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Celebrating Boog Powell’s 80th Birthday

August 20, 2021

The 2021 baseball season is in its final two months, and Boog Powell is itching to see a big league game. The former Orioles slugger and current Barbecue King of Camden Yards hasn’t been back to Oriole Park since the 2019 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That will change this weekend when the Orioles honor Powell, a community ambassador for the club. He turned 80 years old on Tuesday.

These days, even Powell will tell you that he has gained more notoriety, and become more well-known, in the days since he retired from his baseball-playing days. If it isn’t someone mimicking his old beer commercials – “Hey, you’re Boog Powell!” – it’s the line of customers on Eutaw Street at Boog’s BBQ stand during Oriole home games.

More than a beef and pork barbecue maven, more than a beer spokesman, make no mistake – Boog Powell was quite a baseball player. In 1970, when the Orioles won their second World Series title and Brooks Robinson was cementing his reputation as the best third baseman in history, Powell was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

When he left the Orioles after 13 seasons in the spring of 1975, he was the team’s career leader in home runs. Thirty-six years later, he still ranks third with 303 home runs in an Orioles uniform, behind only Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray. Boog is third in club history in walks, fourth in RBI, fifth in games played and total bases, sixth in hits and extra-base hits, and seventh in runs scored.

So even while many of the younger fans may not remember him as one of the most feared power-hitters in the American League in the ‘60s and ’70s, many of the kids of that era who saw him play remind him, “I was at the game when you…” before seeming to recount a collection of Boog’s greatest hits.

Powell was the first slugger developed by the Orioles’ farm system. Both Gus Triandos and Jim Gentile, the first two Orioles to top 30 homers, had been acquired in trades; Powell signed with the Orioles out of high school in 1959 and three seasons later was with the big league team.

Born August 17, 1941 in Lakeland, Florida., Powell was the oldest of three sons whose mother died when he was nine years old. His father, who later remarried, gave him his nickname, from a southern slang word for kids who were always getting into mischief. “They call them ‘buggers,’ and my dad shortened it to Boog,” he said.

Powell’s Lakeland (Florida) Little League team went to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series in 1953. His team included his brother Charlie, an outfielder who played in the Orioles farm system from 1962-63, and step-brother Carl Taylor, a catcher who spent six years in the majors with the Pirates, Royals, and Cardinals between 1968 and 1973. Lakeland lost its first game, 16-0, to Schenectady, New York, and went home.

Four years later, following his sophomore year in high school, his family moved to Key West, Florida. Key West High School won the state title in baseball both years Powell was there. And with future NFL quarterback George Mira pitching and Boog playing outfield, the Key West Pony League team advanced to the national finals in Rome, Georgia., before losing. Orioles scout Fred Hofmann was intrigued by the big fellow in the outfield and sent reports to Orioles scouting director Jim McLaughlin.

A three-sport star in high school playing baseball, basketball, and football, Powell turned down football scholarships from a half-dozen schools that now belong to the ACC, SEC, or Big Ten, including the University of Maryland, to play professional baseball. There was no amateur draft at the time, so it came down to offers from the St. Louis Cardinals and the Orioles. Baltimore offered $25,000 – $5,000 more than St. Louis – so Powell signed with the O’s.

His ascent through the Orioles’ farm system was swift: 56 games at Rookie-level Bluefield the summer he signed (.351 batting average with 14 homers); a year at Class-B Fox Cities (.312, 13 homers and 100 RBI in 136 games), where he played for a young minor league manager named Earl Weaver; and, in 1961, jumping to Triple-A Rochester in the International League. Following a slow start, he finished at .321 with 32 homers and 92 RBI.

Powell earned a late September call-up to the big league club in ’61, and he never saw the minors again. He hit 15 homers as a 20-year-old rookie left fielder in 1962 and followed that by hitting .265 with 25 homers and 82 RBI in 1963. He broke out in ’64, batting .290 with 39 homers and 99 RBI and led the American League with a .606 slugging percentage. The 39 home runs still are a club record by a left fielder.

He had a chance to break Jim Gentile’s club record of 46 homers in a season but missed 28 games after suffering a sprained wrist in a game at Boston in late August.

Along the way, he became the first Oriole to hit three homers in a game – and did it twice, once in 1963 and once in 1964, both times against the Senators in Washington.

