Though only a couple days have passed since the Orioles’ disappointing elimination from the American League Championship Series at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, we begin to reflect on what was an exceptional season that netted the franchise’s first AL East championship in 17 years.
The Orioles still have a long way to go to approach their glory days of 1966 through 1983, but two postseason appearances in the last three years represent a good start that fans hope will culminate with the franchise’s first World Series title in over 30 years before the current run is over. However, it’s difficult to argue you how special the 2014 season was in what’s been an underwhelming 31 years since Cal Ripken caught the final out of Game 5 of the 1983 Fall Classic.
Where does 2014 rank among the greatest Orioles seasons since 1983?
Below is a brief look at five candidates before you vote for your favorite in the poll. If you have a different season in mind, feel free to make your case in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
1. 1989 “Why Not?” season
Skinny: After losing a major league record 21 straight games to begin the season and finishing a woeful 54-107 a year earlier, the 1989 Orioles spent a remarkable 119 days in first place and owned a 7 1/2 game lead in late July. The season was highlighted by a number of comeback wins and contributions from the unlikeliest of players. Though they fell short in their quest for the division title in the final weekend of the season in Toronto, the new-look Orioles of 1989 went down as one of the most surprising and exciting clubs in franchise history after having no expectations at the start of the season.
2. 1996 Wild Card team
Skinny: After underachieving for much of the season under new manager Davey Johnson, the veteran-laden Orioles got hot down the stretch and went 37-22 over the final two months of the 1996 season to clinch their first wild card berth. Breaking the all-time record for most home runs by a team in a single year, four Orioles scored at least 100 runs, four drove in at least 100, and seven hit at least 20 homers. The 88-74 Orioles upset the heavily-favored defending AL champion Cleveland Indians in the Division Series before bowing out in the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees in six games.
3. 1997 wire-to-wire AL East champions
Skinny: Unlike the previous year, the 1997 Orioles started fast and never looked back on the way to becoming the sixth team in major league history to stay in first place from Opening Day through the end of the regular season. Their 98 wins were their most since winning the World Series in 1983 and the Orioles appeared on their way to their first pennant in 14 years before Cleveland exacted revenge for the previous year by stunning Baltimore in the ALCS in six games. As if the defeat weren’t painful enough, the following season would begin a dubious streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
4. 2012 Wild Card team
Skinny: Manager Buck Showalter had begun changing the losing culture of the organization from the time he arrived two years earlier, but the results on the field didn’t match it until 2012 when the underdog Orioles won 93 games and hung tough with the first-place Yankees throughout the month of September. Settling for a wild card berth, the Orioles bested the Texas Rangers in the first Wild Card Game to advance to the Division Series where Camden Yards witnessed its first postseason games in 15 years. In a very competitive and entertaining series, the Orioles fell in five games to the Yankees, but the season signaled the end of Baltimore’s extended stay in the baseball doldrums.
5. 2014 AL East champions
Skinny: Despite losing All-Star players Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis for extended periods of the season, the Orioles ran away with the AL East by a staggering 12 games. Baltimore clinched and celebrated its first division title in 17 years at Camden Yards before sweeping the Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and besting the last three Cy Young Award winners to do it. The series also brought arguably the most exciting in-game moment in the history of Camden Yards when pinch-hitter Delmon Young smacked a go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning to win Game 2. The sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS was painful, but the disappointment didn’t erase the memory of a remarkable run.