Monday, January 28, 2008

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

Keeping with the theme on baseball photographs, I wanted to share a photo I came across that started me thinking about a number of different things today - uniforms, bullpen cars and the Orioles near miss at a joining the ranks of being considered a dynasty.

According to the dateline on the photo, this was taken in October during the 1971 World Series. The rotation of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson was the last staff to have 4 - 20 game winners in the same season. As the caption mentions, they won 81 games between the four of them (21 for McNally & 20 for each of the other 3). In 2007, only 1 pitcher won 20 games (Josh Beckett) - yet this team had 4 all to itself!

And this is the really amazing stat in light of how pitchers are used today - they pitched 70 complete games! 70 games or almost half the season without a pitching change! WOW!

Here are the stats from the 1971 team:

I won't get into how pitching has completely changed since then with pitch counts and the change in the role of relief pitcher from Fireman (who used to come in to the game only in an emergency)

to the Closer who now comes in to seal the deal.

I realize we are talking different eras, but complete games for 70 out their 81 victories strikes me as amazing!

Anyway, back to what this picture brought to mind:

1. Uniforms. Unfortunately there is an image so frightening that has been previously burned into my brain that I have tried to repress, but the picture above made me cringe as I could not help but remember this:

Thats right folks. The last set of 4 20 game winners also has the distinction of being photographed in what some people feel is the biggest baseball uniform blunder of all time. This is always the picture that gets used when people talk about the horrible all orange uniform experiment since apparently all the other evidence of this ill advised uniform combination has been destroyed.

However - I was able to find a bit of information on the uniform from Uniwatch in a post about uniforms that only made it onto the field once. Apparently these were worn twice - once in Baltimore, and once on the road in Cleveland.

Uniwatch posted this information from Bill Henderson, who has published an incredible amount of research on uniforms in his book An Illustrated Guide to MLB Jersey Styles and Lettering: The Double Knit Era Collectors' Reference (1970-2005).

This is only other photograph I've been able to find of the fabled Orange Alternates from 1971. Note the 2 Hall of Famers Brooks & Frank Robinson in their orange duds. Apparently Brooks Robinson owned the company that provided these uniforms to the Orioles.

Finally, we have this from Dressed to the Nines, which is the Baseball Hall of Fame site that has a uniform database that you can search by team and by year. Here are the Orioles uniforms for 1971:

The Orioles would bring back the Orange jersey in 1975, but thankfully the Orange pants have never made a return.

2. Bullpen car. You really don't see too many pictures with the bullpen car, which is why this picture first caught my eye. These were a passing fad in MLB which reached its peak in the 1970s but died out by the mid 1980s. I thought it was great to see a picture of the Orioles bullpen car. I had a plastic one when I was a kid, but never saw the real thing, so it was fun to see what it looked like.

Paul Lukas who runs the Uniwatch blog also writes for ESPN, and wrote an interesting article on the history of the bullpen car. Click the link to the article as it is an interesting read with some good pictures.

3. The Orioles Near Miss at being considered one of the All Time Great Teams. When you hear discussions of the great Baseball Dynasties, the 1969-1971 Orioles usually end up on the honorable mention list. They just didn't quite get the job done to cash it in every time they had the chance. Sometimes the 1966 World Champion team will be included to discuss the 1966-1971 Orioles, and you could even make a case for looking at the team from 1966-1974 as they won the AL East in 1973 & 1974 as well.

Unfortunately for the Orioles, the 1972-1974 A's came right after them winning 3 World Series in a row, followed by the Big Red Machine's back to back titles in 1975 & 1976, and then the Yankees back to back titles in 1977 & 1978. With a long run of repeat winners, the Orioles got lost in the mix given they were only 1 for 3. The Orioles made it back to the Series in 1979, but lost AGAIN IN 7 GAMES to the Pirates.

When I see the picture of the 4 20 game winners, I first remember what an amazing feat they accomplished, but then I start to think about the one game they couldn't win. That one game isn't any specific game or any specific play, just any one of the 4 that they lost to the Pirates back in 1971.

Would history remember these Orioles teams from this period any differently had they won back to back Series in 1970 & 1971? I tend to think it would. The team finished 109-53 in 1969, 108-54 in 1970, and 101-57 in 1971 for a 3 year total of 318-164, or a .660 winning percentage. Not many teams can claim a 3 year run of 100+ win seasons. The Orioles also won the first three ALCS's by a total of 9 games to 0, sweeping the Twins in 1969 and 1970, and the A's in 1971. The completely dominated the AL.

In the World Series, as much as the Orioles were favored against the Mets in 1969, something was going on with the sports gods as the Jets upset the Colts in January 1969, so was it any surprise that the Orioles ultimately suffered the same fate against the Mets 10 months later? I can chalk that loss up to fate being on the side of the Mets, and don't play any "what if" games in my mind wondering if the Orioles could have won that Series.

The 1970 Series was as good as it gets for O's fans. Beating the Big Red Machine (who were just a Joe Morgan away from hitting on all cylinders) in 5 games with Brooks Robinson taking center stage was fantastic, and showed how great the Orioles could play defense, score runs, and pitch. They had the total package.

It was essentially this same team that took on the Pirates the next year, which is why it is so frustrating to see them come so close to back to back titles and fall one game short.

The Orioles jumped out to a 2 games to none lead after winning the first game 5-3 and the second game 11-3. The Pirates then came back to win the next 3 by scores of 5-1, 4-3, and 4-0, including the first night game ever for a World Series.

Game 6 was a nail biter, and was won in the bottom of 10th inning by the Orioles by a score of 3-2 as Frank Robinson beat the throw on a sac fly from Brooks Robinson to score in a picture immortalized on this card:

For the record, I think World Series cards are awesome, and should be mandated by law to be in the following year's base set every year, with one card dedicated to a key play from that game.

Moving on to Game 7, the Orioles ultimately fell short to the Pirates 2-1.

As a result, the Orioles were 1-2 in their 3 consecutive World Series appearances. Had the Orioles prevailed in any one of those 4 games they lost to the Pirates, they would have had back to back titles as well as a run of 3 titles in a 6 year run. Not as impressive as the A's 3 in a row which would follow, but still a very impressive run, and one that would get them much more recognition as a truly great team.

That is why when I look at the picture of the 4 20 game winners, I can't help but wish that between the four of them, they could have earned just one more victory in 1971.


Kevin said...

Great post, very well-written! As horrifying as those all-oranges are, they still have nothing on the purple-and-black monstrosity of the 1996 Ravens.

Anonymous said...

First, for full disclosure, let me say that I am a Pirates fan. However, I agree with your thoughts and the Orioles would be regarded differently had they been able to win the 1971 World Series. I feel similarly about the 1972 Pirates -- a better team than 1971 in my opinion -- but got derailed by the Reds in the NL playoffs.