Spring Training with the 1983 Baltimore Orioles
Spring training was relativley tranquil for the Baltimore Orioles in 1983. The core of a club that won 94 games the previous year was intact, save for Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, who’d retired. Perhaps the biggest shock of camp came when The Earl of Baltimore dropped in for a visit sporting a brand new perm, which he insisted was a great hairdo for golf.
While the Orioles had suffered through sub-.500 Aprils in four of the last five seasons, Weaver’s replacement Joe Altobelli knew better than to initiate any major shakeups to get off to a good start with his new team. “I know the coaches, I know the players and I know the organization,”Altobelli explained. “Our goal is to keep things running as smoothly as they have in the past.”
The pitching staff was set with six-foot-seven relief pitcher Tim Stoddard appearing fully recovered from knee surgery. There was no room for right-hander Mike Boddicker, who’d won at least 10 games in Triple-A the last three years and would start at Rochester again. While switch-hitting slugger Mike Young opened lots of eyes early in camp, he was considered a year away from the big leagues, with speedy John “T-Bone” Shelby figuring to crack the opening day roster. Thirty-five-year-old designated hitter Ken Singleton was the biggest comeback candidate after enduring a career worst 1982 that left many pronouncing him done. The switch-hitter batted just .177 against right-handed pitching without a homer in his final 185 at bats swinging left-handed, but after doctors discovered his right forearm was eighteen percent weaker, he was confident of a return to form after a winter spent hitting the weights.
Gary Roenicke, who’d walloped 21 homers in part-time action in 1982, hoped this would be the year he finally got 500 at bats to put up some serious numbers. However, Altobelli wasn’t breaking up his extremely productive, two-headed left-field platoon with John Lowenstein (24 homers), and insisted disappointing Disco Dan Ford -who batted .235 his first year in Baltimore- was still the right-fielder.
Third base was the only question mark, though Altobelli knew who he wanted to seize control of the job. Twenty-three-year-old Venezuelan Leo Hernandez blasted 34 home runs and 119 RBI between Double-A & Triple-A in 1982, and word was he could play defense too. “If he can make it,” said the Orioles new skipper. “No team in baseball will have more power in the infield.” With reigning Rookie-of-the-Year Cal Ripken, Jr at shortstop, and future 500-home run club member Eddie Murray at first, it was a sound plan. Hernandez arrived late to camp due to visa problems though, and with concerns about how he’d respond to inevitable adversity at the big league level, the Orioles signed 35-year-old former Gold Glove winner Aurelio Rodriguez to stick around just in case.
A poll of baseball writers in The Sporting News found the Orioles picked to finish third in the American League East behind the Brewers (88 votes) and the Yankees (68). Forty-four scribes picked Baltimore to win the division.
The Orioles flew 26 players back to Baltimore for the opener against the Royals, putting off a decision for the final roster spot between veteran left-handed bats Terry Crowley and Jim Dwyer. “DWYER SET TO GO” warned a newspaper headline, suggesting doom for the 33-year-old known as “Pig Pen”. In the end though, the 36-year-old Crowley got the axe despite an impressive .357 performance in Grapefruit League play.
“This is too bad,” Crowley said prophetically. “Because this team is going to go all the way this year.”
by MALCOLM ALLEN