team picture. The shot will be taken on April 21 before the Reds' game with the Dodgers and you also get tickets to the game and some Reds gear as part of the package. The opening bid is $500 for what the Reds' Web site deems an "extremely unique and priceless opportunity."
Here's hoping that the winner thinks better of complaining to Arthur Rhodes about the glare from his diamond earrings. Just ask Omar Vizquel.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Blanket with Sleeves by any other Name Would Still be Sweet

Big League Stew mentioned Matt Wieters Bobblehead Day at Camden Yards (June 30th, but you already knew that) in a post last week titled  Snuggies and skateboards lead list of 2010 ballpark promotions.

Of said Snuggies, 'Duk wrote the following:
Snuggies! Whoops! We violated a trademark! They'll be giving away "sluggies" in St. Louis (April 30) and Oakland (April 15) and "wearable blankets" in San Francisco (April 23). The Angels will also be giving away "blankies" (April 6) and plain old blankets (Aug. 24) but no word if they're a ripoff of the made-for-TV gimmick we've come to know and love.
Yes, everyone's favorite blanket with sleeves has grown enough in popularity that knock-off brands now exist. Who could've imagined such a thing when those first ridiculous commercials cropped up on TV?

It just goes to show the power of repetition when it comes to marketing. And the power of sports branding. Slap a team logo on most anything and you'll find someone to buy it.

Take, for example, me. Santa left an Orioles blanket with sleeves under the Christmas tree this year. This one's known as "The Huddler."

Resistance is futile. Give in to the power of the blanket with sleeves. You can even pick one up at the ballpark, which defies my original cynical logic upon viewing the Snuggie commercial: "Who would wear one of those things at a sporting event?"

It appears that fans in St. Louis, Oakland, San Francisco, and Anaheim will provide my answer this April.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We've got Matt Wieters Facts in 2010; Should there have been Tractor Facts in 1991?

With pitchers and catchers preparing to report to Sarasota this week, The Sun has taken the opportunity to report on THE catcher. Dan Connolly writes of Matt Wieters in the article 'He's the guy': A lot rests on Wieter's young shoulders, "The organization's 'Golden Boy' has graduated to 'The Man' behind the plate."

Connolly's article on the Orioles' home-grown backstop got me to wondering what was written about other Baltimore catching prospects as they prepared to transition into a full-time starting role for the Birds.

The O's have had a tendency to acquire rather than develop major league catchers for some time now. Although he was drafted by the Tigers and later acquired by the Birds in the 1988 Fred Lynn trade, Chris Hoiles was groomed in the Orioles' minor league system before taking over as the team's top catcher in 1991. So the Tractor qualifies for my purposes.

There weren't any Chris Hoiles Facts in the early '90s (although "Tractor Facts" does have a certain ring to it), so we turn instead to conventional beat reporters like Richard Justice, who on March 1, 1991, wrote the Washington Post article "Door's Wide Open for Melvin, Hoiles; Orioles Catchers Take Shot at Filling Hole Left by Tettleton's Exit."

Here's a sample of what was being said about Hoiles:
While Jim Palmer, Jeff Ballard, Ben McDonald and others have gotten much of the early attention, no Oriole is being watched more closely than catcher Chris Hoiles.

Hoiles is a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday, has spent 2 1/2 seasons in Class AAA and is coming off a .348 season with Rochester.

His defensive skills have increased dramatically in the last 12 months, but what impresses the Orioles is that he has put up big numbers with his bat at every level of the minors -- including last season when he hit 18 home runs and drove in 56 runs in just 247 at-bats.

"You look at what he has done, and your first reaction is that he only needs a chance," Robinson said. "I just felt that if Mickey were still here, Chris wouldn't get the chance he deserved. He came up last season and I just wasn't able to get him into the lineup. He played so little that he couldn't get any rhythm. It wouldn't be fair to do that again."
Hoiles, meanwhile, seemed eager to embrace the opportunity. 

Hoiles agrees the next few weeks will be the most important of his career. He was like dozens of other young players a year ago, when the labor dispute caused a shortened spring training that forced teams to make a lot of roster decisions before coming to Florida. For Hoiles, this time around is his big chance.

"It's exciting," he said. "This is the kind of chance everyone has to have to make it. I really do feel I've paid my dues and that there's no point in going back to AAA again."

He was recalled three times last season, but played regularly only at the end. He was hitting .394 with the Red Wings when he was recalled June 3, but after playing 10 times in a month, was sent back when outfielder Phil Bradley came off the disabled list.

He was back down for a month, came back and played in eight more games for the Orioles and then was sent down again. He came back again in September, played in five games and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

"It was tough to play that way," he said, "but I understood the situation. I was just happy to be up there getting a taste of it."
After appearing in just 29 games during the 1989 and 1990 seasons, Hoiles played in 107 games in 1991. He batted .243 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI. He caught 26 would-be base thieves and allowed 49 stolen bases. That equates to a 35 percent caught-stealing percentage, which was one of the better marks during Hoiles' career.

Two years later the Orioles Hall of Famer had a career year at the plate, batting .310 with 29 home runs and 82 RBI.

