Memorial Stadium, the horseshoe-shaped ballpark on 33rd Street, is gone, but a plaque at the site marking home plate keeps memories alive. One day, Boog Powell stood at the plaque and went back in time.
“Jim Palmer and I went over there and stood at home plate,’’ Powell says. “We were standing in the middle of nowhere and put myself right back to the old ballpark. I could envision the left field wall, right field, everything. I could hear the fans. I felt the intensity and the atmosphere. There were millions of memories.’‘
And it wasn’t just baseball that made Baltimore feel like home. His children were born at Union Memorial Hospital near Memorial Stadium. Powell, 72, the red-headed first baseman who helped define Orioles dominance in the 1960s and early 1970s, played 14 of his 17 seasons with the Orioles. In the offseason, he worked as a liquor salesman in Baltimore, even though the Orioles preferred he work in a bank.
Powell came up as a 19-year-old left-fielder at the end of 1961, and by the time his Orioles career was done, he had played in four World Series (winning twice) and four All-Star Games. He won the 1970 American League MVP and in two other seasons, he finished second and third in the voting. He hit 303 of his 339 career home runs in an Orioles uniform.
In 1961, Powell came within percentage points of winning a Triple Crown at Triple-A Rochester, so when he got to big leagues, he thought there wouldn’t be that much difference. He struck out “feebly’’ in his first at-bat, but in his second game, he delivered an RBI single.
“I was playing first base at Rochester and all of a sudden, I was playing left field in Yankee Stadium,” he recalls. “That was scary. Roger Maris was going for home run No. 59 at the time.’‘
The following season, Powell, a left-handed batter, hit his first home run, in Minnesota off Twins lefty Jim Kaat. “It was low and away and I hit it to left field,’’ Powell says.
The first World Series played in Baltimore was in 1966, when the Orioles finished a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, beating them 1-0 and 1-0 in the third and fourth games at Memorial Stadium. The Dodgers scored two runs in the first three innings of Game 1 in L.A., but after that, Orioles pitching held the Dodgers scoreless for 33 consecutive innings.
Brooks and Frank Robinson hit back-to-back home runs against Don Drysdale in a 5-2 Game 1 win at Dodger Stadium: “Drysdale didn’t take too kindly to that, so when I came up, it crossed my mind that I was going down,” Powell says. “He threw a changeup.’’ (Powell popped up, but later hit a double vs. Bob Miller.)
In 1969 and 1970, if the AL MVP voting was an indication, the Orioles and Twins had the two best teams in the league. In 1969, Powell finished second to the Twins’ Harmon Killebrew in the MVP race, but 11 of the top 15 who received votes either played for Baltimore or Minnesota.
In 1970, Powell (.297-35-114) won the MVP over the Twins’ Tony Oliva with seven of the top 11 voter-getters either an Oriole or a Twin. “Great rivalry,’’ Powell says. “We had a little more pitching than they did.’‘
Powell and Killebrew, rivals on the field, became good friends and used to exchange Christmas cards before Killebrew’s death. “He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,’’ Powell says.
About his AL MVP Award, Powell said: “We had a great lineup and I was in the middle of it. I was lucky because I was always up with Paul Blair and Don Buford on base.’‘
The Orioles swept the Twins in each of the first two best-of-five American League Championship Series. The Orioles lost to the New York Mets in the 1969 World Series and beat the Cincinnati Reds in 1970.
New York won the 1969 World Series in five games, even though the Orioles were the favorites. “The thing I remember is striking on a 3-2 curveball from Nolan Ryan,’’ Powell says. “Never seen anything quite like that. I don’t think we took that team lightly. They were a good team. They won 100 games. We just didn’t play well.’‘
In the 1970 World Series versus the Reds, Powell hit a home run in each of the first two games, helping the Orioles overcome deficits. The Reds had a 3-0 lead in Game 1, but the Orioles won 4-3. The Reds had a 4-0 lead in Game 2, but the Orioles won 6-5. Those were the only two World Series home runs Powell would hit.
“To a man, we were determined not to get beat two years in a row in the World Series,’’ Powell says. “It was destiny.’‘
The Pittsburgh Pirates and Roberto Clemente, the MVP, beat the Orioles in the 1971 World Series, even though the Orioles won the first two games. “We beat them twice in Baltimore and lost three in a row in Pittsburgh, and I still don’t know how we did that,” Powell says. “Clemente made some great plays. Willie Stargell hit well.’‘
The Orioles lost Game 7 in Baltimore 2-1 with Clemente hitting a home run.
The 1971 season was Powell’s last All-Star season. He played three more for the Orioles and then after the 1974 season, he was traded to Cleveland in a deal that brought Dave Duncan to Baltimore.
“I felt awful, disappointed,’’ Powell says. “I had deep roots in Baltimore.’‘
Powell had injury issues with his shoulder in his final seasons in Baltimore, but in 1975, he was healthy, leading to 27 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Indians. The Orioles won 90 games, but finished second in the AL East to Boston. The Orioles were seventh in run production and seventh in home-run production in the 12-team American League.
One time after the trade, Powell met Orioles manager Earl Weaver in an Anaheim bar as the two teams played back-to-back series versus the Angels.
“I told him, ‘You pulled the trigger on me too quickly; you could have had one more if you had kept me,’ ‘’ Powell says. “Earl didn’t say a word.’‘
Chances are Weaver knew Powell was correct.