The Baltimore Orioles currently find themselves on the back of ten straight losing seasons, one of the worst runs of form that they have ever been made to suffer.
However, their recent history fails to reflect just how successful they have been overall. Not only have some of the greatest players of the sport graced the club over the years, but for over a decade the Orioles dominated the sport, with one of the best teams that the game has ever seen.
The Baltimore Orioles began life as the Milwaukee Brewers in 1894. They then became the St Louis Browns in 1902, where they played their home games at Sportsman’s Park.
However, the early years were not ones to be remembered for the club, as between 1902 and 1922 they only managed to achieve four winning seasons.
In 1926, the World Series was held at Sportsman’s Park for the first time, which marked a major shift in the prominence of baseball in St Louis. It was in this World Series that the St Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees, beginning a run of dominance for the Cardinals as the main team in St Louis.
The position of the Browns as the second team in the city was not a favourable one, and they sought a move. However, in 1941, a day before they were given approval to move the franchise to Los Angeles, the bombing of Pearl Harbour put the vote out of the picture.
During the war, the Browns achieved a level of success that they had not managed before, winning the American League pennant in 1944. However, many saw this as only a minor achievement, as other teams had lost a larger proportion of their players to the war effort.
In any case, the Browns went on to lose 4-2 in the World Series to the Cardinals, in an all-St Louis affair.
In 1951 Bill Veeck bought the club, and he soon acquired a reputation as a controversial figure.
His tactic in trying to overtake the Cardinals as the main team in town was to sign up as many of their much-loved ex-players as he could, in a bid to draw on their fan base. However, when the Cardinals were bought by Anheuser-Busch, who swiftly confirmed that they would not be leaving the city, Veeck decided to move the Browns instead.
But when Veeck couldn’t manage to do this, he instead sold the club to another group, who eventually moved them to Baltimore for the start of the 1954 season.
Break from the past
All ties with the club’s history were then broken off, as the newly-named Baltimore Orioles got rid of most of the players from the previous era.
It did little to increase the success of the team, but it achieved the goal of forming a new identity, which could hopefully be built upon.
In their inaugural season at their new home, Memorial Stadium, the Orioles managed to get a massive 1,060,910 people through the gates to watch their games. It didn’t help their performances, however, as they went on to finish the season with a forgettable 54-100.
For the next few years, they struggled to build themselves a reputation as a winning team. This was achieved in stages, as they managed to surpass small milestones on their way to the top.
These included finishing with a .500 percentage for the first time in 1957, achieving 95 wins in 1961, and holding first place for part of the season in 1964, even though the New York Yankees came back to win the pennant.
The Orioles, or the ‘Birds’ as they were becoming known by the fans, were building a name for themselves, but any real success was still just a future dream.
Dramatic change in fortunes
In 1966, the fortunes of the club changed dramatically. In an infamous swap, Frank Robinson arrived in place of Milt Pappas and a few other players, in what is now considered as one of the most unfair trades in history. It was Robinson, amongst other players, whose heroics started the Orioles off on their unprecedented run of success over the course of the next 17 years.
At a glance, this period provided the Orioles with:
- Three World Series titles
- Six AL pennants
- Five of the first six AL East Division titles
- Six Cy Young awards shared between four pitchers
- Three Rookies of the Year awards
- Three MVP (Most Valuable Player) awards
First World Series
In 1966 they managed to come first in the AL with a record of 97-63, nine games ahead of their nearest rivals, the Minnesota Twins.
This took them to the World Series for the second time in their history, but this time no one complained that they didn’t deserve to be there. In what was in the end an easy victory, they managed a clean sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers to win 13-2, taking home the World Series for the first time in their history.
The year was also marked by Robinson receiving the MVP award, as well as the prestigious Triple Crown.
Miracles get in the way
This success was in part a result of their new farming system, a method that had been set up as a way of nurturing their own stars of the future. Judging by their results, it had clearly paid off.
They only had to wait another three years before getting another shot at the World Series, proving that their victory in 1966 had not just been a fluke.