Image Source: Here.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, Chuck Estrada

Happy Birthday to former Orioles pitcher Chuck Estrada who was born on Feb. 15, 1938.

Estrada won 18 games for the Orioles during his rookie campaign in 1960, tops in the league that season and good for his first and only All Star appearance. Two years later he led the league in losses with 17.

Estrada tied with teammate Jim Gentile for second place in the 1960 Rookie of the Year balloting. The Orioles claimed all three spots in that year's voting with infielder Ron Hansen winning the award. Estrada  was named Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News, an award that in 2009 went to Zack Greinke (AL) and Tim Lincecum (NL).

Estrada also played very briefly with the Cubs and Mets. Elbow problems that emerged in 1963 shortened the young pitcher's promising career.

He later served as a pitching coach for the Rangers and Indians. His reflections on the former position produced this memorable quote: "We had a very scientific system of bringing in relief pitchers. We used the first one who answered the phone.'"

Blogger bios of Estrada come courtesy of O's and Mets fans alike:

Orioles Card "O" The Day

Centerfield Maz


Friday, February 12, 2010

Flashback Friday: The First Grand Slam in Orioles History

Orioles fans know the names Chris Hoiles, Frank Robinson, and Jim Gentile. Among other accomplishments, they're the only O's players to hit two grand slams in one game.

Less well remembered is the name  Robert Daniel Kennedy. Bob Kennedy played 132 games in an Orioles uniform from 1954 to 1955, during which time he hit the first grand slam in team history. It happened on Friday, July 30, 1954, before 27,385 fans at Memorial Stadium. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 10-0 despite the fact that the teams sported nearly inverse records: Baltimore 36-64; New York 67-34.

Kennedy's grand slam came in the bottom of the fourth inning off five-time All Star Allie Reynolds, who finished the season, his last in the majors, with a 13-4 record and a 3.32 ERA. The Yankees did not compete in the post-season that year despite winning 103 games. The first-place Cleveland Indians won 111 games before losing to Willie Mays and the New York Giants in the World Series.

Eddie Waitkus, Chuck Diering, and Vern Stephens scored on the grand slam, which gave the Orioles a 7-0 lead.

Kennedy hit six home runs in 1954 and tied with Cal Abrams for second-most on the team behind Vern Stephens' eight home runs. Memorial Stadium originally had hedges instead of fences, and they stood 445 feet from home plate.

Don Larsen pitched a complete-game shutout for his third and final win of the 1954 season. Larsen finished 3-21, setting the club record for losses in a season. The Orioles traded him to the Yankees that November. Two years later he pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.

Kennedy also holds the distinction of being among the rare father-son combinations to have both played in an Orioles uniform. The Chicago native's son, Terry Kennedy, played catcher for the Orioles during the 1987 and 1988 seasons, earning an All-Star nod in '87.

The Orioles' other father-son player combos are Don Buford (1968-1972) and Damon Buford (1993-1995) along with Tim Raines (four games in 2001) and Tim Raines Jr. (2001, 2003, 2004). Though Cal Sr. never played for the Orioles there's also a bit of a Ripken family line that runs through the team's history.

There are other potential names that could be added to this list as well. The most likely candidates are Steve Johnson, who would follow in the footsteps of his father, Dave Johnson (1989-1991), and Steve Bumbry, son of Al Bumbry (1972-1984), who was drafted by the Orioles in 2009.

Other possibilities include Toronto pitchers Kyle Drabek, son of Doug Drabek (1998), and Josh Roenicke, son of Gary Roenicke (1978-1975). Meanwhile, Tug Hulett, son of Tim Hulett (1989-1994), plays in the Boston system.

You can read more about Bob Kennedy, including his role as a popcorn vendor during the Joe Louis-James Braddock heavyweight title fight, at StateMaster.

Image Source: The Virtual Card Collection.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Roar from 34 Stadium Tour: Coors Field

There's magic in the thin air at Coors Field, the kind that at one moment turns a batting practice foul ball into a 600-foot drive and the next transforms Jeffrey Hammonds into an All-Star. As the ballpark T-shirts and trinkets boast, it's "Baseball with an Altitude."

My wife and I used the occasion of a recent Colorado ski weekend to take an off-season stadium tour of the Rockies' home environs.

During our visit we learned of Andres "Big Cat" Galarraga's batting practice prowess, which tops the legend meter; the stadium's actual longest home run was Mike Piazza's 496-foot shot to center field on Sept. 26, 1997. Fan favorite Larry Walker holds the record for home batters with a 493-foot homer on Aug. 31, 1997. Walker won the NL MVP that season. (Presumably, the impressive hit didn't factor into the voting.)

While there wasn't any discussion of former Oriole Jeffrey Hammonds built into the stadium guide schtick, an All-Star wall in the ballpark's belly included Hammonds' 2000 appearance as a Rockie in the Mid-Summer Classic. Hammonds, who played a half-inning in that year's game, batted .335 with 20 home runs and 106 RBI during is lone All-Star season.

