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Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Magical Ride Through Orioles History

If you are or have been a Baltimore Orioles fan for over a half century or became one just recently, 60 Years of Orioles Magic is a must read chronicle from the birth of the Birds through the exhilarating 2014 season.  The coffee table-sized book with tons of extraordinary vintage and color photos of virtually everybody whoever put on an O’s uniform presents a superb accounting of all the ups and downs the franchise has experienced since its 1954 move to Baltimore from St. Louis.
Jim Henneman, a former sports journalist for the Baltimore News American and Baltimore Sun for over 50 years and who attended the first Orioles game in Baltimore in 1954, shared his wealth of knowledge of Orioles lore throughout the 276-page book. The best all-time Orioles pitcher, Jim Palmer, penned the introduction drawing on his astounding photographic baseball memory that he often displays on TV citing specifics of a game from decades past (who pitched against him, which batter he retired with men on base, the score, etc.).

The book contains 14 chapters that chronologically depict key “eras” over the 60 years.  Enhanced by countless vivid photos—many full page in size and of the action variety—and detailed captions, the story of the Orioles history unfolds in what must be considered catnip for Orioles fans in particular and baseball fans in general.  There are also replica ephemera, including old-time tickets, scorecards, posters and more among the pages.

From a description of the poor-performing Orioles teams early on in the 1950s to the emergence of a contender and then champion team in the 1960’s, Henneman effectively rekindles the memories of how the team evolved from oblivion to become one of the elite squads in baseball.
He continues this journey in the subsequent decades with the team’s peaks and valleys, which were numerous, and  covering the multitude of players who wore the orange and black, the ownership, the front office, trades—good and bad, the various managers, the new ballpark at Camden Yards and much, much more.  In particular, Henneman describes so well the exciting “Why Not?” season of 1989 that captivated the baseball world and Orioles fans. 

Several Orioles are highlighted in full page tributes, such as Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, Doug Decinces, Eddie Murray and the phenomenon known as Cal Ripken, Jr. especially his “iron man” streak.
60 Years of Orioles Magic includes a feature that is absolutely wonderful and a delight to baseball addicts.  Following each era, Henneman recounts a bunch of “Memorable Games” that were usually significant, odd or ironic.  For instance, this section shows Hoyt Wilhlem becoming the first Orioles pitcher to throw a no-hitter, which occurred on September 20, 1958. 

Or when on June 21, 1966, Frank Robinson hit a 451-foot blast off Luis Tiant of Cleveland that became the only home run hit out of Memorial Stadium.  On July 27, 1973, the Orioles defeated the White Sox 17-0 for the largest shutout victory in club history.  Then there was Tippy Martinez picking off three Toronto runners in the 9th inning of a tie game on August 24, 1983.  And more recently, there was Robert Andino’s astounding game-winning hit on September 28, 2011 off Boston’s impervious closer Jonathan Papelbon to effectively knock the Red Sox out of the playoffs, setting the stage for the O’s revitalization beginning in 2012.    
What I liked to have seen included in this otherwise exemplary trip down Orioles memory lane is more depth in describing some situations.  For example, illumination on the exploits of Earl Weaver and his numerous on-field skirmishes with umpires and some insight into Weaver’s storied “love-hate” relationship with star pitcher Jim Palmer would have been welcome with a photo or anecdote or two. 

The book would have been even more nostalgic if some of the quirks the fans loved were mentioned, such as John Denver’s iconic “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” played during the 7th inning stretch for many years, or the fans’ screaming “O” during the National Anthem, or a special tribute to the beloved announcer Chuck Thompson.  They were part of the Orioles tradition as well.  
Moreover, since baseball and statistics are inexorably entwined, an appendix presenting the year-to-year performance of the team, their cumulative records versus opposing teams, or a list of team leaders by category would have been the icing on the cake. Though statistics are laced throughout, a separate section is warranted.

Nonetheless, 60 Years of Orioles Magic through its extraordinary images and writing about those who wore the Orioles uniform brings to life a history, identity and a tradition that is clearly enduring.
Baltimore Orioles: 60 Years of Orioles Magic (Insight Editions/ $50.00/May2015, Hardcover, 276 pages, ISBN: 978--1608873180)

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