Most Orioles fans can name the last time that the team had a winning season: 1997. Fewer can name the first time that the team had a winning season: 1960.
Baseball came to Baltimore in 1954; it wasn’t until six years later that winning baseball arrived in town. While the 1957 Orioles finished an even 76-76, the Birds totaled more wins, 89, than losses, 65 for the first time in 1960.
The 1960 team featured American League Manager of the Year Paul Richards, Rookie of the Year Ron Hansen and first-time All-Star Brooks Robinson, who finished third in league MVP voting. The real story, however, was the team’s pitching staff, known collectively as “The Kiddie Corps.”
Milt Pappas (15-11) and Jack Fisher (12-11) were the youngest of the group at 21. Meanwhile, 22-year-olds Chuck Estrada and Steve Barber went 18-11 and 12-5, respectively. Veterans Hal “Skinny” Brown, 35, and Hoyt Wilhelm, 37, produced a combined 23 wins to supplement the Kiddie Corps’ efforts. Jerry Walker, an All-Star in 1959 at age 20, got the opening day start, but finished the 1960 season 3-4 in 18 starts with a 3.74 ERA.
Overall, Baltimore pitchers topped the AL with 48 complete games, including eight in the span of 11 days in mid-August. Estrada led the O’s with 12 complete games; by comparison, the Tampa Bay Rays led the AL last season with 15 complete games. The 1960 staff’s 3.52 ERA left them tied with the Yankees for the league low in the category.
The O’s solid pitching in 1960 counterbalanced its .253 batting average, which fell below the league average of .255, and 123 home runs, which were 13 below the league average of 136.
The 1960 Orioles, like the 2012 edition of the team, came as a welcome surprise to local fans yearning for a winner.
“The Yankees came in to Baltimore in early September, and we beat them three in a row, and the city really went wild for the first time. Everybody was really hyped about us maybe winning the pennant,” Hansen said in “From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles.” “The hype was more with the people in the city than the team, although we felt good about ourselves. We felt like we had a
good team and we could beat (the Yankees) and win the pennant.”
The O’s finished the season eight games back of the Yankees in second place and inspired an optimistic slogan headed into the next year: “It can be done in ‘61.”
Sports Illustrated captured the excitement that the 1960 surprise run produced at the outset of the following season:
“Having cheered the Orioles to second place last year, Baltimore now wants a pennant. All over town, in store windows, hotel lobbies, restaurants, everywhere, signs proclaimed ‘It can be done in ‘61.’ Radio announcers identified their stations as, say, ‘WBAL, Baltimore where it can be done in ‘61.’ The day before, a huge party had been
given to launch the Orioles to a successful start. Pennant fever had hit town before the first game.”
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.