On Labor Day in 1935, a radio announcer proclaimed that, if the Chicago Cubs wanted to win the pennant, they'd have to win every game the rest of the year.
That's what the Cubs did, winning their next 21 September games, the 20th clinching the pennant. The announcer who called the shot was Dutch Reagan.
This September, with Ronald Reagan now president of the United States, another team has pulled off a late-season streak that deserves comparison with the best in baseball history.
The Baltimore Orioles, whose 10 consecutive victories and 17 victories in 18 games were interrupted by the Yankees in New York on Wednesday, have brought dignity back to their season. Whether or not they eventually catch the Milwaukee Brewers, the Orioles have restored their considerable team confidence and have given themselves the look of a club with a strong future.
On Aug. 19, when the Orioles had finished disgracing themselves in their own eyes with a 2-8 trip through Chicago, Boston and Minnesota, the team was perplexed, almost paralyzed.
"The last two losses in Minnesota were the worst," Manager Earl Weaver recalls. "Never been in a more silent clubhouse. In one game, we had a two-run lead in the ninth and positioned Rich Dauer (playing third base) two feet off the line with men on first and second. They hit a grounder over the bag at third, but Dauer broke left and actually moved out of the way of the ball. Never touched it and two runs scored. . . . The next night, they scored six runs with their first six hitters of the game."
Yet, as so often happens in baseball, the most incredible team humiliations are followed by the most miraculous resurrections. The club in full choke (as was Atlanta at times this season), the club that has played further below its ability than it ever thought possible, is often the bunch that is about to begin a streak characterized by complete abandon.
The very day after the Orioles hit bottom in Minnesota, they began their 17-of-18 redemption. "We had a team meeting (the next day) in Texas," Rick Dempsey recalls. "Sort of a minor team revolt."
Revolt, as in, "How can we be so revolting?"
Also, Weaver chose that Texas visit to begin platooning his worst slumpers, Dan Ford, Al Bumbry and Ken Singleton (a right-handed slumper who has hit well left-handed).
Ever since, the Orioles have mimicked their best '79-80 style, though they have not yet threatened the legendary status of John McGraw's New York Giants who won 26 consecutive games in September in the pennant race of 1916. Nor should the ghost of Uncle Wilbur Robinson of the '24 Brooklyn Dodgers rest uneasily; his club won 15 straight, including 11 in a week with four doubleheader sweeps in four days.
If the Orioles are looking for precedent, then two fabulous fall fables are applicable.
In 1930, the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in fourth place, 7 1/2 games out of first, much the predicament the Orioles faced; the Cardinals then lost only four games in September (22-4) and reached the World Series.
Perhaps more analogous is the case of the '51 Giants who pulled the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff. With 44 games to play, they won 16 straight, then continued their ascent, closing the year 37-7, an .841 pace, to force a playoff with Brooklyn.
It was with 44 games left that the Orioles also suddenly picked up 16 games on .500 with their 17-1 sprint. Now, it remains to be determined whether Weaver's Orioles have the tenacity of Leo Durocher's Giants.
As is the case with torrid teams, the Orioles are becoming infatuated with themselves again. The look of rookies Cal Ripken, Storm Davis, Mike Boddicker and Glenn Gulliver has the club thinking perhaps the '80s can be as good for Baltimore as the '60s and '70s.