By the early 70s, I was back in Maryland listening to my favorite Orioles on the radio. There was the late Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell doing play by play. I knew their voices and and based on their tone of voice whether we were doing well or not.
So here was one routine ground ball hit by Orioles rookie Al Bumbry. “Ground ball to second, throw to first, SAFE.”
It didn’t make sense. Bumbry wasn’t supposed to be safe. And then I got, He was lightning fast.
We had Luis Aparicio during the latter years of his career. We had Paul Blair who chased down fly balls but this Bumbry, and his sidekick Rich Coggins, brought in a fun style of speed that opened up another chapter of O’s history.
The year 1972 wasn’t one of my favorites. First, the baseball strike that cost us a dozen games to start the season. Plus the fact that the O’s didn’t hit well made it an unsatisfying season.
So in 73, the O’s opted for some speed. They won 17 games more than the year before and Al “Bumble Bee” Bumbry was a big help. In 110 games, he hit a whopping .337 and was named the AL rookie of the year.
I couldn’t resist coming up with scenarios that season. “Bumbry at first, he’s stealing, throw to third, safe.”
Bumbry bunts, throw to second, safe. I loved the thought of pure, breakaway speed.
OK, back to real life. Here’s a game from Sept. 22. We were rocking the Brewers. Tommy Davis, the excellent designated hitter, had 4 hits in a 7-1 romp.
Bumbry had three hits that day. He opened up the third with a triple to right field. In the 4th, he tripled to center chasing home Andy Etchebarren. In the 8th, he tripled and scored on a Davis single.
Three triples in one game. Certainly an Orioles record. He led the AL that season in three-baggers with 11.
On June 25 of that rookie season, he scored the winning run in the top of the 12th inning as the Birds edged the Tigers 4-3. And get this Mike Cuellar picked up the win hurling all 12 innings. Bumbry singled four times in this win. Of course he added a triple to complete his five-hit day.
His other five-hit day in the majors came on May 26, 1979. Of course it took 16 innings to beat the Tigers. It took Bumbry eight at-bats to get his five hits.
His fine career was highlighted by the 1980 season. In a season of 100 wins, Bumbry had career highs in at-bats (645), runs (118), hits (205), homers (9), RBIs (53), walks (78) and hit a robust .318.
Bumbry is a lifetime .283 hitter with 52 AL triples and 53 AL homers. I didn’t recall his 95 at-bats with the 1985 San Diego Padres.
His speed was helpful in center field as well. He didn’t have the best throwing arm but nobody’s perfect.