As the Orioles begin their 20th season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I take a look back at the top 20 moments in the history of the ballpark. Selected moments had to relate directly to the action on the field at the time. No orchestrated events such as World Series anniversary celebrations or Orioles Hall of Fame inductions were eligible.
20. Wieters’ debut
19. Nomo tosses only no-hitter in Oriole Park history
18. Orioles rally from nine-run deficit against Boston
16. Showalter takes the helm
15. Palmeiro homers in Oriole debut
14. Griffey’s Warehouse shot
13. Sparring with Seattle
12. Davis defies the odds
11. Hoiles’ slam stuns Mariners
10. Game 6 of 1997 ALCS
9. 1993 All-Star Game
8. Moose misses perfection
7. Eddie comes home
6. Bonilla’s slam in first playoff win
5. The first Opening Day
4. Birds shrink Big Unit to win 1997 ALDS
3. Steady Eddie hits No. 500 – Sept. 6, 1996
Leave it to Eddie Murray to find the perfect timing to reach a monumental achievement that still left him flying under the radar the same way he did throughout his brilliant Hall of Fame career.
After making his return to the Orioles six weeks earlier, Murray had crept ever closer to his 500th home run, hitting No. 499 on Aug. 30 in Seattle. The designated hitter then went five straight games on the road without a round-tripper, setting up the Orioles’ return to Camden Yards on Sept. 6, 1996.
Exactly one year earlier, the baseball world had celebrated Cal Ripken’s record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game in one of the most memorable moments in baseball history. However, the first anniversary was a rainy, ugly night that threatened to cancel a scheduled game against the Detroit Tigers.
A rain delay lasting more than two hours forced many of the announced 46,708 to either leave early or stay home altogether by the time the game got underway just before 10 o’clock. Those absent would miss the moment we’d all been waiting for since Murray had returned to the place where he started it all.
With the Orioles trailing 3-2 with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Murray dug in from the left side of the plate against Detroit starter Felipe Lira. With roughly 20,000 fans in the ballpark and the clock hovering around midnight, Murray became the 15th man in baseball history — and the first since Mike Schmidt in 1987 — to join the 500 home run club with a soaring drive into the bleachers in right-center.
Confetti flew as Murray circled the bases, tying the game in the process. The rain-soaked fans who remained gave him an eight-minute standing ovation, applauding him for becoming the third man in history — the other two being Hank Aaron and Willie Mays before Rafael Palmeiro joined the trio nine years later — to reach both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Not one for pomp and circumstance throughout his career, Murray took two curtain calls and beamed with appreciation for a fan base so happy to have him back in Baltimore after a bitter departure eight years earlier.
It couldn’t top the outpouring of emotion for Ripken a year ago, but Murray’s feat was no less memorable for the people who witnessed it.
What had been a perfect night despite the long rain delay ended imperfectly with the Orioles losing 5-4 in 12 innings. “Steady Eddie” was his typical unassuming self following the game, citing deep appreciation for the recognition but stating what he wanted most from a wet Friday night in early September.
“I’d have preferred to get a win,” Murray said after the game. “We’re running out of games. It would have been nice to get a win.”
Of course, the Orioles would clinch a playoff spot via the wild card berth as Murray hit one more homer in the regular season. His last at-bat with the club came in Game 5 of the 1996 ALCS. With the Orioles losing 6-1 and on the verge of elimination to the hated Yankees, Murray homered to left field off Andy Pettitte in the bottom of the eighth in a final salute to Baltimore fans.
Murray would sign with the Angels in the offseason and play one more season before retiring, but his reconciliation with the Orioles and his milestone 500th homer rank among the greatest moments in club history, much less the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. An orange seat marks the spot where Murray’s 500th home run landed, immortalizing the event for future generations.