Cameo: Boog Powell

We talk with the legendary Oriole and barbecue master.

Fifty years ago this month, the Baltimore Orioles swept the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers to win the 1966 World Series. Beloved first baseman (and BBQ master) Boog Powell reflects on that remarkable moment.

After 50 years, you reunited with your 1966 teammates at Camden Yards earlier this season. How was the reunion?
It was everything I expected and more. I was really looking forward to seeing some of my old teammates. Of course, you know, we’ve lost so many, and it just made it that much more special to visit with the ones who were coming back. I was just hoping I could remember what everybody looked like because I hadn’t seen them in so damn long.

It seems like you guys genuinely got along well.
You know, we hung around a lot with each other. It wasn’t like we’d rush off after the game. We had a lot of discussion about what happened that night and learned a lot about our teammates. There was very little animosity between anybody on that team. We didn’t have any fistfights. There was no downright, mean-spirited, “I-hate-you” kind of thing. We all just had one goal in mind, and whatever it took to get it was what we’d do. We just went out and did our job. We just played ball. And there’s the key word right there: play.

That camaraderie must have been pivotal in what happened that season.
Not only that, but we had Frank Robinson, who won the Triple Crown, and Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair, Curt Blefary, Luis Aparicio. You go right down the list and you can’t take anybody out of that equation. We were all a part of it. It was a lifetime experience and the single biggest thrill I ever had as a teammate. I’ve had some good personal moments as far as swinging the bat, but as a team . . . I still get goose bumps when I think about it.

The stars aligned.
Exactly. We had this thing called Kangaroo Court after every game we won. It was a little court session for about five minutes after the game with just the players and coaches. No press was invited. If you thought you had a case, against one of your teammates or some trivial thing as silly as saying hello to somebody in the stands, we talked it out. Frank Robinson was the judge, and he wore an old mop on his head and had a gavel and brought the court to order. It was mock seriousness, and we just had a ball with that. It was something we looked forward to every night, because we only had it when we won, and we didn’t want to lose! Of course, when we lost, we just got dressed and went home.

What was the Kangaroo Court like after you won the World Series?
Well, we didn’t have it! That was the only time we didn’t have it, because we were too busy accepting the trophy from the commissioner of baseball. We had a great celebration, and the city of Baltimore joined right in with us. Everywhere we went, it was like, come on in, dinner’s on us. That wasn’t the idea, you know, but everybody wanted to be a part of it.

We still celebrate it to this day.
You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I hear when I’m at the ballpark doing my pit beef. Five or six people a night come up and say, ‘Hey man, we really appreciated you guys in ’66. You were special. We’ll never forget you.’ And I just say, ‘Thank you for remembering, because if you didn’t remember, it wouldn’t count.’ It wouldn’t be nearly as special. Those are my exact words, and I really do mean it—I mean it from my heart.

Even with that iconic lineup, you guys were considered the underdogs against the Dodgers. How did it feel leading up to the series? Were you nervous?
We weren’t nervous at all. We considered them a good team—we knew they were a good team. They had the two greatest pitchers of all time: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. But that was the question of the day: How are you guys going to deal with it? And I said, I don’t know but we’re going to deal with it! And that was it. We were not intimidated, and we were not afraid. And they were a good team! We beat a damn good team, but we were a damn good team, too.

What was your favorite moment?
When Paul Blair caught the last out. They flied it out to center field and he caught that ball, it was like—wow! This is really something.

There’s that famous moment, now photograph, of Brooks leaping into the air.
Trick photography. Gotta be trick photography. I joke with Brooksy all the time about that. To this day, some 50 year later, it still gives us a good laugh. There’s also a great picture of me holding a Colt 45 with Brooksy standing in the back and Gene Brabender standing on the other side, and that pretty much explains it all. We were feeling really good.

You eventually went off to play with Cleveland, and even Los Angeles, too. What was it about Baltimore that brought you back to Maryland?
Well, my heart never left. I grew up here—I signed with the organization when I was 17, played three years in the minor leagues, and then finally got to Baltimore when I was 20. I did a lot of growing up in this town. All three of my children were born at Union Memorial. We lived right down the street and I felt like we were part of the community. Back in the day, none of us were making enough money to take the winter off so we all had jobs here. I think Jim Palmer worked for a clothing company. Steve Barber worked at a jewelry place. Dave McNally worked at a bank. I worked for a wholesale liquor company, and I had the time of my life working in the wintertime, just going around to different places. I had a family to take care of, and a son, and then in ’66, my wife, Jan, got pregnant with my daughter. She went to L.A. with us, and she was in her eighth month!

Oh my gosh—what a year.
That’s what we were saying! Worrying about how any minute now we’re going to get a call that she’s going to the hospital. But Jan wouldn’t hear it. She wanted to go, she wasn’t going to miss any of the fun, and that’s all there was to it.

What day was your daughter born?
November 3.

That’s pretty close!
She could’ve come at any time.

This year’s team—in first place for a while, now a close second. A lot of people have been comparing your lineups.
It’s kind of hard to compare one team to another just because of the time that’s passed, but they’re awfully good. There’s no doubt about that. But we stack right up. We had Davey Johnson at second base; they’ve got Jonathan Schoop and he’s a hell of a ball player. Then myself and Chris Davis at first base. Of course Luis Aparicio at short, who stacks up pretty good with J.J. Hardy. And then Brooksy at third with Manny Machado. Brooksy is still the greatest third baseman I ever saw. I have a lot of respect for Manny and I might say that about him someday, but not right now though. And of course the outfielders.

What do you think about the prospects of them making the playoffs?
You know, baseball was played a little different back then. Now the pitcher pitches five innings—five and fly, we call it—and then the relievers come in. Back then, you had to get a wrecker to go out and get Jim Palmer out of the game. None of the guys wanted to come out. And I appreciated that and I liked that. It was a different time and a different ballpark. We played in Memorial Stadium. The field was rock hard. This field is like playing on a billiard table. There aren’t any bad hops.

But I think we all had the same thing in mind, and just like these guys, it’s obvious that they’ve got team chemistry. I’m not sure if Buck [Showalter]’s responsible for that or not, but whoever is, it’s working.