The Incredible Run of the 1966 to 1971 Baltimore Orioles

For nearly twenty years (1966-85), the Baltimore Orioles were a team to be reckoned with. But those 1966-71 teams were, well, something to behold, and here’s why.

It’s quite a story–from losing big to winning big. The losing part came at the beginning; from their first year as a Major League baseball team in 1901, as the then Milwaukee Brewers, and that squad lost 65% of its games (48-89). The shift to St. Louis as the Browns didn’t change the profile. From 1901 to 1953, the Browns had only 12 winning seasons and won one pennant (1944).

Team Moves to Baltimore

Things did not improve when the team moved to Baltimore in 1954 and changed its name to the Orioles. Their losing ways continued until 1960, when the Orioles had their first winning season since 1945. In 1961, the Orioles finished the season with a 95-67 record, their second-best record in franchise history. After an off-year in 1962, the team rebounded and had a winning record in 1963, 1964, and 1965.

The 1964 team finished the season with an impressive record, 97-65, just two games behind the first-place NY Yankees. Third baseman Brooks Robinson won the AL MVP award.

By 1966, Baltimore had some of the best players in baseball on their team. 6’4, 245 lb. John “Boog” Powell was at first base, and Luis Aparicio handled shortstop. Pitchers Dave McNally and Jim Palmer were two of the best in the game. Brooks Robinson, who had been with the team since 1955, was inarguably MLB’s best fielding third baseman.

But perhaps the Orioles’ best player was right fielder Frank Robinson, whom the Orioles had acquired in the off-season from the Cincinnati Reds. Robinson won the 1966 Triple Crown and also took the MVP award. On the leadership side, manager Hank Bauer knew a thing or two about winning. He captured seven World Series rings as a former right fielder for the New York Yankees.

1966: Baltimore Orioles First Championship

In 1966, Baltimore finished the season in first place with a 97-63 record, their best record in franchise history. They faced the LA Dodgers in the World Series, and it was no contest, as the Orioles swept the Dodgers in four games. So dominating was the Orioles’ pitching that LA scored only two runs in the four games. It took 66 years, but the Orioles were finally the World Champions!

1967: Hard to Repeat

As often happens with World Series participants, the following season didn’t go well for the Orioles. After finishing the 1967 season with a dismal 76-85 record, the 1968 Birds returned to their winning ways (91-71) under the new managerial leadership of Earl Weaver. But the nearly 60% win rate wasn’t good enough to capture the AL pennant. The Birds finished in second place, 12 games behind the sizzling Detroit Tigers (103-59).

Completing the Dynasty

If 1968 was the appetizer, then 1969 was the main course because the ’69 Orioles fielded one of the best teams in MLB history. Baltimore finished the regular season with a 109-53 record and made short work of the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS (3-0). But then the unexpected happened.

After winning the Series opening game against the underdog New York Mets, the Orioles dropped the next four games. It was a stunning and disappointing end to an otherwise great season. The consolation prize of sorts was Mike Cuellar winning the Cy Young award.

Thankfully for Baltimore fans, 1970 would be without a hiccup. The Orioles began by winning their division with an unbelievable 108-54 record, the 9th best by the number of wins in major league history. Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar made the All-Star team. Baltimore swept the Minnesota Twins again in the ALCS, and the O’s went on to defeat the Cincinnati Reds 4-1. Brooks Robinson put on a defensive clinic, won the World Series MVP award, and 1st baseman Boog Powell was named AL MVP.

The 1971 Orioles picked up right where they left off in 1970 with another impressive season of 101-57 losses. The team had what many consider the most fantastic pitching staff in league history: Dave McNally won 21 games, and Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson all won 20 games. Incredible! The O’s swept the Oakland A’s in the ALCS for the team’s fourth pennant in six years. But the O’s then lost the Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, four games to 3. That 1971 series is considered one of the best World Series ever played.

The Orioles continued winning from 1972 to 1985, never having a losing season. Along the way, they won an American League pennant (1979) and a World Series (1983). The team has not had much to brag about in the past 36 years, having had only nine winning seasons and zero pennants, but those Orioles’ teams from 1966 to 1971…whew! They were something to remember.

Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network
Photo Courtesy: Mark Morthier

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