With the start of the 20th season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards only two weeks away, 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. Matt Wieters’ debut
19. Hideo Nomo tosses the only no-hitter in Oriole Park history
18. Orioles rally from nine-run deficit against Boston
16. Buck Showalter takes the helm
15. Raffy goes deep in first game with Orioles – April 4, 1994
His disgraced name will forever be linked to steroids and the infamous pointing of a finger while testifying at a congressional hearing on performance-enhancing drugs months before failing a drug test in the final year of his career — as a member of the Orioles.
He’ll likely never earn a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame or even induction to the Orioles Hall of Fame after serving a 10-day suspension for testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol only days after accumulating his 3,000th hit in 2005.
But there were happier times for first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, especially when he arrived in Baltimore the first time around in 1994.
The Orioles had completed two consecutive third-place finishes in 1992 and 1993 and entered their first offseason under new majority owner Peter Angelos, who appeared committed to bringing a championship to Baltimore for the first time since 1983. A free-agent spending spree began, with general manager Roland Hemond inking third baseman Chris Sabo, starting pitcher Sid Fernandez, and closer Lee Smith to contracts.
However, Palmeiro was the shining jewel of the class as the 29-year-old first baseman had just been kicked to the curb by the Texas Rangers, who ironically bested the Orioles in the Will Clark sweepstakes. The Orioles received the overwhelmingly superior “consolation” prize when Palmeiro signed a five-year, $30 million contract on Dec. 12, 1993.
The sweet-swinging lefty made his Orioles debut on April 4, 1994 as fans were thrilled to have a franchise bat in the heart of the order to take the pressure off veterans Cal Ripken and Harold Baines.
Palmeiro had made great impressions with his new club all spring, homering in the first intrasquad game and the first exhibition game, but now was his chance to impress the hometown fans. With the Orioles leading the Kansas City Royals, 5-1, in the bottom of the seventh, the sweet-swinging lefty homered to right to cap off a perfect afternoon, earning a standing ovation from the 47,459 on hand.
Mike Mussina pitched the Orioles to a 6-3 victory with Smith earning the save, but the day belonged to Palmeiro as he put the painful divorce from the Rangers behind him and began the greatest five-year stretch of any player in franchise history (.292, 182 home runs, 553 runs batted in).
His arrival was the first of several big-name acquisitions over the next few seasons, leading to the Orioles’ only two postseason appearances (1996 and 1997) of the Camden Yards era. No player would play a bigger role in that success than Palmeiro.