With Friday’s win deep in the heart of Texas, the Orioles thrust themselves into a showdown with the hated New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. When most people think of a New York team in the postseason, it seems that the natural opponent or rival always seems to be their Boston counterpart. It always seems that people want to see Knicks/Celtics, Rangers/Bruins, and of course Yankees/Red Sox. What most people don’t know or remember is that Baltimore and New York have a rich postseason history as well, and not just in baseball.
For starters, the team that’s currently in town to play the Orioles, the NY Yankees, started out as - get this - the Baltimore Orioles! The franchise was founded in Baltimore and named the Orioles in 1901, however they moved to New York in 1903 and became the New York Highlanders (they took “Yankees” as their official name in 1913). Years later, Weeb Ewbank coached the Baltimore Colts football team to the 1958 and ‘59 NFL Championships (more on those later), only to be fired after the 1962 season. The following year Ewbank re-emerged as the head coach of the New York Jets, who would later have a date with destiny with the Colts (again, more on that later).
The Colts left when I was three years old, but I heard many stories about the great Johnny Unitas and the 1958 NFL title game from my dad. At that time, nobody had ever seen anyone running what today is called a two-minute drill. There’s no doubt in my mind that the 1958 title game is the greatest (football) game ever played, and part of that is due to the fact that “little Baltimore” went in and beat the mighty NY Giants. That game put Baltimore sports on the map, and it gave the city something on which to hang its hat. One year later, the same Giants squad came to Memorial Stadium for the 1959 NFL title game against the same Baltimore Colts. Different year, different venue, same result; the Colts were world champs at the expense of New York!
Not all of the postseason history between the cities is rosy for Baltimore, however. The year 1969 was a bad year in the sense that the Colts lost to the NY Jets in the Super Bowl, and the Orioles lost to the NY “Miracle Mets” in the World Series. The Jets were led by former Colts head coach Ewbank, and of course leading up to the Super Bowl game, quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed victory over Baltimore. Not only was that considered cocky and arrogant at the time, but it was also unprecedented for an AFL team to beat an NFL team in the Super Bowl. We all know what happened, and the image of Jimmy Orr wide open at the goal line (unbeknownst to quarterback Earl Morrall) is probably the lasting image from the Colts’ perspective. On the baseball side, the Orioles had just lost to the NY Mets in the World Series, thus allowing the Mets to become the first expansion team to win a World Series. The Orioles were almost flawless at every position, boasting the likes of Brooks & Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Boog Powell, Mark Belanger and others.
Much closer to the present, we of course have the 1996 American League Championship Series between the Orioles and Yankees, which was highlighted by a 12-year-old boy named Jeffrey Maier, who robbed Oriole outfielder Tony Tarasco of a fly ball in right field at Yankee Stadium. That one incident didn’t decide the series, however it set a tone and the Orioles never recovered. To this day, Orioles fans point to that as the beginning of the painful years that ensued (even though they returned to the playoffs the following year). I’ll say this much about it; I always gave Rich Garcia (the RF umpire that made the call) a lot of credit for saying after the game that he blew it. After seeing the replay Garcia admitted that he made the wrong call which takes a lot of guys, especially on that stage.
And that brings us to now; the Orioles and Yankees are meeting in the ALDS. Even trailing 1-0 in the series, the Orioles are just happy to be at this point. However I think that the Orioles fans have a bit of an ax to grind based on the above-mentioned Maier incident, and the years of abuse at the hands of Yankee fans. The crowd was electric last night without question; to the Orioles fans, my message is this: DO IT AGAIN!