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The Big 60: Commemorating Orioles' Anniversary

March 17, 2014

Orioles baseball is now 60 years strong, and the team has given generations of fans memories to cherish

The Big 60: Orioles Fans' Favorite Memories

Issue 195: Cover Story: 60 Years Of Orioles Baseball
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

On April 15, 1954, the city of Baltimore was awash with baseball fever. 

Schools closed. Businesses shut their doors for the day. And out on the Baltimore streets, some 350,000 people gathered for one of the most festive occasions ever held in the city.

A cheering, boisterous crowd lined the 56-block parade route from Camden Station to Memorial Stadium. Amid the marching bands and floats, traveling in a line of convertibles, sat the roster members of the city's new baseball franchise -- the former St. Louis Browns -- hours away from playing their first game in their new hometown.

The Baltimore Orioles had officially arrived.

During the 60 years since that inaugural homecoming in Baltimore, the Orioles have amassed a rich and extensive history, one filled with both decades of domination and eras of anguish. They've employed 966 players, 19 managers and 84 coaches. They've had 14 general managers, four majority owners and nine different logos. They've made 11 postseason appearances and six World Series appearances and have won three championships. They've earned five Most Valuable Player awards, six Cy Young Awards, six Rookie of the Year awards and 67 Gold Glove Awards.

Through it all, Orioles fans have shared in every uplifting victory and every heartbreaking defeat, cheering on a cavalcade of stars whose names have become legendary in Baltimore. With 60 years in the rearview mirror, O's fans remain as passionate about their team as those hundreds of thousands of people who once gathered in the Baltimore streets for the team's debut.

Time flies when you're having fun. Here's to another 60 years as memorable as the last.

The Eras Of Orioles Baseball

1954-59: Baseball Returns To Baltimore

The Orioles' grand debut in Baltimore hit a few snags as they stumbled out of the gate, losing 100 games during their first year and failing to crack a .500 record during their first six seasons. The team struggled to distance itself from the hapless St. Louis Browns, who had posted eight straight losing seasons before moving to Baltimore.

Memorable moments: Even as the team scuffled, a number of significant players worked their way up through the farm system. One of them was a young third baseman named Brooks Robinson, who signed a professional contract with the Orioles in 1955 and made his big league debut that season, beginning a 23-year, Hall of Fame career.

1960-65: Rising To Contention

Once the Orioles gelled, they got good in a hurry. In 1960, the Birds began a remarkable stretch of success, posting winning records during 24 of the next 26 seasons. Promising youngsters continued to make their way through the Orioles' system. Still, while the O's had started to win, they were unable to push into the playoffs at first, remaining without a postseason berth through 1965.

Memorable moments: The Orioles' 1960 breakout -- their first winning season -- was something of a surprise, as the Birds improved by 15 games from the previous year. They were led by a "Kiddie Korps" of early-20s hurlers, including Milt Pappas and Steve Barber, and slugging first baseman Jim Gentile. Brooks Robinson emerged as a star during this era, winning the first of his 16 straight Gold Gloves in 1960 and earning American League Most Valuable Player honors in 1964.

1966-74: The Orioles Dynasty

The Orioles emerged as one of the premier franchises in all of sports. Frank Robinson's arrival in 1966 -- and subsequent Triple Crown-winning, MVP season -- was the catalyst the Birds needed to win their first World Series title and run off an unprecedented string of successes. During this nine-year span, the O's made the playoffs six times and appeared in four World Series, winning two. The Orioles made their living on pitching and defense, with a staff led by Cy Young winners Mike Cuellar (1969) and Jim Palmer (1973), backed by a sparkling defense, which included Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair and Mark Belanger. The Birds had the offense to compete as well, thanks to Frank Robinson and 1970 MVP Boog Powell.

Memorable moments: How much time do you have? There's not enough space here to list the historic accomplishments of the Orioles during this era, but let's run down a few. The Birds swept the Dodgers during the '66 World Series, which included three consecutive shutouts by Palmer, Wally Bunker and Dave McNally. Earl Weaver took over as manager in 1968, beginning a Hall of Fame career, and won 100 games or more during each of his first three full seasons. The Birds ousted Cincinnati's Big Red Machine during the 1970 World Series, highlighted by Brooks Robinson's spectacular defense. In 1971, four O's pitchers -- Palmer, McNally, Cuellar and Pat Dobson -- each won at least 20 games.

1975-83: The Last Years Of The Glory Days

The Orioles of this era were as competitive as before, but ended up with fewer division titles to show for it. Although the Birds had winning records during all nine years of this span, only twice did they get to the playoffs. Also during this stretch, some of the key members of the Orioles' glory days began to retire or go elsewhere, setting the stage for a backslide.

