Ever want to jump into the television set and pound someone? It’s October 10, 1973 and the Orioles are in trouble. The powerful Oakland Athletics are in a position to end the 1973 playoff series with Baltimore. Behind lefty Vida Blue, the A’s took a 4-0 lead to the seventh inning in Oakland and needed nine more outs to end the Orioles season. That was the year of Al Bumbry and Rich Coggins and 97 wins that won the AL East by 8 games.
But with nine outs to go and trailing by a grand slam in the elimination game, the O’s were in serious trouble. The network covering the game was ready to go to commercial when announcer Tony Kubek uttered “And now with the wrap up show.”
I screamed out loud. You son of a …. This game isn’t over. The seventh inning opened with a Tommy Davis fly out. But first sacker Earl Williams coaxed a walk off of Blue. And then Don Baylor, a future A’s player himself, singled Williams to second. Brooks Robinson drove in Williams and the O’s were making a comeback.
Next up was weak-hitting catcher Andy Etchebarren. He had played only 54 games for the Birds that summer and had managed to hit a pair of homers. Bless him, he shut Kubek up with a three-run blast. This game was knotted at 4-4. I’m thinking it was the biggest hit of Etchebarren’s career. He was an excellent defensive catcher who hit a whopping .074 in his four visits to the World Series.
No matter, he’s forgiven. I read recently in the Baltimore Sun of an interview with Nationals manager Davey Johnson. The former O’s second baseman brought back a memory that certainly changed Orioles history forever.
But as I recalled the story it was all Etchebarren. It was fun swimming party during the great campaign of 1966. The Orioles with their new hero, Frank Robinson, took some time off while running away from the rest of the American League. Obviously I wasn’t there but I recall Robinson’s teammates threw Robinson in the pool. And the superstar failed to tell his teammates that he never learned to swim. They all thought he was joking and then the new Orioles catcher saw something that bothered him. He dove into the pool and saved Robinson’s life.
Heck, if Robinson drowned that day, I would be rooting for a different team. Thanks, Andy Etchebarren.
Oh, back to that game in Oakland that was tied up. The stunned A’s brought in future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers and Bobby Grich welcomed him in with a solo homer. The O’s beat the A’s 5-4 and forced game five. We lost that game to Catfish Hunter, 3-0. Etchebarren cracked a double off the Catfish.
Etchebarren was the starting catcher for the World Champion Orioles of 1966. He played in 121 games that summer and never again played that many Orioles contests. At 23-years-old, he had career highs in homers (11) and triples (6). This catcher hit 17 career triples. In a 15-year career that closed in 1978 in Milwaukee, his lifetime fielding percentage was a brilliant .987. And he will always have that one valuable save of a life.