Friday, April 10, 2020

Orioles Victory Card Number Two (1987 Season Edition): Why 1987?

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 2: 8-6 over the Texas Rangers

2001 Topps Archives "Orioles Celebrate"

So, why the 1987 Baltimore Orioles season? It would seem to make sense that if I was going to write about an O's season while we wait (hopefully) for the current one to get under way, why not one with a little more fun, maybe a few more wins? Well, I think that pretty much answers itself. More wins = me having to write more posts. COVID-19 or not, I am still an inherently lazy writer and more work has never been something to entice me.

That's one answer.  The other - 1987 was a really interesting season for the Orioles and baseball in general. The previous year, 1986, had seen Baltimore finish in last place for the first time since their strong run from 1966 to 1983 (3 world series titles, 6 world series appearances, and  15 first or second place finishes).

Whether it was from free agency, poor drafting, or just the normal cyclical nature of sports, this organization had landed in the cellar with a resounding thump. The whispered rumors of  the death of "The Oriole Way" - a focus on pitching and fundamental baseball - were getting louder despite the man responsible for teaching a generation of Orioles those very fundamentals, Cal Ripken, Sr. was finally in charge of the big league club.

Fans used to seeing the team have success like they did during the days of Frank Robinson and Davey Johnson (pictured above celebrating their 1969 sweep of the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS which started a run of three straight world series appearances) were now treated to a team that couldn't field (135 errors in 1986), hit (708 runs scored, below league average), or pitch (760 runs allowed, 5th worst in 1986).

The crash of 1986 (the O's were 2.5 games out of first on August 5th before going an abhorrent 13-42 the rest of the way) sent the legendary manager Earl Weaver back to the race tracks and golf courses of Florida. There were still vestiges of the last world series team on the ball club. The heart of the order, Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray, were still there as was the nucleus of the starting rotation (Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan, and Mike Boddicker) that was so dominating against the Phillies in 1983.

Surrounding those guys, though, was a collection of past their prime athletes and not ready for the big league young players. While this was before teams talked about "rebuilds" openly, the Orioles were kind of undergoing one. They freely admitted that two of their free agent signings (Rick Burleson and Ray Knight) were basically one-year placeholders until some of the kids at Rochester were ready for the next step.

Speaking of the kids, the seeds of the "Why Not?" miracle season of 1989 are planted in 1987. Of course Ripken, Jr. is manning shortstop every day, but youngsters like Jeff Ballard, Mark Williamson, and Billy Ripken who would be so important to that crazy summer of hope made their Orioles debut.

As for major league baseball, what a great time to be a fan. Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens,Wade Boggs, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds were all young superstars (and steroids weren't being mentioned).  The league itself was wide open as there were no real dynasties left. Even following the Orioles abysmal 1986 season, they were only a couple of question marks away from contending.

This may also have been the peak of my time as a baseball fan. As a 10-year-old, baseball pretty much consumed my life. Playing it, watching (or listening) to it, reading about it, and collecting cards and stickers pretty much made up my day (with the occasional few hours of schooling, of course). There was no football in Baltimore. Hockey and basketball was relegated to Landover, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. So baseball and more importantly the Baltimore Orioles were the number one game in town.

As a kid you don't worry about the non-playing aspects of the game. I was blissfully unaware of the possibility of owner Edward Bennett Williams moving the team unless he got a new stadium. Nor did I care that free agency in baseball was pronounced all but dead as Williams and the rest of the owners spent the better part of three seasons colluding to drive down the cost of free agent salaries. None of that mattered. Hell, the National League only mattered around the All-Star break and World Series.

So, in a nutshell that's why we're going with the 1987 season.

Unlike the past two incarnations of this series, I'll probably spend a little more time going over the history of that club and the actual box score / on-the-field action. It's really an interesting club from the baseball lifer who finally gets his shot to manage in Ripken, Sr. to the brash young speedster trying to reclaim his role as an everyday ball player in Alan Wiggans, to a Hall of Famer in the prime of his career in Ripken, Jr.

Hopefully you'll enjoy this ride no matter how long it lasts (I figure we're not seeing live baseball until the Fourth of July at the earliest). If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to fire them off to me. 

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