Today marks a significant anniversary in Birdland. Thirty-four years ago, on June 22, 1979, Orioles Magic was born.
That’s the night that third baseman Doug DeCinces crushed a game-winning two-run homer - back in the day, we didn’t call them walk-offs - in the ninth inning off the Tigers’ Dave Tobik for a thrilling 6-5 victory before 35,456 at Memorial Stadium.
Here is Bill O’Donnell’s call of the decisive blast, with additional commentary by Chuck Thompson and Charley Eckman. Years after the fact, Eckman told me it was one of his favorite moments as a broadcaster, and that he didn’t think twice about crossing the line from radio voice to excited fan during the broadcast on WFBR-AM, the O’s flagship at the time. Here is the boxscore.
As comebacks go, it was a pretty sweet one. The Orioles had been stymied during the previous 5 1/3 innings by a scoreless relief effort from Detroit’s Kip Young, who was in line for the win after starter Pat Underwood lasted only 2 2/3 innings. Enter Tobik, who unwittingly set the stage for a landmark moment in Baltimore baseball history.
After Kiko Garcia made the first out of the last of the ninth, Ken Singleton homered off Tobik cutting the Tigers’ lead to 5-4. Eddie Murray then singled, but Gary Roenicke popped to second for the inning’s second out. That brought DeCinces to the plate, and he crushed a 1-1 Tobik offering into the left-field stands.
Memorial Stadium rocked, teammates swarmed DeCinces at home plate and the O’s posted their seventh straight victory in what would be a nine-game winning streak. In “From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles” by John Eisenberg, DeCinces said the comeback “triggered something” and that “the emotion just multiplied from there,” leading the Birds to the American League title.
Like most historic moments, the memory endures. I can recall exactly where I was, who I was with and what I was doing as O’Donnell’s excited voice crackled over a transistor radio, with the broadcast fading in and out. My pal Paul Milton and I were sitting in the Spindrift Motel on 25th Street in Ocean City, Md., playing APBA baseball (sorry, Strat-O-Matic fans, APBA provides simply the best recreation of the game via its dice rolls, player cards and results charts). It didn’t matter that we were 150 miles away or that we could barely discern what happened - we high-fived and went nuts when we heard Eckman, Thompson and O’Donnell cheering.
Sadly, the O’s lost the World Series that year to the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates, a defeat that’s to this day as difficult to fathom as it was to swallow. But Orioles Magic lives on, a cherished tradition handed down from one generation of fans to another. What, you thought it was just some catchy lyric from a song?
Do you remember where you were when Orioles Magic was born? Were you at the stadium on 33rd Street? What was the vibe like, and do you remember that night?