The 1989 “Why Not?” Orioles enjoyed return to Baltimore

When they beat Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox on opening day in 1989, there would be no repeat of the previous season. The 1988 Orioles started 0-21 on their way to 107 losses. A year later, the pundits said Baltimore was headed for last place again.

And the ‘89 team did not exactly tear it up after that win in the opener at Memorial Stadium. They were 13-17 after 30 games. But a hot streak in late May saw the team surge into first place, and they stayed there for most of the summer. But by September they were chasing Toronto for first. They ended the year at SkyDome, playing three games, and coming into the series one game behind. One-run losses Friday and Saturday eliminated the Orioles, who had spent the summer saying “Why not us?” The slogan stuck.

Ripken-Brothers-1989-Why-Not-Night-Sidebar.jpgMany of the members of the “Why Not?” team returned to Baltimore for a luncheon yesterday and a ceremony before last night’s game.

“It’s been a special day,” outfielder Larry Sheets said.

“They were throwing that phrase around,” pitcher Mark Williamson said. “What do you mean ‘Why Not?’ It was like, because you guys were trying to go worst to first, so why not the Orioles? From a player’s standpoint, it was nice to show up and have 30 or 40,000 fans. The town was behind us. It was nice to play for something at the end of the season.”

Added infielder Craig Worthington: “In ‘88 we were real bad, but there was no finger-pointing. We knew we would turn it around. There were a lot of vets on that team, but a lot of rookies in ‘89, and no superstars other than Cal (Ripken Jr.). There were a lot of guys hungry and trying to prove themselves. There was a different hero every day. It was a great mix of players. The papers before opening day said we would get no-hit, and we took that to heart. It kind of snowballed after that. It carried us all the way and we were close at the end.”

The ‘89 team would not make the postseason. But they captured the hearts of the Orioles fans who cheered them with gusto on 33rd Street. They provided the fans a summer of great fun.

Here are more thoughts from some of the ‘89 Orioles.

Pitcher Jeff Ballard: “All the excitement you would see in playoff baseball was there in Toronto. All the things, minus actually being in the playoffs or World Series, our check box got checked that year. Wonderful memories of being here in Baltimore. The fans were great, the team was really close-knit. Can’t say enough about that experience.”

Pitcher Bob Milacki: “I think that was a special season. Think about all the rookies we had on that team. And guys that came up together, like me and Pete Harnisch, Jeff Ballard, Craig Worthington, Steve Finley. There was just a good group of guys surrounded by good veterans that led us in the right direction. We played well the majority of the year. It was just special. My side still hurts from all the stories we told and laughing. It’s like we haven’t been gone for 30 years. It was like we just saw each other last week. Just tremendous to see these guys.”

Cal Ripken Jr.: “We had some rabbits running around the outfield catching everything that was hit. We had some enthusiasm that came from hope and winning that started opening day. It was a fun season. As the grind of the season wore on, I wouldn’t say we got exposed, but we came back to earth a little bit. But we found ourselves at the end of the season right where we wanted to be, with a chance to win in Toronto. And we had them beat those first two games and they came back with their experience and won it late. Snatched our going-from-worst-to-first season away from us. But none of us in the room after the last game thought it was a failure. We thought it was an extremely successful season and we were all proud of what we were able to do.”

Several of the ‘89 Orioles said they could relate to the current rebuilding team, which is also trying to go from the bottom to the top.

Said Ripken: “I can relate to the pain of rebuilding. I was part of 0-21 and we lost 107 games. It’s a miserable time. But if you turn it around a bit and take an optimistic view, people are getting some chances to play that might otherwise not. The guys that got a chance to play in ‘89 because of a rebuilding situation carved out nice careers. So there is an abundance of opportunity. When you have an opportunity as a young person and you are playing, almost with a little free will and no expectations, and you find out you can do it, I think a lot of people enjoy watching that path. I would think the young Orioles would not grade themselves so much by the wins and losses, but how they are improving and how in the future they can win.”

Added outfielder Joe Orsulak: “Right now some of these guys on this team are going to be with this team when they get good. That might be next year or, more likely, four or five years from now. And it will be a great feeling for them when they make that transition.”

Said outfielder Phil Bradley: “The game is still played on the field. They have a choice to make, just like we had a choice to make 30 years ago. We can either believe what we read or go out and play and let the chips fall where they may. We didn’t start off winning 20 in a row. We got off to a slow start. Baseball is 162 games with ebbs and flows. But you have a chance to show up and win every night.”

And don’t think that ‘89 group isn’t still ticked off about coming close but not making the playoffs. In fact, Bradley remembered a loss in mid-summer when he was involved in a key play that still bothers him.

“There was a game in Baltimore against the Yankees, and it was extremely foggy. We were winning. That game should have been suspended, and we ended up losing. Ken Phelps hit a fly ball that I saw it be hit and the next thing I know, I heard it land behind me. I couldn’t see it, and we went on to lose. It’s all hindsight now, but who knows? It was a big game. If we go into Toronto even, now it’s best two out of three instead of going in one game behind and trying to play catch-up. We were in position to win those first two games, which to this day it still is a bit of a disappointment. We put ourselves in great position to win both of those games. Even in a great season, it doesn’t always turn out the way you like,” Bradley said.

It was great to see so many players from that team return to Baltimore. They clearly enjoyed their time back, and it was cool to hear them relive some wonderful memories of a wonderful summer.

This tweet from the Orioles on MASN account provides the video of the pregame ceremony:

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