Orioles celebrate upstart 'Why not' 1989 club

August 10th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Back together for the first time in 30 years, twenty members of one of the most beloved teams in Orioles franchise history reunited Friday for a day-long celebration at Camden Yards of a squad remembered by one simple phrase: “Why not?”

It’s been three decades since 1989, when the young, mostly unknown Orioles spent a summer shocking the baseball world. In going from worst-to-almost first, the ’89 Orioles captivated the city of Baltimore that summer en route to 87 wins, spending 116 days in first place before ultimately losing the pennant on the final weekend of the season.

"I changed my mind on reunions. I never thought about reunions in a way that says you want to go back in time,” Cal Ripken Jr. said. “It was really great seeing a bunch of the guys back again, so I think I like reunions now.”

Consider it a change of heart given the chance to reminisce on a time when anything seemed possible. Coming off a season in which they lost 107 games -- including an MLB-record 21 consecutive to start the season, the Orioles were again picked by many to finish last in the American League East in 1989. But this was a different team, flooded with rookies and castoffs, that ended up gelling and embarking on one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Major League history.

“On paper, that was probably the worst team I ever played for. And as it turned out, it was the best team I ever played with,'' said outfielder Phil Bradley. “That just goes to show you that everybody can predict and judge however they like, but at the end of the day, the game is still played on the field. It was just a team that had just the right mix.”

Said designated hitter Larry Sheets: “For those of us who were here in ’88, it was a whole different tone. Things that went against you in ’88 went for you in ’89. Balls falling in. Home runs going down the line fair or foul and going in your favorite was a big part of it.”

Sheets’ last bit was reference to Mike Devereaux's famous game-winning home run from July 15 of that year, a controversial walk-off two-run shot off Bob McClure of the Angels that resulted in Baltimore’s most emphatic -- and dramatic -- win over the season.

“That ball was fair by about a quarter of an inch, and it’s still fair today,” Devereaux said.

Devereaux and others also spoke of the influence of late manager Frank Robinson -- one of several important figures tied to that team honored with a moment of silence during Friday’s pre-game ceremony. Devereaux called it an “honor” to play for Robinson.

“What he’s done for the game was incredible. For me to come over here and play for a guy like that was special.” Devereaux said. “He wanted you to do well.”

Bob Milacki, Jeff Ballard, Mark Williamson, Craig Worthington and Billy Ripken were also among the reunion’s attendees, many of whom participated in a special fan luncheon prior to Friday’s game against the Astros. Later in the afternoon, several answered questions as a highlight video of that season played on the scoreboard at Oriole Park, showcasing pivotal moments like that club’s Opening Day victory over Roger Clemens and the Red Sox.

“Everybody on that team generally pulled for one another to be successful,” outfielder Joe Orsulak said. “That season, we came together quickly on Opening Day.”

From there, the memorable moments came in droves -- the infamous “Fog Game” from June 15 against the Yankees, Devearux’s dramatic home run in July, Dave Johnson’s emergence in August, and others. Then, of course, the final weekend against the Blue Jays, when the Orioles arrived in Toronto one game back with three to play.

They were eliminated two heartbreaking, late-inning losses later, the second behind emergency starter Johnson after Pete Harnisch was sidelined by a freak foot injury suffered when he stepped on a nail. And yet even in defeat, the Orioles were welcomed back as heroes with a parade through downtown Baltimore to celebrate them.

“None of us in the room after the game was over thought it was a failure,” Ripken Jr. said. “We all thought it was an extremely successful season. We were all proud of what we were able to do.”

Harnisch admitted it was tough getting over that series of events, but stressed how well Johnson pitched in his place. Like every alumnus who returned to Camden Yards on Friday, Harnisch could only look back at that season fondly through the scope of hindsight.

“Could I honestly sit here and tell you I would have done a better job than he did? I don’t think I can honestly tell you,” Harnisch said. “Going into the season as bad a team as there was in the big leagues and they were considered probably the best team in the big leagues. It was David vs. Goliath. It was crazy, but it was an unbelievable ride.”