Earl Weaver had become a legend in Baltimore since he became the manager of the Orioles in 1968. The ensuing fourteen years had seen five 100-win seasons, six AL East titles, four American League pennants and a World Series title. The 1982 Baltimore Orioles were his last real ride. They were an excellent team who produced a memorable season, and came within one win of making it epic.
Eddie Murray was the engine of the offense and the 26-year-old future Hall of Famer finished with a .391 on-base percentage/.549 slugging percentage, while hitting 32 home runs with 110 RBI. He was joined by a rookie named Cal Ripken Jr., who hit 28 home runs and drove in 93 runs. The room for Ripken had been created by trading veteran third baseman Doug DeCinces and releasing another vet, defensive wizard Mark Belanger.
The leftfield spot was a platoon that, if you could combine the two players, could have been the MVP. John Lowenstein posted a .415/.602 stat line, while Gary Roenicke put up .392/.499. The two players combined for 45 home runs and 140 RBI.
Veteran catcher Rick Dempsey finished with a respectable .339 OBP and second baseman Rich Dauer was in the same neighborhood at .337. Third baseman Glenn Gulliver was called up in July and down the stretch his OBP was .363. They provided solid support, but the disappointments in the offense was the decline in production from centerfielder and leadoff man Al Bumbry, along with 35-year-old designated hitter Ken Singleton.
The offense still finished fifth in the league in runs scored. The bigger disappointment was the pitching staff. Long an Oriole hallmark, the staff finished eighth in the American League in ERA and depth was a real problem. Tippy Martinez, Sammy Stewart and Storm Davis had decent years out of the bullpen and in spot-starting duty, but none were anything special.
The rotation relied overwhelmingly on four arms, none of whom was great in 1982. Dennis Martinez was the workhorse, with 252 innings, but a pedestrian 4.21 ERA. Mike Flanagan, the Cy Young winneri n 1979 had an okay 15-11 record with a 3.97 ERA. Scott McGregor, the lefty with pinpoint control, had a good career, but his 4.61 ERA in ’82 wasn’t one of his better years. Only the aging Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who went 15-5 with a 3.13 ERA was really steady. And these four pitchers combined to make 143 starts.
Weaver announced in March that 1982 would be his last season. Any motivational effect from the announcement was certainly delayed—the Orioles started the season 2-10 and though they stabilized after that, were still under .500 at 22-24 on Memorial Day. The good news was that first-place Boston was not seen as a long-term contender and the AL East’s preseason favorite, the Milwaukee Brewers, were also flailing at 22-23 and had made a managerial change
It’s also worth noting that just prior to Memorial Day, Ripken sat out the second game of a doubleheader. By the time he missed another game, Cal Ripken Jr. had set the new major league for consecutive games played and gone down in history as “The Iron Man.”
Baltimore swept three straight in Milwaukee in early June, starting a strong run of play against AL East rivals. The Orioles took four of five in two series with the Yankees. Baltimore won five of seven against Detroit. By the All-Star break they were 44-38, in third place and within 3 ½ games of the Red Sox.
The surge continued after the All-Star break. The Orioles won 10 of 13 games against AL West teams before it came to an end when they lost four straight in Kansas City to a good Royals team, scoring just seven runs in the process. It set the table for a rocky first part of August where Baltimore went through a 5-8 road trip.
On August 24, Weaver’s last stretch drive began in earnest. It was the first game home in Memorial Stadium after the tough road trip. The Orioles and Blue Jays were tied 3-3 in the ninth. Baltimore had the bases loaded, two outs and catcher Joe Nolan hit a walkoff grand slam. It triggered a 12-1 run to Labor Day. The Orioles were three games back of the Brewers, with the Red Sox having slipped to third, four games out.
Over the next two weeks Boston fell by the wayside and the race narrowed to Baltimore and Milwaukee with a week and a half left. The teams would play seven times in the final ten games, starting with a three-game series in the Midwest on the penultimate weekend and then closing with four games in Memorial Stadium.
The Orioles were still three games out when this stretch started on a Friday night in Milwaukee. Baltimore came out attacking and scored four times in the top of the first, with a three-run homer by Lowenstein being the big blow. But Flanagan had nothing. He had given the lead back by the end of the third inning and a five-run fourth blew the game open for the Brewers. The Orioles lost 15-6.
Undaunted, Baltimore came out against eventual Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich and again unloaded for four runs in the first inning. Again they got a three-run blast, this time from Murray. And Palmer made this one stand up with a complete-game four-hitter in a 7-2 win.
The Orioles continued to play well in the Sunday finale. Dauer and outfielder Dan Ford had three hits apiece to lead an attack that pounded out 13 hits. Murray homered again. The Martinez boys got it done on the mound, with Dennis working into the eighth and Tippy getting the final four outs. The 5-2 win pulled Baltimore to within two games entering the final week.
In what proved to be a crucial slip, the Orioles lost two of three in Detroit, while Milwaukee won two of three in Boston. The division margin was back to three games. So Earl’s last homestand was simple—sweep all four and win the AL East. Lose once and be out.
The series started with twilight doubleheader beginning shortly after 5 PM. Baltimore continued their pattern of attacking Milwaukee pitching early. They were up 5-1 on Vuckovich after four inning. Dauer again had a three-hit game and Singleton homered. The final was 8-3. It was just as easy in the nightcap. The Orioles got three runs in the first, with Murray going deep for a two-run blast. Storm Davis tossed a complete-game six-hitter and the final was 7-1.
Baltimore’s fans were smelling the kill. They were bringing brooms and the chants of “Sweep! Sweep!” reverberated throughout the stadium locals still affectionately call “The House On 33rd Street.” The Oriole hitters again gave the fans plenty to cheer about. Murray drilled an RBI double in the first inning and led the way to a quick 3-0 lead.
This time the Brewers rallied to tie it 3-3 in the fourth and Weaver pulled McGregor early. Sammy Stewart settled everything down. He threw 5 2/3 innings of two-hit baseball, while the Baltimore offense blasted forward undeterred. They grabbed four runs in their own half of the fourth, pulling back away as quickly as the game had become tied and the final was 11-3.
The Orioles were surging and the Brewers were collapsing. The brooms were back out in force for Sunday’s nationally televised finale on ABC. Palmer was on the mound. Milwaukee had their own future Hall of Famer with over 300 career wins in Don Sutton. It was one of the truly memorable showdowns in MLB history just on that basis and Weaver’s swan song only added to the drama.
Palmer just didn’t meet the moment in this case—or more accurately, the Brewers’ MVP shortstop Robin Yount did. He homered twice and tripled. Milwaukee led 5-1 in the eighth when Baltimore made one last push. They scored once and had runners on first and third.
Nolan laced a line drive into left field that looked destined for extra bases and likely two more runs. The Brewers’ Ben Ogilvie made a spectacular sliding catch in the corner. The comeback had been turned back and Milwaukee tacked on five runs in the ninth to make sure.
Baltimore fans made sure the moment was still one of the truly great ones in baseball lore. In spite of the loss, they rose to their feet in a roaring ovation for their team and especially their manager. Milwaukee skipper Harvey Kuenn came out to congratulate Weaver. The crowd roared their approval and their love for Weaver. ABC’s Howard Cosell, as cynical as they come, was overwhelmed by the moment. It was what sports, in its finest moments, is supposed to be about.