Poor hitting held the Orioles to fourth place as home attendance fell to a 10-year low, but changes have been made.
The story goes that last year's manager, Billy Hitchcock, could not handle the Orioles but that Hank Bauer, this year's manager, can. You may take it or leave it, but if you decide to take it, do not take all of it. The Orioles are not an easy group of heroes to control, though it is probably unfair to place any significance in the fact that they played better at night (60-41) than all the other teams in the American League. The Orioles need hitting and hustle as well as discipline. Bauer has always had plenty of hustle. His record as a manager in Kansas City was not overwhelming (107-157), but neither were the players he managed. The Orioles have more talent. This year, under Bauer, the team will have a midnight curfew, must wear shirts and ties in all hotels on the road and will not be allowed to drink at the bar in the hotel where they are staying. "That privilege," says Bauer with a wry smile, "belongs to the manager." Last year the Orioles were in first place at the end of May, thanks to good fielding, good pitching and an astonishing ability to hit left-handers. Baltimore won 14 of its first 15 games against lefties, but then the rest of the league caught on and right-handers began appearing from every crack in the floor. The 11 right-handers in the AL with the best won-lost records choked the Orioles off 4-19. The team as a whole hit only .239 against righties vs. .284 against lefties. Hitting is the Orioles' major problem, and it is reflected in their inability to win extra-inning games. They have lost 24 of 34 extra-inning games over the last two years—the worst record in the majors. To help correct this, Baltimore traded controversial First Baseman Jim Gentile to the Athletics for Norm Siebern, a quiet man who will not hit as many home runs as Gentile but should collect a hatful of doubles. "Siebern," says Bauer, "is an excellent ballplayer. He will not strike out as much as Gentile or hit into as many double plays. He is an excellent judge of pitches and generally walks as often as anyone in the league. I plan to hit him fourth and, since I played with him on the Yankees and managed him at Kansas City, I think I know pretty well what he can do. And that's a lot." No matter what Siebern does, unless Brooks Robinson (.251), Jerry Adair (.228) and Jackie Brandt (.248) perform better in 1964 than they did in 1963, the Orioles will be in trouble again. Robinson got off to one of the best starts of his life last season but, over the last 117 games, he hit .222 and was having trouble with fast balls. Baltimore must hope that Robinson can repeat his 1962 season, when he hit .303. Adair (.284 two years ago) just never got started last year. He had 18 stitches on his left cheek after a John Buzhardt pitch and was hit again in the same place later in the season. He hit much better during the second half than the first but still finished at .228. Brandt, whom the Orioles tried to replace during the winter, has yet to become more than a run-of-the-mill player. Left-fielder John (Boog) Powell was the team's best RBI man last year with 82 and also led in homers with 25. He should improve and could easily become a 100-run producer. Catcher John Orsino was the big surprise for the Orioles (.272, 19 homers) and his desire might rub off on some of the others. Luis Aparicio, at 29, stole 40 bases in 46 attempts, and he gives the Orioles speed, as do rookie Sam Bowens (.333 in 15 games with the Orioles last year) and Willie Kirkland. Bowens still needs to cut down his strikeouts, but he hits right-handers well. Kirkland hit .230 with Cleveland, but Baltimore hopes he can soup up the base running. Outfielder Russ Snyder beat out 16 bunts, hit .256 after a dim start. Lou Jackson, drafted from Toronto, has had good minor league years (.315, 31 home runs, 89 RBIs at Toronto in 1963, for example) but is 28 years old.
Steve Barber (20-13, 2.75 ERA), Milt Pappas (16-9, 3.03) and Robin Roberts (14-13, 3.33) give the Orioles three good starters. If Chuck Estrada recovers from an operation to remove a bone spur and calcium deposits on his right elbow, then the Orioles will have a pitching staff equal to the Yankees' (in 1960 and '61, Estrada had 33 victories; last year he was 3-2). Left-handers Dave McNally (7-8) and Mike McCormick started 41 games and could complete only four, but McNally developed during the winter by playing in Puerto Rico. The bullpen is excellent, and not just because of Stu Miller. Miller won five, lost eight but saved 26 games and finished 59. Actually, anytime the Orioles get him into a game it is a plus because he can hit (.313). Last season against Washington, after Ron Kline of the Senators hit Bob Johnson, dusted Jackie Brandt and hit Jerry Adair, Miller tripled. Quiet Dick Hall can hit too—.454, to lead all American League pitchers. Hall had an earned run average of 1.36 from June 20 to the end of the season and completed the year with a 5-5 record and 10 saves. Wes Stock is 15-2 in relief since August of 1960 but, with Miller around to appear in a league-leading total of 71 games, there is not much work left for him. (Stock cannot hit at all. His lifetime batting average is .000.) Harvey Haddix, the old Pirate, could help the Orioles with lefty relief.
The infield is superb at third and good at short and second. First Baseman Siebern, while no Hal Chase or even a Jim Gentile, should do the job. The outfield is ragged, particularly with Powell in left; he does not get the jump on balls, but lumbers after them instead. Powell probably will improve, since he worked continuously on his fielding this spring. Brandt has a pretty good record for throwing to the wrong base. The catching is strong with Orsino, backed up by Dick Brown. The Oriole pitchers sometimes put themselves in trouble with sloppy fielding. In Bob Johnson, the Orioles have one of the most versatile reserves in baseball. Last season he played all four infield positions and, what's more, batted .295 and knocked in 32 runs in 82 games.
Given normal years by Robinson, Brandt and Adair, the Orioles could be a threat. If Estrada can come back from his injury, the Birds could fly very high.