Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cal Ripken Jr. and The 1987 Baltimore Orioles in Polaroids-Part 2

Oriole legend Cal Ripken Jr. Fuji Photo Night 1987
In part one we took a look at Fuji Photo Night Polaroids of Oriole legend Cal Ripken Jr., his brother Billy, injury-prone free agent acquisition Fred Lynn, and the late Alan Wiggins.  In part two we take a look at Polaroids of Scott McGregor, Mike Boddicker, and others from the 95-game losing, 6th place '87 Orioles team.

Despite having Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray batting in the middle of the line up, the late 1980's Orioles were one of baseball's worst teams.  You would be hard pressed to name another team that struggled so mightily despite having two future Hall of Famers in the prime of their careers.  By 1987, Murray's days in Baltimore were numbered after a public squabble with owner Edward Bennett Williams.  In addition, many fans had taken a liking to the blue collar Jim Traber who had filled in brilliantly at first base while the usually durable Murray was on the disabled list the previous summer.  As the Orioles struggled to stay out of the cellar, more and more the boos seemed to outweigh chants of "Eddie!" "Eddie!"  Not surprisingly, Murray didn't come out to pose for pictures during Fuji Photo Night.

Larry Sheets and Scott McGregor

During the '87 season, it appeared outfielder Larry Sheets, would finally fulfill the promise the Orioles saw in him when they selected him in the second round of the 1978 draft.  Sheets, a Staunton, Virginia, made an impressive debut in Baltimore, hitting .438 in a September 1984 eight game call up.  Joining a team with an already crowded outfield, Sheets struggled to regularly make the line up during the 1985 and 1986 seasons and was used mostly at DH while also seeing action at left field, right field, first base, third base, and even catcher.  During the '85 and '86 seasons, in a combined 725 plate appearances, Sheets hit 35 home runs while batting .267.  When the 1987 season started, Sheets got off to hot start and finally became a fixture in the line up, getting regular playing time in left and right field.  With 508 plate appearances in 135 games, the Staunton native was able to establish himself as one of the league's best hitters, drilling 31 homers, with a .316 batting average, and .563 slugging percentage--all team leading totals.  Sheets also drove in 94 runs, the second most on the team, behind only Ripken.

However, despite his All-Star caliber breakout season, Sheets turned out to be a one-season wonder, batting just .230 with 10 home runs the following year.  And by 1989, Sheets was an afterthought during Baltimore's improbable 2nd place finish, starting only 82 games and hitting just 7 homers in 338 plate appearances, all of which came as a DH or pinch hitter.  The 1989 season proved to Sheets' last with the team as he was sent to Detroit for infielder Mike Brumley.  Sheets, along with '87 Oriole teammates Ken Dixon, Mike Young, and Ken Gerhart were all high draft picks, selected in the first five rounds, and represented the generation of Oriole ballplayers that the franchise hoped would lead the team into the next decade.  However, none would ever become the star player the Orioles hoped they would.

Larry Sheets and Scott McGregor
Scott McGregor, on the other hand, had more than fulfilled the promise that the Orioles saw in him when they plucked the left-handed pitcher from the Yankees' minor league system as part of the Doyle Alexander trade in June 1976.  Selected by New York with the 14th overall pick in the 1972 draft, McGregor would be one of Baltimore's most durable and dependable pitchers over the next decade with several memorable wins for the franchise.  McGregor more than proved his worth with a Pennant clinching six-hit shutout on the road versus the Angels in Game 4 of the 1979 ALCS.  A week and a half later, McGregor pitched Game 7 of the World Series at home against the Pirates.  Unfortunately, the lefty picked up the loss that day despite yielding only two runs in eight innings of work.  McGregor was able to overcome the Game 7 loss and win a career high 20 games the next year and follow that up with an impressive 13-game winning performance during the strike-shortened 1981 season.  McGregor had, perhaps, his best year in 1983, going 18-7 with a career best 3.18 ERA.  During the '83 postseason, McGregor cemented his legacy as a postseason money pitcher when he one-upped his own 1979 ALCS shutout with a championship clinching five-hit shutout on the road against the Phillies in Game 5 of the 1983 World Series.

Following a slightly off-form 1984 season, Baltimore signed McGregor to a 5-year contract.  However, McGregor struggled to put together another impressive season and by 1987 shoulder injuries had started to take their toll on the lefty who managed just a 2-7 record with a 6.64 ERA.  McGregor never did find his form again and he was released after just four starts into the following season, spelling an end to the popular veteran's career with the organization which was still on the hook for nearly two million dollars of McGregor's contract.
Mike Boddicker

While Scott McGregor and Mike Flanagan made up the veteran half of the championship 1983 rotation, Mike Boddicker and Storm Davis made up the younger half of the rotation.  After a stellar breakout '83 season, in which he went 16-8 with a 2.77 ERA, Boddicker followed that up with a Cy Young caliber season, going 20-11 with a 2.79 ERA, and was the AL leader in both wins and ERA.  Aside from his excellent 1984 season, Boddicker, like his rotation mates, had trouble finding success following the '83 championship season, going a combined 26-29, in 1985 and 1986, while seeing his ERA balloon up to 4.40.  Unfortunately, the 1987 season was more of the same for the right-hander who went 10-12 with a 4.18 ERA.  Still, Boddicker was by far the most dependable starter of Baltimore's beleaguered staff whose 5.01 team ERA was the second highest in the majors.  Boddicker was the club's only pitcher to eclipse 200 innings and led the staff in several other categories including wins, games started, and strikeouts.  

