I owe that girl a serious apology. Sometimes being an Orioles fan can get you in real trouble.
It was kind of harmless at the time. I was out of my element as my parents moved to Florida while I was in junior high school. It was a good time to be an Orioles fan because they were the best team in baseball.
So this girl wrote a story out loud and it told the tale that her uncle was a major league ballplayer.
When she was done, I approached her and wondered who that player was. She said her uncle was Bruce Howard.
“That bum,” I screamed. “He came to my team and did nothing.”
She, of course was horrified. Her uncle was not a bum.
Howard won 21 games combined for the White Sox before being dealt to Baltimore. He just didn’t do much in a Baltimore uniform.
Howard came to the Birds in late November of 1967. That trade sent our 1966 World Series heroes Luis Aparicio and Russ Snyder along with John Matias for Howard and 30-year old outfielder Don Buford.
You are excused Mr. Howard. Welcome, Don Buford. Simply the best leadoff hitter the Orioles had ever had at the time.
By 1969, I was thrilled to have Buford on the Birds. So happy that I visited my friend Al’s house and wrote Buford, Blair and Frank Robinson on his house with crayon. I was ready to color Boog Powell’s name on their aluminum siding when I realized the crayon wasn’t coming off. Oh, no.
I think the word got down to me in Florida that the family knew who had written on their house.
Here is some good trivia. Who led off the horrid 1969 World Series for Baltimore? OK, it did come after Mike Cuellar set down the Mets in the top half of the inning.
Buford homered off Tom Seaver. We were up 1-0 that quickly and ready to bomb the Mets into submission. In the 4th inning, Buford struck again cracking an RBI double.
Do I dare say in the next four games, he would go 0 for 17.
Well, the Birds moved on from that disaster.
What’s interesting about the Orioles career of Buford is the leadoff man for three straight World Series trips, scored exactly 99 runs in each of those campaigns. Now that’s hard to do. He was special because he was a switch-hitter with a little pop in his bat. For a player who never hit more than 10 homers in a season in Chicago, he reached double figures in homers in each of the World Series campaigns. In his four good years in Baltimore, he hit 52 homers out of the top spot in the lineup. That included a career-high 19 homers in the 1971 season.
Now three times, he did pace the AL in caught stealing. In better news, he finished with exactly 20o career stolen bases.
Buford did improve his World Series performances the next two seasons following the Mets disaster. In game three of the 70 series, he followed a Dave McNally strikeout with a homer. An inning later, McNally would hit a grand slam homer.
In the 1971 series, Buford homered in the fifth inning of game one against Bob Moose and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the key game six, Buford again picked on a Moose pitch and delivered a solo shot in the sixth inning. He had three hits in this game including a double.
And in the sad seventh game, it was Buford’s hit that drove in the O’s lone run against Steve Blass. Curses.
Yes, Buford was the key man in that trade with the White Sox.