“Pretty sure my dad stuffed the ballot box and that’s how I won,” Bonnie Lorber Habyan, voted Miss Oriole 1987, recalls with a smile. “I didn’t know it. I was 22. Years later someone brought it up and I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And then I heard the stories of him running to the liquor stores on Joppa Road [voting took place wherever Miller Lite, Miss Oriole’s corporate sponsor, was sold]. He just laughed.”
That “Buck” Lorber very much wanted his daughter to win the annual ’80s contest, which came with season tickets, is certain. One indelible childhood memory is her father picking her and her brother up after a day at the pool, her wet back stuck to the vinyl seat of their Chevy Malibu, listening to Chuck Thompson call the action over the car radio.
“Dad thought it was the greatest thing ever when I won.”
Hoping to get a leg up on a career after earning a communications degree, Habyan had entered after winning Miss Harford County the year before. The money was good—$50 a game and $75 per appearance, which included a lot of morning radio plugs—and the perks were nice, such as press box crab cakes and a paid trip to Toronto for a 4-game series. She met Joan Jett and Tom Selleck, among other 1980s royalty.
Although the baseball wasn’t great. The Orioles, unforgettably, started Habyan’s second term in 1988 by dropping their first 21 games. Nonetheless, she developed her public-speaking skills and networked, landing a late-night DJ slot at 106.5 FM, where many of the love-song dedications—Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, Whitney Houston—came from men serving time at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup.
“We got letters from inmates and phone calls, too, some of which we’d tape while prepping and play over the air at night,” Habyan says. “Some were sweet. Many were sad, of course.”
She left the radio gig for the Big Apple when her boyfriend/future husband got a job in New York—after getting traded to the Yankees.
“I broke the rules,” Lorber admits with a chuckle. “You weren’t allowed to date the ballplayers.”
By his account, then-23-year-old O’s reliever John Habyan first noticed Miss Oriole when she sang the National Anthem before a game. One day while shagging flies as she walked by on her way to a public relations event in the bullpen, O’s outfielder Ken Gerhart asked her if she was seeing anyone, mentioning his buddy’s interest. A South Carolina native with an easy Southern manner, Gerhart convinced her the rule against dating a player was more of a guideline. (In 1984, former Miss Oriole Kathy Lioi had married O’s pitcher Bill Swaggerty.)
Thirty-five years later, the idea of a Miss Oriole contest looks different. Politically incorrect. In fact, Habyan was the last Miss Oriole. (On the other hand, Jim Palmer exposed more skin in those Jockey underwear ads.)
“A team wouldn’t do it today, obviously,” she says, adding the Orioles were a class organization and there were no “Me Too” moments. “Oprah, who did People Are Talking at WJZ, and Jessica Savitch, one of the first female network anchors, were my role models. My father worked at BGE and my mother at Hecht’s, and I didn’t have any contacts. The pageants were a way to help get me into broadcasting. Instead, I learned about marketing with the Orioles and that became my career.”
Habyan is now the chief marketing officer for a New York real estate and financing company. Recently, she penned a memoir, The World According to Bess, about life with her 91-year-old mother, who is struggling with dementia.
“Would I want my daughter to do Miss Oriole today? No. I’m glad she doesn’t have to. When I look at the poster, I don’t think of any of that though. I think of the best summers of my life.”