1960 began an era of winning for the Baltimore Orioles that laid the foundation for one of the most dominant generations in Baseball history.
If the late 1950’s were the Baltimore Oriole’s initiation into the fraternity known as Major League Baseball, the 1960’s marked the Oriole’s ascension into greatness and the beginning of an almost dynasty like era that would last over 20 seasons.
During the early 1960’s General Manager Lee MacPhail masterfully laid the foundation for over two decades of success that would see the Orioles become a World Series contender almost every season. The scouting and player development displayed by the Orioles organization during the 1960’s is legendary and set the tone for how the business of baseball was carried out in Baltimore that would become known as “The Oriole Way”. Countless All Stars, League MVP’s, Cy Young award winners, and future Hall of Famers came through the Orioles farm system or spent some of the most important years of their Major League careers in the Orange and Black. It was during the first half of the 1960’s that Oriole fans became accustomed to winning and contending. The only thing eluding their team was a coveted World Championship and the winning ways of the early ‘60’s were foreshadowing for the better days to come.
1960 Baltimore Orioles
The 1960 season marked the first winning season for the version of the Orioles that arrived from St. Louis in 1954. The team won 89 games, good enough for a distant second place finish in the American League, eight games behind the New York Yankees, who would go on to lose a heart breaking World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates even as they severely outscored and outhit the Bucs. The breakthrough success of the Birds earned Paul Richards the Manager of the Year award.
During the fall of 1959 after the Orioles season ended, the team acquired First baseman Jim Gentile from the Dodgers and before the 1960 season began, they promoted Shortstop Ron Hansen and Starting Pitcher Chuck Estrada to the big league club. The moves paid off as all three young players made their first All Star teams and all three finished in the top two of Rookie of the Year voting. Hansen won the award and Estrada and Gentile tied for second place. Estrada led the league with 18 wins and was named The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year. It was the best season he’d have in Major League Baseball and he’d be out of the league by 1967 but he would be a solid performer during the first half of the 1960’s for the Baltimore Orioles.
Hansen would go on to play a much bigger role in the building of a Major League powerhouse when three years later he’d be the jewel of a trade to the Chicago White Sox for a speedy Shortstop who would make it to Cooperstown.
Two other notables from the 1960 season; Brooks Robinson made his first of 15 consecutive All Star games and Steve Barber debuted for the Orioles. He’d later become the first 20 game winner for the Orioles.
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1961 Baltimore Orioles
One of the most remarkable seasons in Baseball history, the Orioles won 95 games in 1961 but finished in 3rd Place, 14 games behind the eventual World Champion New York Yankees. Also finishing a distant 3rd was hard luck MVP candidate Jim Gentile who slugged 46 Home Runs, and led the league with 141 RBI. Unfortunately he chose the summer of the Yankee’s M&M boy’s chase of Babe Ruth’s single season Home Run record to have his career year. Mickey Mantle would finish in 2nd with 54 Home Runs after an injury ended his season and Roger Maris would famously break the record with 61 Home Runs.
Amid all of the excitement of the Home Run chase, some notables from the season for the Orioles included the Major League debut of John Wesley Powell, who we’d soon know as Boog. At just 19 years old his bat was still developing prodigious power and his pit beef recipe was simmering. The Orioles starting Outfield also featured two future Hall of Fame Managers; Dick Williams and Whitey Herzog.
1961 marked Paul Richard’s last season as the Orioles Manager when he led the team to a 78-57 record before resigning in September to become the GM of the new Houston Colt .45’s. Lum Harris managed the final 27 games, of which the O’s won 17.
Over in the National League, budding superstar Frank Robinson won his first MVP Award.
1962 Baltimore Orioles
In 1962, the Orioles took a tumble in the standings, losing 85 games for a 7th Place finish. It was an all-around bad season for the Birds, the first for Manager Billy Hitchcock. The only bright spots being the move of Boog Powell into the starting Left Field position and the arrival of young pitcher Dave McNally who pitched in one game in 1962. All he’d do is toss a Complete Game Shut Out for his first career Win.
Meanwhile, Earl Weaver was promoted to Manager of the AA Elmira Pioneers, who won the Eastern League Championship that season with the rich talent that would don the Orange and Black in the coming years.
1963 Baltimore Orioles
In 1963 the Orioles would return to their winning ways with an 86 win season and a 4th place finish. Just before the season the Orioles acquired a slick fielding speedster at Shortstop named Luis Aparicio in a multi-player deal headlined by the former Rookie of the Year, Hansen. Aparicio would be another piece of the historically defensive minded Oriole contenders of the late 1960’s and he’d lead the league in stolen bases with 40.
The Orioles also acquired Closer Stu Miller in 1963 and he’d go on to lead the league in appearances with 71 and Saves with 27.
1964 Baltimore Orioles
In 1964, the Orioles would barely miss the post season, winning 97 games and finishing 3 games out of First Place behind the 99 win Yankees and the 98 win White Sox. But it wouldn’t be long now….things really started to fall into place for the Orioles in 1964 as they developed into a Championship caliber club.
The Orioles replaced Hitchcock as Manager with former War Hero and Yankee Rightfielder Hank Bauer. The three time All Star was the recipient of 11 campaign ribbons in the WWII Pacific theatre. He was decorated with two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts after being one of only six Marines to survive from the Platoon he commanded as part of the 4th Raider Battalion during the Battle of Okinawa. After returning to the United States due to a shrapnel injury and joining the pipefitter’s union, a chance meeting with a Yankee scout at a bar led to a tryout. 15 years later his resume also included seven World Series rings before embarking on a Managerial career.
1964 also marked the Major League debut of Centerfielder Paul Blair, who before Adam Jones arrived was easily considered the greatest CF in Oriole history. Also notable were the MLB debut of Lou Piniella, a 19 Win season from teenager Wally Bunker, and Brooks Robinson being named the American League MVP behind a stat line of 35/118/.317 and his usual remarkable defense at Third base.
1965 Baltimore Orioles
With a 94 Win season in 1965, winning was becoming expected in Baltimore and the hunger for a postseason appearance was boiling over. Lucky for Oriole fans, the final pieces of the Championship puzzle were arriving in the form of 1965 Rookie of the Year Curt Blefary, 19 year old Pitcher Jim Palmer, who pitched out of the bullpen to a 5-4 record and one save, and 22 year old infielders Davey Johnson and Mark Belanger. In addition, young Paul Blair took over the starting role in CF and at the top of the lineup. The O’s seemed poised for greatness but they were still one player away….
Check back later to read about the Glory Years!