Two bits of news have taken two locals from us. In the case of one, the passing of Al Kaline — Mr. Tiger or the Brooks Robinson of Detroit — at the age of 85 is not super shocking, but he led such a full life after his retirement. Through Jim Henneman, I got to spend some time with Jim, Al and a bunch of guys who were in their 70s at the time. These were Al’s baseball buddies from Baltimore.
These guys revered Kaline, the player from their high school days and sandlots. But like the comparison to Mr. Oriole, Brooks Robinson, they didn’t hold him in awe as a person. To them, he was just a great friend.
The other loss in the local ranks is actually much more like a celebration of a career. Word came out last week that Kevin Byrne, the Ravens’ executive vice president of public and community relations, was hanging it up.
Byrne, who moved to Baltimore with Art Modell in 1996, has worked 24 seasons in Baltimore after an initial 15 working for the Browns in Cleveland. Byrne is the longest tenured public relations chief in the NFL. Byrne was held in such high esteem during his 39 years with the Browns and Ravens that he was selected by two consecutive commissioners — Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell — to essentially be the league’s PR director of the Super Bowl.
During his tenure in Baltimore, Byrne has dealt with myriad twists and turns and mostly worked his magic to mitigate those episodes that could have tarnished any lesser represented organization. The controversial move from Cleveland was a tricky needle to thread, and Byrne’s steady hand helped salve the wounds of longtime Colts fans.
I have written in the past about the great job the late David Modell did in this regard. But, while David was Mr. Outside, Byrne worked as Mr. Inside and slowly but surely built relationships with media members and parts of the business community as well.
Byrne was there as Brian Billick and his bombast led the way to Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa and had to deal with the entire season of Ray Lewis coming back from his arrest and trial in Atlanta when Lewis was charged with obstruction of justice. Byrne was there as both the Ravens’ PR director and the league’s PR director at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans when the Ravens bested the San Francisco 49ers and John Harbaugh’s brother Jim. Likewise, Byrne was there a year later when Ray Rice was ultimately released by the Ravens after the video came out of him hitting his then-girlfriend, now his wife, Janay.
In 34 years, Byrne has had just two bosses in Art Modell and Steve Biscotti. Both would rave about Byrne’s amazing ability to ensure a story was shaped by the club’s point of view rather than allowing the story to take on a life of its own.
Our Glenn Clark wrote a very interesting piece about how the club could celebrate the career and accomplishments of Byrne. I am not as concerned with how exactly the club will honor him. I just wanted to briefly tell you how much I have respected watching him work.
The story broke the past couple days that MLB has been working on a number of options aimed at getting players back on the field and a season underway. One of the options was very interesting. It was to make use of the close proximity of all the spring training facilities of the Cactus League in Arizona.
Including the Diamondbacks’ home park of Chase Field, you would have 11 stadiums within 50 miles. The idea would be that by controlling and limiting travel, you would have a much easier time trying to make sure the time-and-space issues related to transmission of the coronavirus would be limited.
The Arizona plan also calls for the games to be played at empty stadiums, which would again limit the chance for fans to infect other fans and stadium personnel such as ushers and vendors.
Keep in mind, much of the Arizona plan is based on the importance of getting the season underway and providing content on TV for the fans back home who might still be in various levels of quarantining.
The biggest issue with this plan is the idea put forth that this plan would allow the games to begin in mid-May. There is a lot to like about the Arizona plan, as it projects an industry that will need to try and wrap its game inside of a bubble. But the idea that everyone could get this up and running in 5-6 weeks seems sheer folly.
About 2.5 weeks ago, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro suggested the sport would need a training period of about a month.
I am not 100 percent sold on the fact we’ll have a baseball season at all in 2020, but I can almost categorically tell you if I am wrong about that, any such season wouldn’t start any earlier than mid-June and more likely early July.
I am not one of those baseball fans who loves to watch old games, but the other night I did a late-night watch on MLB Network of Game 2 of the 1979 World Series between the O’s and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a game the Orioles lost, 3-2, and pulled the Pirates even at 1-1
One small aspect of the Series I had forgotten: Game 1, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 9, was rained out. That led to an unusual schedule that saw the two teams play Wednesday-Sunday without a break.
The Orioles ultimately lost the series in seven games to the Pirates. This despite the fact that after a Game 4 comeback win in Pittsburgh, the O’s led the “We Are Family” Pirates three games to one and had Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor lined up.
But watching Game 2 brought back a flood of memories for me regarding this World Series. I had a good buddy of mine, David Rubinstein, who had recently moved to Pittsburgh to work for the Penguins. Rube invited me and genius lawyer Steve Fedder up for the three games in Pittsburgh.
We took him up on the chance to go to the games in Pittsburgh. On Friday, the Pirates took a 3-0 lead in the first two innings against McGregor. But a two-run homer from Benny Ayala and a lengthy rain delay totally changed the momentum, as the Orioles used a five-run fourth inning to propel them to an 8-4 win.
Game 4 on Saturday saw the O’s fall behind, 4-0, in the second inning then close to within 4-3 in the top of the third. The Pirates extended their lead to 6-3 with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. But in the eighth inning, the Orioles got big pinch-hit doubles from John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley — both off Kent Tekulve, a submarine right-hander. All told, the O’s scored six runs and took a commanding 3-1 lead winning, 9-6, in Game 4.
All told, after four games, the Pirates’ pitching looked suspect; the Orioles had outscored the Pirates, 24-17. If you had told me the Pirates were about to win the last three games and steal the series from the O’s, I’d have guessed you were either high on something or just that you hadn’t watched the first four games.
So, what did happen? My buddy Steve and I, figuring the Series was over, decided to hit the road early on Sunday morning and watch Game 5 from our homes so that we’d be better positioned to hit the streets in Baltimore.
Blame it on us. Starting with the 4 p.m. start that featured Jim Rooker and Mike Flanagan, the Pirates got a brilliant long relief outing out of Bert Blyleven and they came storming back to score seven runs from the sixth inning on.
The World Series came back to Baltimore on Tuesday night with Jim Palmer pitching against lefty John Candelaria. The two squared off in a six-inning duel that featured goose eggs on the board. The Bucs broke through to score two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth and went on to win, 4-0, to set up a winner-take-all seventh game.
The Game 7 matchup of McGregor and Jim Bibby seemed to favor McGregor, who was on his way to being one of the most dependable lefties in the game. McGregor missed some time that season, but still tossed 174.2 innings in 23 starts and had gone 13-6 with a nice ERA of 3.35. Bibby put up great numbers in just 17 starts, going 12-4 with a 2.81 ERA.
Rich Dauer hit a solo homer to give the O’s a 1-0 lead. McGregor bent but didn’t break until the sixth inning when he allowed the Pirates to take a 2-1 lead. By that time, ex-Oriole lefty Grant Jackson had taken the mound.
The Pirates plated two more runs in the top of the ninth, and Tekulve recorded his third save of the series.
When added up, the Orioles, who appeared to have that commanding 3-1 lead, were outscored 15-2 during the last three games. What hurt so much was 1979 was the first season that Orioles Magic magically appeared. It was there from that night in June when Doug Decinces hit that homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Detroit Tigers all the way through the postseason — until those last three miserable games.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Detroit Tigers