Without giving it much thought, most Orioles fans would tell you Jim Palmer is the best pitcher in franchise history. They might not know about the right shoulder injury in 1968 that nearly ended his career—and the story behind how he healed it.
And true Orioles nerds could tell you Palmer was joined by Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson in 1971 to form only the second starting rotation with four 20-game winners in baseball history. But do they know the circumstances under which each pitcher reached the magic number?
These are just two examples of factoids readers will learn in “100 Things Orioles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” the first book by Baltimore Sun Orioles writer Dan Connolly (City Paper and The Sun are both owned by Baltimore Sun Media Group). Plenty has been written about the team and its storied 60-year history—what makes this particular book worth your time is the relative ease with which it covers all the bases.
To be clear, there’s not much in the “Do” category for anyone out there hoping for more of a travel guide. But the many chapters on the people, places, and historic teams provide an informative reference guide to the most important moments since the St. Louis Browns relocated to Baltimore in 1954. And there’s a chapter on the late-19th- and early-20th-century clubs for good measure. Plenty of chapters—the histories of the stadiums the team has played in, stories about P.A. announcers, superfans, and traditions—have little to do with the players and the action on the field.
Both the casual fan and diehard will leave having learned something.
Each of the chapters is brisk, about two to four pages on average. Connolly still packs plenty of statistics, anecdotes, and reported quotes in that space, giving many of the passages a denseness that can’t easily be found merely poking around Wikipedia.
The scope of what’s covered varies, with entries focusing on topics as broad as a player’s entire career and others on a singular moment in a game. Some of the team’s biggest icons, most notably shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., have their careers broken out over the course of several chapters—for example, there are separate chapters on Ripken, his record streak of 2,632 consecutive games, the way he decided to end the streak, and the time he played alongside his brother, Bill, while both were managed by their father, Cal Sr. In other places, certain things deserving of more detail are broken out into sidebars.
This leads to lots of overlap—the lopsided trade that brought Frank Robinson over from the Cincinnati Reds before the 1966 season figures prominently in multiple places, for instance—but not in a way that’s a nuisance.
Still, there are a few instances where the massiveness of a subject leaves us with a nagging question or two. Using Robinson again as an example, there was a passing reference to the way the outfielder exposed the segregated housing market in Baltimore during his playing days—an incredibly fascinating detail we would have liked to hear more about.
Connolly being a reporter and all, the vast majority of the passages are rich with detail and statistics, and the best of the bunch intertwine that history with new stories and perspective compiled from recent interviews. Just a few of the highlights: the story about how McNally made ornery manager Earl Weaver break down and cry; learning that reliever Alan Mills once had a Darryl Strawberry poster on his wall, years before he infamously punched the Yankees outfielder during one of the best baseball brawls in history; finding out how Billy Ripken ended up on a baseball card displaying a bat knob with “Fuck Face” in big letters (Connolly seems to have adopted his paper’s policy on expletives for the book, using “f---,” but we’re City Paper, so fuck it).
Oh, and—spoiler—Palmer was able to get past his ailing shoulder after joining a group of friends at a Baltimore Bullets game when one of them, a pharmaceutical company representative, suggested a particular anti-inflammatory.
As a lifelong fan who’s read up on the team’s history, I thought I knew most everything there was to know about the Orioles. I was happy to be proven wrong.