Thirty years ago today, the Orioles won their last World Series by defeating the Phillies in five games. Does it seem that long ago?
Not to the MVP.
“It seems like it was only yesterday,” said former catcher Rick Dempsey. “This is what time does to you when you get older. These events, you don’t think about them and then all of a sudden they’re in your face. You hear, ‘This is the anniversary,’ and you think, ‘Oh, my God. It’s been 30 years?’ I didn’t think I’d live 30 years past it.
“You don’t think about it, and all of a sudden it’s on you.”
Shortstop Cal Ripken caught Garry Maddox’s line drive to end Game 5 and set off a wild celebration at Veterans Stadium. Dempsey raced to the mound to hug McGregor, who tossed a five-hit shutout.
Dempsey also was purging himself of the hurt and anger over losing the 1979 Series to the Pirates.
“It was the most exhilarating feeling I’ve ever felt in the game of baseball,” said Dempsey, now a studio analyst for MASN. “To see that line drive disappear in Cal’s glove and know we recouped our respect from ‘79 ...
“I think back to the last day of that Series in Philadelphia. What happened is, we came into the clubhouse and you could hear a pin drop. Nobody laughing, nobody in a joyous mood just because we were up 3-1. Because we remembered in 1979 against the Pirates when we were up 3-1 and we felt like we were going to beat a team nobody felt like we were going to beat. On paper, the Pirates should have blown us off the map and we were in a position to win and we let the Series get away from us. We lost three in a row. And trust me, it scarred everybody on the team.
“It was pretty much the same team in ‘83. I think what was in everybody’s mind at that time was that we needed to rectify the situation. We blew the Series in ‘79. No doubt about it. We needed the opportunity to get it back, and now we were there. And going into the final game, there wasn’t a word spoken, not a smile on anybody’s face. We stayed focused. We knew that we had to win one more game. We realized if we lost focus and the same thing happened again, we’d never be able to lift our heads in baseball.”
The Orioles took care of business, winning 5-0 and bringing the trophy back to Baltimore.
“Scotty pitched an outstanding ballgame,” Dempsey said. “I think I hit a home run, Eddie (Murray) hit a couple, and it was just one of the most exhilarating feelings ever - more so than when I won a World Series with the Dodgers in ‘88. That was the most gratifying moment. We had finally made up for the fact that we blew it in ‘79.”
The Orioles lost the opening game against the Phillies 2-1 at Memorial Stadium before taking the next four by scores of 4-1, 3-2, 5-4 and 5-0. They allowed 31 hits, including 10 in Game 4.
“I just remember Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose and Joe Morgan and guys like that coming up to bat in key situations,” Dempsey said. “I remember how solid Tippy (Martinez) was pitching, how they were all hitting the corners. We made pitches. Sammy Stewart. We made pitches in big situations.
“You thought the gods of baseball sooner or later would cloud up and storm all over you, and we held them intact for those five games. That was to let us know that we stepped across the line and took it to another level in order to win. We beat the best that baseball could put out on the field. We stayed focused and everybody did the little things it took to win those ballgame. They weren’t big offensive games, but we were getting people over, getting people in. Guys came off the bench. Benny Ayala had a big pinch-hit single. There was so much of that going on that you could just tell we were locked in.
“It wasn’t going to be a big shootout offensively. We had a great game plan against their hitters. We made pitches. We held Mike Schmidt to one hit the entire Series, and that was a broken-bat single to center field.”
Dempsey shut down the running game, as he usually did.
“In all the playoff and World Series games I played in, only one person got a stolen base off me and that was Joe Morgan in that Series. And he was called safe on a close play that he was really out,” said Dempsey, a veteran of 24 major league seasons and 25 playoff games.
“I remember telling the manager of the Pirates, Chuck Tanner, when they introduced us to start the Series in ‘79 and you go up the line and shake hands, I said, ‘Chuck, if you want to get this game over fast and they get on base, let them run,’” Dempsey recalled. “The first five guys tried to steal and I blew them out of the saddle. The last three games, they stopped trying to steal bases and give us those extra outs. They started to get their base hits and we started to lose those one-run games and we lost the momentum. That goes to show you that stealing bases isn’t really how you win games. When you start giving up outs on the bases, you’re destined to lose.”
Dempsey was a career .233 hitter. He batted .231 with 16 doubles, four home runs and 32 RBIs in 128 games in 1983. He went 2-for-12 against the White Sox in the ALCS, but he was 5-for-13 with four doubles and a home run in the Series.
It never occurred to Dempsey that he could be chosen MVP until the hours leading up to Game 5.
“Only because Earl Weaver was announcing and he said it going into the last ballgame,” Dempsey said. “That’s when it dawned on me. I thought, ‘Well, I guess nobody else has had a better Series than me,’ but that wasn’t my focus. My focus was to win the Series and get that ring.
“At the end of the Series they said I was voted MVP and it was almost like the least important thing, but at the same time, it had said something, that I finally did something offensively to help this ballclub win a championship. I came through at the best time to come through.
“Whenever we played big games, I put the stats behind me and only thought, ‘What can I do to help this team win?’”
They won it all 30 years ago today.