He hit .248 with 17 homers and 72 RBI in 1965, a season in which he began seeing more time at first base as the Orioles sought more power at the position than regular first baseman Norm Siebern provided. Siebern was traded to the Angels in December 1965, opening first base for Powell.

In 1966, his first full season in the infield, he batted .287 with 34 homers and 109 RBI, despite playing the last six weeks of the season and the World Series with a chipped bone in his left ring finger, the result of being hit by a pitch by Detroit’s Denny McLain. He went deep only once over the final six weeks, but still finished third in the American League MVP voting – behind teammates Frank Robinson, who won the Triple Crown, and Brooks Robinson. The Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers to win their first World Championship.

After two so-so seasons personally and for the ballclub – he combined to hit 35 homers with 140 RBI – Powell’s numbers returned as the Orioles put together the best three-year stretch in league history. From 1969 through 1971, the Orioles won 109, 108, and 101 games (only the Chicago Cubs, with 223 wins in 1906-07 and 322 wins from 1906-1908, had more victories in a two- or three-year stretch). They swept the best-of-five AL Championship Series each year and won one of three World Series.

In 1969, Powell had his best season statistically. He hit .304 with 37 homers and drove in 121 runs, all career highs, as the Orioles won the first of their three straight AL pennants. Despite his numbers, Powell finished runner-up to Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew (.276-49-140) in the AL MVP race.

As often happens, Powell was the 1970 MVP despite posting numbers that didn’t quite match his 1969 season. He hit .297 with 35 homers and 114 RBI, beating the Twins’ Tony Oliva and Killebrew by a comfortable margin.

“Sixty-nine was the only time I hit .300 for a season. I’m proud of that,” Powell said. “It was my best year offensively, a little better all the way around than 1970. But Harmon Killebrew had a great year, too, in ’69, and he won it. The best thing that ever happened was after that season, Killer told me I should have won.

“(1970) was a pretty darn good year, too. We had everything that year, but the main thing is we had pitching. To put those numbers together with that lineup – hitting behind Brooks and Frank, and to pick up those ribbies was something. And it was one of the great things about that lineup – everybody knew what they were doing. We just had whatever we needed, whenever we needed it. The pitching was there every night. Then, if we needed offense, or a smart play, we got whatever we needed,” he said.

In addition to his AL MVP award in 1970, Powell was twice named Most Valuable Oriole (1969 and 1970), played on four AL All-Star teams (three as starter), four World Series, and five American League Championship Series. He and Rafael Palmeiro are the only Orioles to hit at least 34 homers and drove in 99-or-more runs four different times. Powell finished with 339 career homers, plus six more in Postseason play.

Powell and his wife, Jan, whom he met while playing at Triple-A Rochester in 1961, were married during the All-Star break the following year. After his playing days, they settled back in Key West, where he had bought a marina and hoped to run fishing boats until retirement.

In addition to running the marina, he did a few commercials for Miller Lite and become a spokesman for the company, appearing all over the country. During that time, he also published a cookbook – Mesquite Cookery – in 1986, which grew out of his love of barbecuing.

“I sold the marina in 1988 and we had been talking with the Orioles about doing barbecue since then at Memorial Stadium,” Powell said. “We just couldn’t figure out how to do it and make it work,” he said. “But we kept talking, and when the plans were made to build Camden Yards, it all came together.”

Boog’s BBQ stand on Eutaw Street has been a fixture at Camden Yards since the ballpark opened in 1992. Since then, other ballparks have married players to food stands, but Boog’s BBQ was the first.

When Powell’s wife, Jan, died in 2018, he sold his summer house in Grasonville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and began renting for his trips to Camden Yards. In 1997, he survived a bout with colon cancer, and shared thoughts with Trey Mancini during the current Oriole first baseman’s recovery last year.

In 2019, the Orioles named Powell as a Community Ambassador for the ballclub. In addition to manning his barbecue stand at games, he assists in the club’s community endeavors impacting the Mid-Atlantic region.

He has missed being at the ballpark the last two seasons but has no plans to stay away once he is able to return for good.

“I can crab and fish while I’m at home in Florida and I can meet the fans and still eat crabs when I’m in Baltimore,” he said. “What else could I want?”

In honor of his return, the Orioles will give away Boog Powell No. 26 jersey T-shirts to the first 15,000 fans, 15 and older, at Friday’s game against the Atlanta Braves at Camden Yards.