The memorable -- and forgettable -- '89 parade

August 11th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- When alumni from the 1989 “Why Not?” Orioles streamed through the doors of Camden Yards this weekend, the memories came flooding back with them. To a man, every member from the team can recall the more pivotal moments from that summer, rehash them in detail as if they were yesterday.

In one breath, there is Cal Ripken Jr., reciting the chain of events that led to Baltimore’s upset victory over Roger Clemens and the Red Sox on Opening Day. Then there is Phil Bradley lamenting “The Fog Game,” Mike Devereaux gleefully describing his July 15 walk-off home run over the Angels. Everyone remembers how Dave Johnson came from nowhere to do what he did. Nobody forgets the final weekend in Toronto.

But there is one major episode from that season, when the Orioles went from worst-to-almost-first, that for some, 30 years of other memories seems to have erased: The parade. Even though they finished in second place, the Orioles had captivated their city and fans so much that they were welcomed home with a parade through downtown Baltimore put on in their honor.

Larry Lucchino, the Orioles’ president at the time and now part owner of the Boston Red Sox, recently called it “the only parade I’ve ever known of for a second-place team.”

“What is the parade everyone is talking about?” said DH Larry Sheets. “Did we have one?”

The historical record says yes. There is video evidence. There are news stories.

But so many who were there don’t remember, and there is a debate whether it even took place.

“I remember fans met us at the airport, the excitement of that,” said Sheets. “But I can’t remember a parade. Maybe I’ve lost my mind.”

“I don’t remember the parade,” Ripken said.

“I don’t really remember a lot about the parade,” says Johnson. “I really don’t remember the parade at all. I don’t even remember it even happened.”

It did, even if then-manager Frank Robinson couldn’t believe it at the time.

“Frank Robinson said to me: ‘I’m finishing second and getting a parade?'” remembers Charles Steinberg, former director of Orioles productions. "'I finished second in San Francisco and got fired!’”

It’s largely thanks to Steinberg that any doubters can go back and check for themselves, as footage of the parade survives via an in-house documentary of the 1989 season still streamable on YouTube.

“We did have a parade! You’re reminding me of some things!” said closer-turned team broadcaster Gregg Olson. “That was, in hindsight, kind of weird.”

“It was [curious],” Devereaux said. “I was like, 'Wow, we didn’t even win it and we got a parade!’ Pretty cool. It is what it is. We had a great season. The fans really appreciated us and we really appreciated them, so it was a good thing.”

Said Olson: “I think Orioles fans wanted one more day. Give us one more day with these guys. Baseball is too short of a lifespan. Too short of a memory. I don’t have any other explanation for why we’d have a parade for coming in second place, but we did!”

Even to those for whom the details are spotty, the story makes sense -- and stands as a fitting tribute for a team that fell just short, but shocked the world nonetheless.

“We were very happy and proud of what we’d done,” said Ripken. “I remember the city embraced us in a big way. It was almost like everybody was asking, 'Is this real?'”