1960 Baltimore Orioles
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1960 Baltimore Orioles / Franchise: Baltimore Orioles / BR Team Page
Managed by Paul Richards
History, Comments, Contributions
The 1960 Baltimore Orioles were the first truly competitive Orioles squad since the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954. In their first six seasons, the Orioles had only played for .500 once, in 1957, and had never finished in the first division of the American League. In 1960, they won 89 games and finished second in the American League while giving the New York Yankees a run for their money.
Coming off a losing season that had seen them finish 20 games behind the Chicago White Sox in 1959, and fielding a very young team, little was expected of the Orioles before the season. However, they stunned baseball by running neck-and-neck with the powerful Yankees until mid-September, a performance that would prove a harbinger of success for the next quarter century. The team was very much molded by manager Paul Richards, who had taken over in the dual roles of manager and general manager in 1955 and had focused his attention on building a farm system. That policy bore fruit in a big way in 1960.
The Orioles had made only one major deal over the off-season, acquiring centerfielder Jackie Brandt and pitcher Gordon Jones from the San Francisco Giants in return for pitchers Billy Loes and Billy O'Dell on November 30, 1959. Brandt helped stabilize the outfield, hitting .254 with in 145 games, with 45 extra-base hits, but the main change from previous editions of the team was the blooming of 3B Brooks Robinson, who put together his first Hall of Fame-caliber season, and of a group of young starting pitchers who took the American League by storm. At age 23, Robinson played 152 games and banged out 175 hits, including 27 doubles, 9 triples and 14 homers, for a batting line of .294/.329/.440 in addition to his customary stellar defense. He drove in 88 runs and finished third in the American League MVP vote, just behind Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle of the pennant-winning Yankees. The pitchers, nicknamed the "Kiddie Korps", included Chuck Estrada (18-11, 3.58), Milt Pappas (15-11, 3.37), Steve Barber (10-7, 3.22) and Jack Fisher (12-11, 3.41), all of them 23 and under.
Another key young player was rookie shortstop Ron Hansen. At the age of 22, he banged out 22 homers, drove in 86 runs, and played great defense, being involved in 110 double plays. His performance won him the 1960 American League Rookie of the Year Award. Estrada also did well in the Rookie of the Year vote, as did 1B Jim Gentile. Gentile was already 26 - old by this team's standards - and an eight-year minor league veteran who had been blocked in the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers organization. The Orioles picked him up for glove man Willy Miranda, whose major league career was already over, and he was immediately a feared power hitter, hitting 21 homers and driving in 98 runs; he hit .292 and drew 68 walks, giving him an on-base percentage over .400 in an excellent rookie season after two unsuccessful cups of coffee with L.A.
The Orioles opened the season with a 3-2 win at home over the Washington Senators on April 17th. The opening day line-up featured Gentile at 1B, Marv Breeding at 2B, Hansen at SS, Robinson at 3B, veteran Gene Woodling in LF, Brandt in CF, Johnny Powers in RF and Gus Triandos at C. All, except for Powers, would be productive regulars all season. In fact, right field was bit of a black hole all year: Powers hit .111 in 10 games and was placed on waivers; Al Pilarcik and Gene Stephens ended up with the bulk of the playing time at the position, but they hit .247 and .238 respectively, with peripheral numbers that were no better. In contrast to the starters, the bench included a lot of experience: 37-year-old 1B Walt Dropo, 40-year-old pinch-hitter Bob Boyd, and C Clint Courtney and OF Jim Busby, both past 30. Another youngster, 20-year-old Dave Nicholson played 54 games in the outfield, but hit only .186. Two veteran pitchers, both over 35, complemented the kids quite well: knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm started the year in the starting rotation then moved to the bullpen, compiling a record of 11-8, 3.31 with a team-leading 7 saves; Hal Brown was 12-5, 3.06, mainly as a starter. Another youngster, Jerry Walker, 21 but already an All-Star the previous year, pitched better than his 3-4 record, putting up an ERA of 3.74 in 118 innings and saving 5 games.
Baltimore played .500 ball in April, then began to play better in May. They reeled off a five-game winning streak and on May 16th were in first place for the first time since moving from St. Louis. On May 27th, they beat the Yankees 3-2 at Yankee Stadium when Courtney, filling in for an injured Triandos, used an oversized glove to handle Wilhelm's tricky knuckleball, an innovation thought up by Paul Richards. They then swept the Yanks in Baltimore from May 31st to June 2nd, stretching their lead to 2 1/2 games. In the second game of the series, Brown pitched a one-hitter, the only hit a homer by Mickey Mantle. The Birds moved in and out of first place over the following month, and their success was reflected in the selection of Hansen, Estrada, Gentile and Robinson to the American League squad that played in the two All-Star Games staged that July. On July 28th, Barber matched Brown's feat of June 1st by pitching a one-hitter of his own in a win over the Kansas City Athletics. By mid-August, the Orioles were still tied for first place with the Yankees, then fell off the pace a little in the dog days of the month. However, they righted the ship with another sweep of the Yankees at home starting on September 2nd, when Milt Pappas threw a shutout in the opener, Jack Fisher did the same the next day, and Estrada and Wilhelm combined on a 6-2 win to complete the sweep. Suddenly, the young Orioles were back in the lead, with less than a month left to play. However, the Yankees began to win almost every game they played from that point on; the Orioles fell to second on September 10th, but were in a virtual tie for first place with the Bronx Bombers when they began a four-game series at Yankee Stadium on September 16th. The Yankees' greater experience of pressure situations would prove key: Whitey Ford bested Barber in the opener, 4-2, then the Yankees won the next three games by scores of 5-3, 7-3 and 2-0. The young Orioles hitters were impatient and pressing, and New York manager Casey Stengel had his pitchers take advantage of their willingness to swing at anything. The Yankees hardly lost a game the rest of the year, which explains why the tight pennant race ended as an eight-game deficit for the second-place Orioles. The team still won 89 games, as many as the Browns when they won their only pennant in 1944, and the most in franchise history since 1922.
The Orioles pitched very well, played excellent defense, but were lacking in two key departments: their corner outfielders showed little power, hitting only 35 homers as a group, while team speed was a major problem, as the team stole a grand total of 37 bases on the year. The young pitchers largely failed to become big winners for the O's in future seasons - although Pappas did win 200 games in the majors - but the foundation of a successful "Oriole way" had been laid; it would lead to a first world championship in 1966, in which Barber and Robinson were key actors, and to a great run of success from 1969 to their last championship in 1983.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Chuck Estrada, Jim Gentile, Ron Hansen and Brooks Robinson
- AL Rookie of the Year Award: Ron Hansen
- AL Gold Glove: Brooks Robinson (3B)
- Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Chuck Estrada (RhP), Jim Gentile (1B) and Ron Hansen (SS)
- Francis Kinlaw: "Baby Birds versus Bronx Bombers: No Mismatch After All!", in Bob Brown, ed.: Monumental Baseball: The National Pastime in the National Capital Region, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 39, 2009, pp. 105-109.