1969 saw them end the season with a phenomenal 109-53 record, which led them on to sweep Minnesota Twins in three games in the ALCS (American League Championship Series).
Back in the World Series, their luck ran out when they lost to the New York Mets, or the ‘Miracle’ Mets as they became known, a huge shock not just for them but for the entire world of baseball. In comparison with the Orioles, who had at that time one of the finest teams on record, the Mets had only just recorded their first winning season that same year.
Back to business
However, miracles did not come along every year, and the very next season they won their first five games, ending up as the AL East champions once again, a full 15 games ahead of the New York Yankees.
The Minnesota Twins were then swept aside in three games for the second year running in the ALCS, and once again the Orioles were back in the World Series, this time up against the Cincinnati Reds.
Although they had experienced an upset the year before, this year they were determined not to slip up at the final hurdle. They ended up taking the series 4-1 to become champions for the second time, with Brooks Robinson winning the World Series MVP award.
Although a lull in performance could be expected following such success, the Orioles came straight back the following season to win 101 games, with the help of some pitching excellence.
Back in the ALCS, they swept away old foes Oakland to put them up against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Unfortunately, they could not manage the double, and ended up losing in seven games.
Over the next few years, they continued to perform strongly in their division, but couldn’t quite get their hands on another World Series.
1979 saw them come close, but after taking the pennant with 102 wins, they went out to the Pirates again in a repeat performance of the 1971 World Series, losing in a tight seven games.
Third World Series
After an up-and-down season, Joe Altobelli took over the club in 1983. It was a season plagued with injuries, and expectations were not particularly high.
However, the team played fantastically, winning 98 games and taking the AL East once again.
They met the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS and, despite losing the first game, came back to take it 3-1.
This led them to the World Series yet again, where they found themselves up against the Philadelphia Phillies. Again, they lost their nerve in the first game, but fought back to take the next four in a row, claiming back the World Series for the third time, and capping off a phenomenal period in the club’s history.
The fall from grace
Having reached such heights, things started to slide for the Orioles, and by 1988 they had slumped to a losing season of 54-107. Despite their lack of form, a new stadium plan had been announced, which would hopefully give them a boost.
1991 saw them play their last season in their stadium before the move, and it was marked by club legend, Cal Ripken, winning the MVP, the All-Star MVP and the Major League Player of the Year awards.
In 1992, the club enjoyed their first season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but the excitement of the move did not distract from their unsuccessful season.
Three years later, Cal Ripken made history once again by beating Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 games played, ensuring that he would forever remain a legend of the game.
However, up until Ripken’s final season in 2001, the team lacked their former magic. With the exception of a few postseason appearances, they seemed unable to get back to the top of the game.
Things got worse for the team, and between 2000 and 2004 they failed to muster up a single winning season.
A bright start in 2005, where they shot to an early first place in the division, failed to pay off, as things went downhill amid problems with injuries and players, so that once again they could only manage to post a losing season of 74-88.
The year was overshadowed by the suspension of Rafael Palmeiro on July 30th, who tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol, which had a huge effect on team moral.
In the 2007 season, things failed to pick up and they fell to a disastrous 69-93 losing record, the 10th straight loss for the club.
However, despite the recent hard times, it is difficult to discount a team who have managed to achieve so much. It is surely only a matter of time before they find their way once again, driven by a desire to emulate the glories of their golden years.
World Series Titles
- 1966, 1970, 1983
American League Pennants
- 1944, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, 1983
East Division Titles
- 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1983, 1997
Projected Line-up for 2008
- Brian Roberts: 2B
- Melvin Mora: 3B
- Nick Markakis: RF
- Kevin Millar: 1B
- Aubrey Huff: DH
- Ramon Hernandez: C
- Luke Scott: LF
- Jay Payton: CF
- Luis Hernandez: SS
- Earl Weaver: 4
- Brooks Robinson: 5
- Cal Ripken: 8
- Frank Robinson: 20
- Jim Palmer: 22
- Eddie Murray: 33
- Jackie Robinson: 42