Forty years ago last week, the Orioles bagged a pennant and threw themselves a party. For three hours, the new American League champions whooped and hollered and turned the visitors' clubhouse in Kansas City into Lake Champagne.
Players sloshed through the bubbly, pelted one another with sandwiches and reveled in having brought Baltimore its first AL flag.
Manager Hank Bauer received a mustard-and-mayonnaise shampoo. Slugger Boog Powell dunked sportswriters in the whirlpool bath, upside-down. And when the 72 bottles of champagne ran out, pitcher/prankster Moe Drabowsky phoned a liquor store pretending to be the club's owner and ordered 72 more.
Horns blared. Firecrackers exploded. City Hall rang its bell 66 times. And people toddled down confetti-strewn streets bleating a single word: "O-o-o-o-rioles!"
It was, The Sun proclaimed, "the zaniest celebration that Baltimore has seen since the U.S. defeated Japan in World War II."
"Bomb 'Em, Birds!" was the slogan in 1966, and the Orioles complied, leading the league in batting (.258) for the first time and hitting a then-club-record 175 home runs. They won the pennant by nine games (the AL was then one 10-team division), then shocked the Dodgers, thereby sating fans wracked by years of late-summer swoons.
"There had been so many close calls back to 1960 that, to the end, people couldn't believe [a title] could happen," said Frank Deford, Baltimorean and senior writer for Sports Illustrated. "It meant a great deal that we had finally reached the mountaintop."
For the Orioles, it was a season marked by streaks, hijinks and close shaves. Catcher Andy Etchebarren survived a beaning. Rookie second baseman Davey Johnson was almost drummed into the Army. And in August, Frank Robinson, the outfielder whose aggressive play gave the club its soul, nearly drowned while frolicking at a pool party.
"Needless to say, after that [incident] we were told not to party until we'd won the pennant," outfielder Russ Snyder recalled.
The race was a blowout. The Orioles won 11 of 12 games in April and 25 of 33 in June. They won 10 in a row, then seven straight, then seven more. By August, they led by 13 games. Good thing. From then on, they played .500 ball.
Does that explain the empty seats down the stretch? In mid-September, just before the Orioles sealed it, a six-game homestand at Memorial Stadium averaged 8,731 fans. Three days before they clinched, an afternoon game drew 2,280. A crowd four times that size had just heard a concert by the Dave Clark Five at the Baltimore Civic Center.
Charmed from start The Orioles seemed charmed from Opening Day, winning that game in the 13th inning when Boston Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg balked home the winning run. The gifts piled up. Three times that season, the Orioles hit cheap home runs that skittered off a foul pole. Once Powell hit a pitch, broke his bat ... and watched the ball sail 400 feet into the right-field stands.
Everyone pitched in.
"Ours was a ham-and-egg relationship," Powell said last month. "We felt like, 'Today you win the game and tomorrow, I will.'"
Three times shortstop Luis Aparicio, best known for his glove, collected five hits in one game. Three times Snyder, a journeyman outfielder, got the game-winning hit in extra innings.
No one expected much oomph from Etchebarren, whose bushy eyebrows seemed more imposing than his swing. But in June the rookie went on a tear, knocking in 22 runs in as many games.
Few thought Jim Palmer, 20, ready for the starting rotation. He was raw, wild and hadn't thrown more than five innings all spring. But a shake-up at the end of camp left Palmer to pitch the Orioles' second outing. He went the distance and won, throwing 172 pitches.
"I might have left him in too long," pitching coach Harry Brecheen surmised.
Brooks Robinson hit like gangbusters for half a season, leading the league in hits and RBIs by the All-Star Game. There, he hit a triple off Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax - an omen? - and earned Most Valuable Player honors. Then Robinson fell into a second-half funk.
Cue Powell, the first baseman who helped to carry the club after an abysmal start. In July, he knocked in 11 runs in a doubleheader, tying an AL record. Next game, Powell hit a 410-foot home run to beat the California Angels, 2-1.
Afterward, in the locker room, Robinson teased Powell: "Hey Booger, just remember the sun doesn't shine on the same dog's back every day."
That was the Orioles' mantra.
All summer, farmhands arrived, donned Orioles garb and sparkled. Catcher Larry Haney, a .210 hitter in the minors, had a two-run homer in his first start to beat the Cleveland Indians. No one expected miracles from Tom Phoebus, a right-hander summoned from Triple-A in September. But the squat Mount St. Joseph alumnus spun shutouts in his first two starts, tying a big league record.
