Unless you were born in 1959 in Baltimore or thereabouts, you’ll probably not be able to identify with this. But in this time of losing Baltimore sports team, it might be therapeutic to take with me to the late 60’s.
I was 8 years old in 1968 when the Orioles fired Hank Bauer and replaced him with an obscure first base coach named Earl Weaver. It was my introduction to baseball, 1968. My first game was on July 4 of that year and I remember there was a pie eating contest or something and Weaver got a pie in the face that day. It took the Orioles 12 innings to beat Luis Aparicio and the Chicago White Sox that day.
I sat through every inning mesmerized. My father thought he’d have to be creative, keeping an eight year old occupied through a 2 ½ hour baseball game. But the game went well over 2 ½ hours, and he didn’t have to keep me occupied. I was on the edge of my seat, watching every pitch in that wonderful 4-3 victory.
I’ve been hooked ever since. I can realistically say that the majority of my life since July 4, 1968 has been spent either in a stadium or wishing I was in a stadium.
The Birds failed to catch Denny McLain and the eventual World Champs that year. Big deal. The best three years of pro sports in Baltimore were about to begin.
The Colts won the National Football League championship. Never mind Superbowl III. It’s irrelevant. The Baltimore Bullets won the Eastern Division. Never mind that they lost in four games to the Knicks. By that time it was spring training, and a full season under the tutelage of Earl Weaver was at hand.
In 1969 the Orioles won more baseball games than any team on the planet. My father was mad because we had to play the inferior Minnesota Twins for the pennant. That was the first year baseball divided each league into two divisions. My father feared the Twins would get lucky and win three of five.
He shouldn’t have worried. Frank, Brooks, and Merv, McNally, Palmer and Cuellar took care of the Billy Martin’s Twins in three games. Never mind that they lost in five games to the Mets. It’s irrelevant. The bottom line; The Colts, Bullets and Orioles had great regular seasons.
A down year for the Colts followed. The Bullets won 52 games only to lose to the Knicks once again. But now the really good stuff happens. It began in April of 1970. This was the penultimate year in Baltimore sports. The Orioles began a season that would end with three 20 game winners, five Jim Palmer shutouts, and 108 wins.
Sometime around the 90th win, the Colts began their last championship season in Baltimore by beating the San Diego Chargers 16-14. They were in the middle of a seven game unbeaten streak around the time the Orioles beat the Reds in the World Series.
Down at the Civic Center, the Bullets started a mediocre regular season. No problem. Just a few months after Colts beat the Cowboys to bring Baltimore a football trophy to go along with its baseball bling, the Bullets finally did it. They beat the Knicks.
Baltimore won only 42 NBA games that season. They finished ninth overall in a 17 team NBA. But that didn’t matter, they made the playoffs. After surviving the 76ers in seven games, the Bullets were matched up with the Knicks for the third straight year.
The year before, the home team won every game of the series. The Knicks had the home-court advantage, so we lost. It looked like the same thing was going to happen in 1971. The Knicks won the first two at the Garden. The Bullets took the next two at the dump on Baltimore Street. The pattern continued during games five and six. Series tied at three with the deciding game at NYC. Big deal, we’ve seen this before.
I didn’t even see game seven. I lived with my aunt at the time in Dundalk. It was her bowling night at Pinland, and I was brought along. I didn’t care that much. There’s no way the Bullets could win in Madison Square Garden.
Watching my aunt bowl was pretty boring so, I moseyed over to the pinball machines to watch high school kids play. In comes a guy with his green and gold Dundalk High jacket.
“Did you hear? The Bullets beat the Knicks!”
I couldn’t believe it. Even my aunt got excited on the way home. “They ought to give Baltimore some type of award. Three teams, three championships.
I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that the Knicks victory was only a semi-final, and the Lew Alcindor Milwaukee Bucks waited in the wings. To tell you the truth, I didn’t care. Never mind that the Bucks beat us four straight. We beat New York!
The Orioles and Colts were World Champions, and the Bullets, not the Knicks were Eastern Conference Champions.
Well, now it’s time to get back to 2007. The Orioles are losers. The wheels have come of the Ravens bandwagon, and our Baltimore Bullets are the Washington Wizards.
When can I go back to 1970?