That was another good Orioles trade. It came on Dec. 4, 1973. Again with those Cincinnati Reds who we stole Frank Robinson from seven years before. Junior Kennedy and Bill Wood joined Merv Rettenmund on the way to Cincy for Wally Williams and Ross Grimsley. It was exactly 50 wins that Grimsley won in an Orioles uniform from 1974-77.
But let’s go back to the heralded 1970 World Series. Maybe that’s what first grabbed the Reds attention.
It’s the clinching game of the 70 Series for Baltimore. That’s the game in which the Reds hit Mike Cuellar for three quick runs to open the first inning. And then Cuellar shut the door. And the O’s offense started to catch up. In the third inning, Boog Powell doubled and scored on Rettenmund’s single. In the fifth, Rettenmund greeted Tony Cloninger with a home run. The O’s won 9-3 to claim a World Championship.
Rettenmund didn’t even stand 6-feet tall. I can recall him twirling his bat slowly awaiting a pitch. He wasn’t a fluke by any means. He just happened to pick a tough time to break into the O’s lineup. There was Don Buford in left. Before Brady Anderson, he was the best leadoff man in O’s history. Paul Blair was in center. For those who watched Blair in center, there was no one better defensively. And of course Frank Robinson was in right.
Where was Rettenmund going to play? Evidently somewhere thought Earl Weaver. After all he was the Sporting News Minor League player of the year in 1968. He hit .331 with 22 homers for Rochester that season.
Can you imagine the Orioles having a stocked minor league system. They did in the glory days.
Weaver did find time to play Rettenmund. And the Flint, Michigan native did not disappoint. In 338 at-bats in 70, he had career highs in homers (18) and batting average (.322). There was no drop off in 1971. He had nearly 500 at-bats that season and hit a robust .318. He also drove in a career high 75 runs.
On Sept 24th of that season, Rettenmund was a major force in the 20th win for the late Pat Dobson. He had one sacrifice fly heading to the sixth inning in Cleveland. That’s when his two-run double scored both Bobby Grich and Buford. In the eighth, his second double of the game scored Grich. He had 4 RBIs in Dobson’s 7-0 win.
And by this time there was no sitting Rettenmund. It’s game one of the 1971 World Series with the Pirates. Dave McNally is on the mound for Baltimore and Dock Ellis went for Pittsburgh. The usually sure-handed Birds had a miserable first inning. McNally threw a wild pitch. Mark Belanger and Ellie Hendricks both made errors and the Pirates put a three-spot on the board.
It’s the home half of the third. Belanger and Buford are on base when Rettenmund came to the plate. And Rettenmund cracked a three-run homer. Talk about your big hit. Give him the game-winning hit in the 5-3 win. Yes, we should have won this series as well.
Rettenmund never again hit .300. His baseball travels would also take him to San Diego and the California Angels. He would stay in the business by being a hitting instructor with five Major League teams. However none of them came from Baltimore.