For manager Bauer, a salty ex-Marine, every move seemed the right one. Back-to-back pinch-hit home runs - in the ninth inning, no less - helped push the Orioles past Boston. And in July, when sore arms struck the staff, Bauer called on Bill Short, a left-hander who hadn't won a big league game in six years. Facing the Minnesota Twins, the defending AL champs, Short pitched a shutout.
Twenty-three complete games was all the club could muster; only lowly Kansas City had fewer. Routinely, baseball's best bullpen bailed them out.
The relief crew was an eclectic bunch led by Stu Miller, best known for having been blown off the mound by a gust of wind during the 1961 All-Star Game. Others were Drabowsky, the fun-loving flake who kept live snakes in his pockets; Dick Hall, a soft-spoken offseason accountant; and Eddie Watt, a chunky rookie who chain-smoked 10 cigars a day.
"What have you done when you knock [the Orioles'] starter out of the box?" California veteran Joe Adcock complained. "You ain't done nothing."
Hard-hitting O's Leads melted against Baltimore's lineup. Twice the Orioles hit five home runs in one game. Once they hit eight doubles.
"There were teams that wouldn't watch us take batting practice," Powell said. "Dugouts were near empty. Why should they get a preview of the [butt]-kicking they were going to get?"
Comeback victories were the rule. During one stretch, they managed at least one hit in 22 consecutive innings.
"Any lead over Baltimore these days is like walking across the Beltway on foot," Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell said.
On May 8, against the Indians, Frank Robinson slammed a fastball from Luis Tiant out of Memorial Stadium, the only player ever to do so. The ball soared over 50 rows of bleachers and rolled under a parked car, 540 feet from home plate.
"I thought it might come down in Scranton [Pa.]," first base coach Gene Woodling said.
Robinson ran the bases to a raucous ovation. Tiant, who had pitched three straight shutouts, stared at him in disbelief.
The two teenage boys who found the ball turned down a $20 bid and gave it to the slugger.
No one galvanized the club, or the fans, like Frank Robinson. Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason, he gave the Orioles the spunk they lacked.
Robinson's arrival "was like John Wayne coming to help us climb the hill to raise the flag," infielder Bob "Rocky" Johnson said.
"Frank taught us how to win," Etchebarren said. "He showed us that you didn't have to get a hit every night to win a game. You could win it with your legs by breaking up double plays."
Frank Robinson proved forthright, cocksure and painfully honest. Mired in a slump, outfielder Curt Blefary sought his advice.
"Maybe you ought to use my bat," Robinson said.
"I'm not strong enough," Blefary said.
"It's not that I'm stronger than you," Robinson said. "It's just that I'm smarter."
His pluck rubbed off. In a victory over Minnesota, 250-pound Powell lumbered home on a wild pitch - all the way from second base. A week later, not to be outdone, Robinson scored from second on a double-play grounder.
In June, Robinson again waxed dramatic. With two out in the ninth inning and the Orioles nursing a 7-5 lead in New York, Roy White lashed what appeared to be a three-run homer. But Robinson stabbed the liner and toppled into the stands.
Yankees fans swore Robinson had dropped the ball and, in the second game of the doubleheader, pelted him with beer cans and cherry bombs. When Robinson ventured near the stands again to chase a fly, one lout grabbed his arm. Robinson gave him an elbow in the kisser, then made the catch.
On June 14, the Orioles took the AL lead for keeps, defeating New York, 2-1, before a festive Bethlehem Steel Family Night gathering of 37,891. As a 30-foot tin can belched smoke and balloons, the home team rallied, scoring both runs in the eighth inning before what would be the largest crowd of the regular season.
A five-game sweep of Minnesota over the July 4 weekend - played in 100-degree heat - put the Orioles 30 games over .500 and left them with four of the league's top seven hitters (Snyder, the Robinsons and Powell).
A close call The Orioles didn't have to worry about losing the pennant, but in August they nearly lost the league's MVP. At a team party thrown by a booster in Towson, things got rowdy and players began pushing each other into the pool. As his turn neared, Frank Robinson chose to jump.
No one knew he couldn't swim.
"I saw Frank at the bottom in the deep end, waving his arms," said Etchebarren, who had been sitting poolside. "I thought he was messing around, but I dived in and went down to get him."
When he reached Robinson, the catcher said, "he put such a strong grip on me I had to break free, come up for air and go back down again to get him."
Etchebarren dragged the slugger, gasping, from the water. Robinson recovered quickly; he hit two home runs the next game.