Mike Boddicker
Storm Davis was the first of the '83 championship rotation to leave the organization, dispatched to San Diego following a subpar 1986 season for All-Star catcher Terry Kennedy and pitching prospect Mark Williamson.  With Baltimore out of the 1987 AL East division race, Flanagan was traded to Toronto on August 31.  After McGregor was released in May 1988, this left Boddicker as the sole remaining member of the 1983 championship rotation.  Finally, with the Orioles once again out of the division race, Boddicker was traded to Boston in July 1988 for Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson.  There would be good times again for Boddicker and the Orioles, just not together.  Boddicker would have the most successful post-Oriole career of his '83 rotation-mates, helping Boston to 1988 and 1990 division titles by winning 39 games in two and a half seasons with the Red Sox.  Following an excellent 1990 campaign, Boddicker signed as free agent with Kansas City where he joined Storm Davis but they failed to rekindle the "Oriole Magic" of the 1983 championship season.  Boddicker finally wrapped up his career after an unsuccessful stint with Milwaukee in 1993.          

  Terry Crowley

Mike Boddicker and Hitting Coach Terry Crowley
Terry Crowley's origins with the Orioles date all the way back to being picked by the franchise in the 11th round of the 1966 draft.  Crowley spent the bulk of his 15-year career playing for Earl Weaver, who primarily used him as a pinch hitter and in platoons against right-handed pitchers.  Never a full-time player, Crowley only twice surpassed 200 plate appearances in a season but retired with a decent .345 career OBP.  Crowley won two World Series rings as a player, the first one coming with Weaver and the Orioles over the Reds in 1970 and the second as a member of the "Big Red Machine" in 1975.  In 1985, Crowley became Baltimore's hitting coach, a position he held until 1988.  After eight years as Minnesota's hitting coach, Crowley returned as Baltimore's hitting coach in 1999, a position he held until 2010.  Last season Crowley became the Orioles' roving hitting instructor and also filled in as bullpen coach when Mark Connor left the team.

Terry Kennedy and Mark Williamson

Catcher Terry Kennedy and right-handed pitcher Mark Williamson both came from San Diego to Baltimore in exchange for Storm Davis following the 1986 season.  Kennedy replaced 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey, the heart and soul of the championship team.  At the time of the trade, Kennedy was one of the more prominent catchers of his day, a three-time All-Star who had helped San Diego win the 1984 NL Pennant.  In 1987, Kennedy had a pretty good first half, batting .264 with 13 home runs, and made his fourth All-Star team.  However, Kennedy struggled to hit his weight in the second-half, batting .230 while only adding 5 more home runs, and finished the season with a subpar .250 batting average.  After a dismal 1988 season, Kennedy was swapped to San Francisco in return for catcher Bob Melvin.  Kennedy helped San Francisco win the 1989 NL Pennant and stayed with the club until he retired after the 1991 season.

Terry Kennedy and Mark Williamson
Mark Williamson made 61 appearances, mostly in relief, for the 1987 Orioles.  He finished the season with an 8-9 record and a 4.03 ERA.  Williamson's biggest contributions came to the 1989 and 1990 Orioles when the righty went a combined 18-7 with a 2.62 ERA over almost 200 innings, all in relief.  The '89 season was a bittersweet one for Baltimore and Williamson.  Fresh off their 107-game losing 1988 debacle, the Orioles were only expected to contend for the cellar in 1989.  In contrast to 1988's 21-game losing streak to start the season, the 1989 squad actually began the year 11-10, surprisingly tied with Milwaukee for first in the AL East.  Even more shocking, the Orioles early success didn't fade as they spent all of July and August atop their weak division before finally being passed by the powerhouse Blue Jays.  Along the way Williamson was the workhorse of the bullpen, pitching three innings or greater on ten separate occasions.

For the last three games of the season, the Orioles went to Toronto needing to win all three against the Jays to take the division or two out of three to force a tiebreaker.  At this point in the season, Williamson had already logged just over 100 innings in 60-plus appearances.  In the first game, Williamson would be summoned to pitch the bottom of the 11th with the score even at one.  Unfortunately for Williamson, he would pick up the loss when Lloyd Moseby singled Nelson Lirano home from second with two outs.  Despite the loss, manager Frank Robinson showed his confidence in Williamson when he called upon the righty less than 24 hours later to save the second game of the series.  Williamson entered the game in the bottom of the 8th with runners on 1st and 2nd and a 3-1 lead.  Williamson retired the first batter but then gave up back-to-back singles to Mookie Wilson and Fred McGriff to tie the score.  One batter later, clean up hitter George Bell put Toronto in the lead for good with a sacrifice fly that sent Wilson home and the Blue Jays to the division title.  For both Williamson and the underdog Orioles, the Cinderella dream season was over.  After being so dependable all year, the 100-plus innings of relief had finally caught up with Williamson and rendered the righty ineffective against the mighty Jays.

Williamson followed up his excellent 1989 campaign with an even better 1990 season, despite the team nosediving back down below .500 to a 5th place finish.  Williamson would pitch for four more seasons in the majors, all for Baltimore, but perhaps just as in the final week of the 1989 division race, all those consecutive nights of long outings took their toll on Williamson who never did find the form he had in '89 and '90.  While the last few years of Williamson's career may have been forgettable he did make a memorable appearance on July 13, 1991:  with Baltimore mired in the midst of another last place season, Williamson pitched the 8th inning of a combined no-hitter, on the road in Oakland, against the defending AL champion Athletics.  Williamson shared the no-hitter with 1989 teammates Bob Milacki and Gregg Olson as well as with Oriole legend Mike Flanagan.

----by John Tuberty

Polaroids taken by Jack Tuberty

Sources:  Baseball Reference, Google News Archive

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