The Orioles in 1969 were arguably the best team in the major leagues, winning their division by 19 games and riding the wave easily to the World Series.
Led of course by Mike Cuellar, Tom Phoebus, Dave McNally, and Jim Palmer in the rotation, and with Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell at the corners, and Paul Blair ranging the outfield, the team was very strong and poised to win its second championship in four years.
And then there was Andy Etchebarren splitting time with Elrod Hendricks behind the plate, catching the perfect pitches from that great rotation.
But the “Miracle Mets” came up and bit the Orioles, and took the ’69 Series in five games. The O’s felt terrible, but the O’s players, especially Etchebarren were ready to go out the following year in 1970 and prove to the league yet again that the Mets just got lucky and that they truly were the best baseball team around.
“I think that when we left New York,” Etchebarren told Glenn Clark and Thyrl Nelson at the end of “The Morning Reaction” Thursday, “we felt embarrassed because we had a great year. We really felt in the dumps because we knew we were a much better ball club than the Mets, and it really went their way.”
“We knew we were going to come back and show everyone how good we were.”
And they certainly did. With much of the 1969 team coming back the following year in 1970, Earl Weaver and the O’s returned to the Series, only this time against the Cincinnati Reds.
They won one less game than in 1969, but now their rotation posted three twenty-game winners this around in Palmer, McNally, and Cuellar. And much like ’69, it also took five games, but this time it ended in the O’s favor.
And forty years later, what remains of that team is joining together on Saturday to be honored for their achievement.
Etchebarren will be traveling down from his regular job as manager of the York Revolution to be a part of the festivities along with several of the other living members of that team, including Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, and Paul Blair.
Etchebarren said that if you look at the product on the field from 1969-1971, where the team made it to the World Series only to lose to the Pirates, it was the one of the best teams to ever run onto a baseball field.
“Those three years, if you look at the number of wins those clubs put up, it was unbelievable.
And now he will get a chance to not only be honored for the work they put in, he will be able to be reunited with several of his teammates in that 1970 Series, who some he has not seen or talked to in years.
Brooks Robinson is actually an owner of the York Revolution, the independent team that Etchebarren coaches, so he sees him on a more regular basis than any of his former teammates.
Some unfortunately will not be there, only in spirit, guys like Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar , who passed away earlier in the year after a battle with cancer.
Etchebarren said those Oriole greats will be remembered for being great people as well as being great ballplayers.
“He was a wonderful person,” Etchebarren said. “He had a big heart.”
Saturday’s festivities will also give Etchebarren the chance to be re-united not only with one of his former teammates, but one of his former bosses when Etchebarren was a bench coach for the Orioles.
That man is Davey Johnson, who used to manage the Orioles back in 1996 and 1997, the last two seasons the Orioles had a winning record. Etchebarren had nothing but high praise to say about his former teammate and boss, who now also happens to be an Orioles managerial candidate.
“Davey Johnson is a good friend of mine. I don’t think he’ll come back to Baltimore. When I was his bench coach here in Baltimore, he taught me a lot about running a pitching staff. I thought he ran a pitching staff better than anyone else I’ve seen.
And of course, Etchebarren, whose career with the Orioles was severed earlier than he expected, is one of many former O’s who hurt every time they see their record and the losing continue.
“I watch them, and I was with the Orioles a very long time…it’s really sad,” Etchebarren said. “It’s hard to say you’re headed in the right direction when you’re 19-50, but the good ball clubs the Orioles had were built on defense and we made the pitching.”
“Then there were three or four guys who could hit the 3-run home run. Everyone had a job to do on those ball clubs. They just have to get back to pitching and defense.”
Tune into “The Morning Reaction” tomorrow as more members of the 1970 World Series join Nestor Aparicio and Glenn Clark on the show!