Coors Field opened in 1995. It has since hosted an All-Star Game (1998) and two World Series Games (2007). What the stadium lacks in history it makes up for in charm with local touches that include a continuous row of purple seats in the upper deck  that serve as the "Mile High Marker," club-level suites that are named after the state's "Fourteeners," and fans on the tour who seemed to live and breathe the Rockies.

Based on a focus group consisting of our fellow tour-goers and the guide, Rockies fans hate the Red Sox (Wonder why?), feel bad for the Orioles (Wonder why?), and love Cal Ripken (Wonder why?).

And they assure me that Garrett Atkins can find his stroke again in the American League - it's all in his head. Must be the altitude.

Previous Roar from 34 Stadium Tour: Safeco Field, Seattle.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Eutaw Street Chronicles: Eddie Murray, Aug. 14, 1996

Eddie Murray hit 491 career home runs prior to the July 21, 1996, deal that brought him back to Baltimore in exchange for pitcher Kent Mercker, who went to the Indians. He would play just 31 games at Camden Yards. Nevertheless, Murray left his mark on the new stadium with a series of memorable hits including his lone Eutaw Street home run on Aug. 14, 1996.

Murray homered twice that afternoon - home runs number 496 and 497 of his career - in an 8-5 Orioles victory against the Brewers. His third-inning bronze bomb off Jeff D'Amico traveled 384-feet, landing near Boog's Barbecue on Eutaw Street. Murray later topped the effort with a 405-foot drive to center field off Ricky Bones in the bottom of the eighth inning that helped break a 5-5 tie. 

Roberto Alomar followed Murray's example with two home runs of his own as part of a win that moved the Orioles to within 3 1/2 games of the Chicago White Sox for the American League Wild Card. The O's clinched the Wild Card on Sept. 29, one day after Alomar made regrettable headlines by spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck.

The victory on Aug. 14th was the Orioles' 11th in their previous 15 games, due in no small part to Murray's efforts. The Hall of Fame slugger batted .303 with six home runs and 15 RBI in the 21 games following his return to Baltimore.

"I'm swinging the bat all right right now, and I'm just going up there with the thought of hitting it hard," said Murray after the game.

And hit it hard he did.

Murray homered in his first game at Camden Yards after the trade that brought him home, a 9-5 loss to the Twins on July 22, 1996.

He hit his 500th career home run on Sept. 6. At the time it made Murray one of only three players in baseball history - Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were the others - with 500 homers and 3,000 hits. Rafael Palmeiro later joined the club with his 3,000 hit on July 15, 2005.

And he homered in his final at-bat as an Oriole on Oct. 13 in the fifth and deciding game of the Orioles' disappointing four-games-to-one ALCS loss to the Yankees.

The O's brass didn't need a long memory to understand that Murray was capable of hitting No. 500 and more at Camden Yards. Two seasons earlier Murray, playing for the Indians, stroked four home runs in six games at the ballpark. He added one home run in five games at Camden Yards during the 1995 season.

Murray tallied six home runs in 31 regular season home contests following the 1996 trade.

Overall, the switch-hitter stroked 11 home runs in 159 career at-bats at Camden Yards or one per every 14.45 at-bats. By comparison, he hit 160 home runs in 3,350 at-bats at Memorial Stadium or one per every 20.93 at-bats. His career ratio was one per every 22.49 at-bats.

For one summer, in a new stadium, at the dawning of a different baseball era, Eddie Murray recaptured the magic that earlier in his career had made him an integral part of Orioles Magic.


Monday, February 01, 2010

The Orioles' Road Map to Contention

We've heard about Andy MacPhail's plan to turn the struggling Orioles into a contender again. We've even seen it pay off in terms of personnel acquisitions at the major and (more prominently thus far)  minor league levels.

But aside from phrases like "grow the arms and buy the bats" - which, by the way, I very much like - what does the road map to contention look like?

Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter offers his version of a compass in the (recommended) article "Orioles five-step plan should start to bear fruit in 2010."

Reiter states that the Colorado Rockies and, to some degree, Tampa Bay Rays have provided a model for the Birds to follow. His five-step plan includes the following:

1. Trade mature assets at their peak value.

2. Draft well.

3. Sign selected young players to long-term deals.

4. Be active, but not too active, in free agency.

5. When you do reach contention, use the dollars you've saved for a major piece that might put you over the top.

The Orioles have followed each of these steps to varying degrees with the notable exception of No. 5. That's more of a project for 2011, the year that the seeds MacPhail has planted are projected to bloom.

It's also a primary reason that Ken Rosenthal "likes" the O's off-season, but "doesn't love" the O's off-season.

Says Rosenthal: "They still have not made that dramatic move that will dramatically improve their team and energize their fan base and get them into the discussion again. In their defense, maybe they feel it is not time."

Make no mistake that 2010 matters. Attracting quality free agents is about more than money. The Birds must demonstrate that they can realistically contend before a name guy is going to commit to the Orange and Black instead of just flirting to make other suitors jealous.

Unlike the Rays, the Orioles can't lose 96 games the season before they win 97; rather, 2010 needs to serve as a sneak preview of the good things to come for Baltimore in 2011.

Hopefully, Reiter is right, and Andy's plan will soon bear fruit.