By Joe Catapano
When Baltimore Orioles left-hander Scott McGregor recorded the final out of his five-hit shutout in Game 5 of the World Series some 35 years ago, it gave the Orioles their third championship in organization history.
Three and a half decades later, that game — one in which first baseman Eddie Murray hit two home runs, catcher Rick Dempsey doubled and homered to earn MVP honors and shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. recorded the final putout of the series — still marks the last time the Orioles reached the pinnacle of baseball.
Richard Justice, an MLB.com correspondent who covered the Orioles in the 1980s, remembers how talented that team was, one that included three eventual Hall of Famers in Murray, Ripken and right-hander Jim Palmer.
“[Manager] Earl Weaver’s departure fueled people because some of the players thought Earl got too much credit, so it was extra motivation,” Justice said on The Bat Around Nov. 10. “But look, when you have Cal and Eddie in the middle of your lineup, and you have Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Mike Boddicker, Jim Palmer and Tippy Martinez throwing the ninth inning, you’re going to be pretty good.”
The Orioles went 98-64 behind first-year manager Joe Altobelli, who took over after Weaver retired following the 1982 season. (Weaver returned in 1985.) Baltimore won the American League East and lost just two games in the postseason during victories against the Chicago White Sox in the American League Championship Series and the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Baltimore’s pitching staff boasted a 3.63 team ERA behind McGregor and Boddicker, who combined for 34 wins and 22 complete games. Right-hander Storm Davis and Flanagan also recorded double-digit win totals.
Justice remembers the experiences he had watching Boddicker in particular from directly behind home plate. The right-hander led the Orioles starters during their 1983 championship season with a 2.77 ERA in 1983.
“He was pitching to every quadrant of the strike zone,” Justice said. “He would say, “I wasn’t too sharp,’ and I’d respond, “Yeah, OK. By my book, you were unbelievably sharp.'”
Justice also remembers Boddicker as a true team player, and it was obvious during the 1984 season when he tried for his 20th win against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The right-hander accomplished the feat, one that hasn’t been matched within the franchise since.
“He was so nervous he was about vomit in the game,” Justice said. “In this game he wasn’t pitching for his guys. He was pitching for himself and he didn’t know how to deal with it.”
While a shutout on the mound clinched the Orioles’ World Series’ title in 1983, a potent offense led by Murray and Ripken powered the team throughout the season. The duo both hit above .300, the only two players on the team to eclipse that mark.
Ripken led the major leagues in hits (211) and doubles (47) and won the AL MVP award. Murray led the Orioles with 33 homers and 111 RBIs.
“Eddie was so consistent and an athletic freak,” Justice said. “He was just on a different level.”
Justice remembers how much Murray loved being an Oriole, often singing a tune, ‘It’s great to be young and an Oriole.’ He also recalls how serious the eight-time All-Star was about nurturing a successful minor-league system.
When Murray was visiting the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of Baltimore from 1961-2002, he noticed how players would wear different gear during batting practice. He preferred consistency, which he demonstrated as a player throughout his illustrious career.
“He perceived it as a lack of discipline and it freaked him out,” Justice said. “He thought the minor-league system was going to hell. He saw it before any of the rest of us saw it, and what the Orioles taught me the most is how having a farm system is more than just replenishing talent.”
Murray may have contributed the last championship for the Orioles more than three decades ago, but his presence isn’t lost from the organization today. In July, Baltimore hired him as a special adviser, just two weeks after hiring former Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson to a similar role.
Justice believes the brilliant minds from the prime of Baltimore baseball history can help the Orioles makes strides in improving after an MLB-worst 47-115 record in 2018.
“Eddie is a genius. His aptitude for the game is off the charts,” Justice said. “Some of it is him being a smart guy. Some is it is the people he was around like Flanagan and Cal Ripken Jr. Those guys have a lot to offer.”
For more from Justice, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles