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The year Dodgers went from heroes to zeros

October 09, 2006|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

It struck Jim Palmer that something wasn't quite right.

"I still remember walking out of that stadium," the Hall of Fame pitcher said the other day, recalling a long-ago autumn afternoon in Baltimore. "I remember saying to myself, 'Is it supposed to be that simple to win a World Series?' "

Not usually, but 40 years ago today the Baltimore Orioles wrapped up perhaps the most dominating performance by a pitching staff in World Series history, completing a sweep of the Dodgers with a 1-0 victory in Game 4 at Memorial Stadium.

It's still a bitter memory for Dodgers fans. Led by Sandy Koufax -- who in 1966 won a career-high 27 games and led the major leagues in wins, earned-run average, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts -- the Dodgers had won two of the previous three World Series and were favored to make it three of four. Their pitching staff, also featuring Don Drysdale, was second to none.

The Orioles' strength, meanwhile, was their power. They led the American League in batting in 1966 and set a club record for home runs. Frank Robinson, who in May 1966 had hit a ball out of Memorial Stadium, won the triple crown.

But over four games in October, the Orioles beat the Dodgers at their own game, holding them scoreless the rest of the Series after the third inning of Game 1.

"It was the most classic case of ineptitude in Series annals," wrote Times columnist Jim Murray after the Dodgers batted .142 against four Orioles pitchers, scoring only two runs and getting only 17 hits in the Series. "Their batting average cannot be seen with the naked eye nor figured under the decimal system."

In Game 1 at Dodger Stadium, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson hit consecutive home runs against Drysdale in the first inning and Moe Drabowsky relieved Orioles starter Dave McNally in the third. Drabowsky, a Polish-born journeyman, gave up no runs and only one hit over the last 6 2/3 innings of a 5-2 Orioles victory, striking out six in a row at one point and 11 in all.

Palmer, matched against a luckless Koufax in what would be the left-hander's final game, pitched a four-hitter in the Orioles' 6-0 victory in Game 2, which featured six Dodgers errors, three in one inning by center fielder Willie Davis.

Wally Bunker of the Orioles pitched a six-hitter in Game 3 and McNally a four-hitter in Game 4, both 1-0 Orioles victories in Memorial Stadium.

Paul Blair, a star at Manual Arts High in Los Angeles who had tried out for the Dodgers, hit a fifth-inning home run against Claude Osteen in Game 3, and Frank Robinson slugged a fourth-inning home run against Drysdale in the clincher.

Four decades later, many of the players who cashed winning shares of $12,794 apiece will reconvene for an Oct. 19 reunion in Baltimore.

Sadly, two pitchers vital to their success won't be there.

McNally, who strung together four consecutive 20-win seasons for the Orioles from 1968 to 1971 and later played a central role in baseball's economic revolution of the 1970s, fought lung cancer for years before dying in 2002.

Drabowsky, a prankster who pitched for eight teams in 17 seasons, died in June of complications from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

"They both fought cancer the way they pitched," Palmer said.

Bunker, who was 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA as a 19-year-old rookie in 1964 but later was beset by arm ailments that forced him to retire after eight seasons with the Orioles and Kansas City Royals, did not return phone calls for this article. Now 61, he is a potter and craftsman in Lowell, Ohio, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Palmer, of course, has rarely left the public eye. A three-time Cy Young Award winner, he won 268 games and compiled a 2.86 ERA during a 21-year career with the Orioles, pitching in six World Series. In 1970, he and teammates Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and McNally all were 20-game winners, joining the 1920 Chicago White Sox as the only teams in major league history with four 20-game winners.

Later, the urbane Palmer built a successful career as a broadcaster and pitchman, most memorably as an underwear model for Jockey brand briefs.

In 1990, the right-hander was voted into the Hall of Fame.

But Palmer, who will turn 61 on Sunday, said that facing off against Koufax in the World Series still ranked among his most cherished memories.

"It was almost surreal," said Palmer, who is still an Orioles broadcaster and splits time between homes in Baltimore and Juno Beach, Fla. "You just don't expect those kinds of things to happen. I often wonder how these things evolve."

Only 20 at the time, Palmer was a former Beverly Hills Little Leaguer who used to watch Koufax pitch at the Coliseum.

He didn't even expect to make the Orioles roster in 1966.

"And then to get into the World Series," he said, "it was pretty surprising."

As was the result.

"It really wasn't that simple," Palmer said of the Orioles' obliteration of the Dodgers. "It was kind of a confluence of things that all came together."

All favoring the Orioles.


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