Memorable moments: The O's continued to rack up both individual and team honors. Palmer won the second and third Cy Youngs of his Hall of Fame career in 1975 and 1976, while homegrown products Eddie Murray (1977) and Cal Ripken Jr. (1982) each won Rookie of the Year. Ripken followed with an MVP season, squeezing the final out of the Orioles' 1983 World Series win, the Birds' third -- and most recent -- championship.

1984-91: Falling Hard

Things took a sour turn for much of the '80s, as several of the Birds' forays into free agency flopped. The result was a stretch of five losing seasons out of six, beginning in 1986, marking the first time the O's had been worse than .500 for consecutive years since 1958 and '59. Even Weaver, who initially retired after 1982, couldn't fix the Birds' woes during his abbreviated encore stint in 1985 and '86. The O's began the '88 season 0-21 en route to a franchise-worst 54-107 record and traded Murray after that year, exacerbating the club's exodus of talent. Amid the wreck of the late '80s, though, was one magical season, 1989, during which the "Why Not?" Orioles shocked the baseball world by staying in contention all season with a roster of largely no-name players.

Memorable moments: Give credit to O's fans for sticking with their team through the hard times -- on May 2, 1988, the 1-23 Orioles returned home to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 50,000 for Fantastic Fans Night, the same day that owner Edward Bennett Williams signed a lease to build a new downtown ballpark for the Orioles. The 1991 season, although terrible in terms of the team's 67-95 record, was significant for Ripken's second MVP award and an emotional farewell to Memorial Stadium, the Orioles' home for the first 38 years of their existence.

1992-97: The Camden Yards Renaissance

Bolstered by the debut of their new ballpark, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the O's found new life ... and new owner Peter Angelos spent liberally, signing stars such as Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar. The arrival of manager Davey Johnson and general manager Pat Gillick in 1996 helped the O's snap their 13-year playoff drought, followed by a dominant 1997 season, during which the Birds spent every day of the season in first place.

Memorable moments: On April 6, 1992, the Orioles opened Camden Yards in front of a sellout crowd of 44,568 and drew more than 3.5 million fans that year, an attendance increase of more than a million from their final year at Memorial Stadium. On Sept. 6, 1995, Ripken became baseball's all-time Iron Man, breaking Lou Gehrig's record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game.

Games: 9,520
All-time record: 4,864-4,644*
Runs scored: 41,772
Hits: 83,302
Doubles: 14,619
Triples: 1,585
Home runs: 9,164
Batting line: .257/.327/.397
Stolen bases: 4,758
Innings pitched: 85,241
Runs allowed: 41,198
Earned runs allowed: 37,698
ERA: 3.98
Strikeouts (pitchers): 52,389
Saves: 2,022

*The Orioles also have had 12 ties -- games that were deadlocked past the fifth inning and then were suspended or rained out, without being made up.
1998-2011: The Dark Ages

Let's just move along. There's nothing to see here … except 14 years of some of the most cringe-worthy, miserable Orioles baseball ever played. There was no shortage of lowlights during the Birds' 14 years of futility, an era rife with front-office dysfunction; meddling ownership; and lifeless, uninspired play. (Did I mention the O's lost a game 30-3 in 2007?) O's fans reached their breaking point, as Camden Yards attendance dropped from 3.71 million in 1997 to 1.76 million in 2011.

Memorable moments: Among the few highlights was Ripken's memorable farewell Oct. 6, 2001, capping a 21-year career, and his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. The final game of the 14-year losing streak was a memorable one, too. On Sept. 28, 2011, the Birds concluded their season with a ninth-inning comeback win to knock the shell-shocked Red Sox out of a playoff spot, setting the stage for the Orioles' return to respectability.

2012-present: A New Hope

Just when the Orioles were at their lowest of lows, they delivered an unexpectedly thrilling 2012 season to win back the hearts and minds of disenchanted O's fans. Led by manager Buck Showalter, during his second full season, the O's rode a spectacular bullpen and a young, talented offensive core to a 93-win season and their first postseason appearance since 1997. The Birds slid back a bit in 2013, but still posted a winning season, led by Chris Davis' team-record 53 home runs and the Birds' historically excellent defense, giving fans a reason for optimism heading into 2014.

Memorable moments: The 2012 season alone included some of the most unbelievable games in Orioles history, including a 17-inning marathon in Boston during which the designated hitter, Davis, pitched two scoreless innings and got the win. Veteran midseason pickup Joe Saunders outdueled Rangers ace Yu Darvish during the do-or-die Wild Card Game in Texas, advancing the O's to the AL Division Series.

Issue 195: March 2014