There are always moments in a child’s life when something they see doesn’t make sense. When my family moved to Florida in 1969, the move to Sarasota was great because the powerful Baltimore Orioles held spring training there. I was honored to be a bat boy for the day at the park and was on the field when the Orioles were warming up. And there was one of my heroes smoking a cigarette.
It was Boog. No, not Boog Powell, the great slugging first baseman. Didn’t he know the evils of smoking? That poor cigarette was being overwhelmed by that huge man as he chugged down the smoke and carcinogens that went with that nasty habit.
I wasn’t angry with Boog. Just disappointed. Heck, my older brother named his car after John Wesley “Boog” Powell. What a great player. He was the 1970 Most Valuable Player in the American League. He was the two-time comeback player of the year in the AL. Of course that implies that he had a few rough years.
I’ve said it before but my favorite one of Powell’s 339 career dingers came in the first American League playoff game in history. Frank Robinson, and get this, the late Mark Belanger had homered off Twins right-hander Jim Perry but it wasn’t enough heading the ninth inning on Oct. 4, 1969. I was choked up. I was crying. The magical Birds of Baltimore were losing 3-2. I uttered to my cousins that Boog was coming up. They looked at me like I was crazy. This was before “A League of Their Own” and Tom Hanks great line, “There is no crying in baseball.”
Boog never hit 40 homers but managed to hit 30 or more homers on four occasions. He really should have been the MVP in 1969 when he hit 37 homers and drove in 121 runs. He even hit .304 that season. In his MVP season of 1970, he actually hit two fewer homers, drove in 7 less runs and batted seven points lower than in 1969. Oh, well, those were two great seasons for the Booger.
His 1970 series performance gets overlooked because of the Brooks Robinson show. But Powell’s bat was very important especially in the first two games in Cincinnati. Reds’ starter Gary Nolan was breezing. He retired the first 10 Baltimore hitters before Blair broke up the streak with a single. The O’s were already trailing 3-0. And Boog homered cutting the lead to 3-2.
The next day in Cincy, the Reds again struck first and piled up a quick 4-0 lead heading to the fourth inning. And Boog homered again. An inning later, he drove home another run as the Birds scored 5 runs to take the lead.
I was still living in Sarasota in October of 1971. My neighbor Dennis came across the street to tell me that Boog had hurt his wrist against Oakland in the playoffs. I shrugged noting that Boog had drilled a pair of homers off of Catfish Hunter as the Birds stopped the A’s 5-1 behind Mike Cuellar’s pitching.
But maybe there was something to those injured wrist rumors. Boog had only 3 singles in the seven-game loss to the Pirates.
No hard feelings of course. Boog Powell was a great player. I even heard he stuck around Baltimore and cooked up some good fixins for his fans.