On Sept. 22, the Orioles clinched the pennant in Kansas City. Snyder made the final putout, a diving grab of a smoking liner, triggering a wild celebration.
Players doused one another with beer, then turned on their bosses. Bauer? Shower. Ditto, general manager Harry Dalton.
Spotting team owner Jerry Hoffberger still dry, pitcher Wally Bunker bellowed, "How come nobody's 'smoked' him yet?"
Under the water he went.
Then things got silly.
"After the liquid had disappeared, mustard, ketchup and pickles were used as decoration until most of the players resembled ambulatory sandwiches," wrote The News American.
Someone trimmed Bill O'Donnell's trousers at the knees - with the Orioles' announcer still in them.
Powell kept pouring champagne down Frank Robinson's back.
"Booger, stop that," Robinson chided. "You know I can't swim."
Trainer Eddie Weidner surveyed all and declared, "I don't think you could've had this much fun in the Garden of Eden."
In Baltimore, the celebration turned commercial. Hochschild Kohn advertised an "Orioles AL Champs" sweat shirt ($2.59). Hutzler's featured a $5 Orioles wastebasket. And Read's Drug Stores trotted out a 99-cent two-layer "World Series" cake.
In Northwest Baltimore, city officials renamed the street where Frank Robinson lived. Cedardale Road became Robinson Road - until after the Series.
The Chamber of Commerce honored the Orioles with a parade, organized in haste. The lineup included the Colts Marching Band, four Playboy bunnies and a revolving cement mixer from the Arundel Corporation.
All of baseball would now focus on the city, its wonders and warts. To that end, Mayor Theodore McKeldin appealed to tavern owners to ignore state law allowing them to ban blacks from bars.
Said McKeldin: "I find it a distasteful piece of irony that I must make this plea in light of the fact that without Frank Robinson, a person who could be excluded by such business, we would probably have no World Series."
Lining up The AL champs had averaged modest crowds of 18,000. But at midnight, a larger group queued up outside the main post office on Calvert Street to mail their World Series ticket applications. Thirty blocks long, 20,000 strong, the "serpentine line of humanity" waited to post requests for a two-ticket limit ($17 total).
Near the front stood Hyman Pressman, Maryland independent gubernatorial candidate, shaking hands and seeking votes.
The Orioles were underdogs, too. Los Angeles' pitching figured to stop their bats. Koufax (27-9, 1.73 ERA) especially scared the bejesus out of the Orioles.
"He's human ... I guess," Palmer said of Koufax.
Baltimore's starting pitchers were shaky. Illness and injury nagged young Dave McNally and Bunker, and tendinitis had KO'd staff ace Steve Barber at midseason. Palmer's 15 victories led the club, but he was hurting, too.
"That August, I was painting the nursery in our house - with a $7,500 contract, I couldn't afford a painter - and irritated a tendon in my [right] arm," Palmer said.
No one thought he would whitewash the Dodgers.
Three times the Orioles shut out the defending world champions as Palmer, Bunker and McNally each went the route, winning, 6-0, 1-0 and 1-0 respectively. Only in Game 1 did the bullpen take part. Enter Drabowsky, 31, whom the Orioles had bought in the offseason on the cheap. He pitched the final 6 2/3 innings and struck out 11 while winning, 5-2.
In Game 4, Frank Robinson hit a home run, as he'd done on Opening Day. The run stood up and when center fielder Paul Blair squeezed a fly for the final out, well ... the photograph of Brooks Robinson tells all. The look is euphoric; the leap, Jordanesque.
"My kids still think it was trick photography," Robinson said. "They tell me, 'Dad, you never jumped that high in your life.'"
The city rollicked that night.
Revelers clambered over cars in traffic, waving orange flags. Police watched from patrol cars spattered with Orioles stickers.
On The Block, exotic dancer Blaze Starr perused the scene outside her strip joint.
"It won't take a lot to make this crowd happy," she told The Sun. "We won't have to take much off at all."
And in Northeast Baltimore, after much hemming and hawing, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Smith decided on a name for their newborn: Andy Etchebarren Smith.
The Orioles went on to win two more World Series (1970 and 1983). But the '66 team charmed Charm City and still holds a place in Brooks Robinson's heart.
"It was the first time around, just like the 1958 Colts," he said in reference to Baltimore's initial NFL title. "You don't realize what a championship means to a town unless you live through it.
"Even now, any time I think about a guy on that team, I get a smile on my face."
email@example.comSun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.