Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Billy O'Dell, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #337

It's not likely that rotund Oriole infielder Ty Wigginton, who could make his All-Star debut tonight in his ninth major league season, will have a big impact on the outcome of the Midsummer Classic. Of course, you never know who will shine in this July showcase. Just ask Billy O'Dell.

Back on July 8, 1958, Baltimore had the honor of hosting the All-Star Game for the first time. It was the 25th annual game; no game was played in 1945 due to World War II. The O's were in their fifth season in the league but were still battling to get out of the second division (they would finish sixth out of eight American League clubs in 1958 at 74-79). But there was cause for optimism, as manager Paul Richards was working to rebuild the club with his shrewd eye for talent. Catcher Gus Triandos, acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Yankees, had been selected to start behind the plate. He had already hit 16 homers en route to a career-high 30 (still a record for Oriole catchers). It was the second of three straight All-Star years for Triandos, and the first of two starting nods. Making the roster as a reserve pitcher was a 25-year-old southpaw from South Carolina named Billy O'Dell.

O'Dell had been signed by the Birds in the early going, back in June of their inaugural 1954 season. They gave him a $12,500 signing bonus, making him their first "bonus baby". He debuted with the O's two weeks later and never played a game in the minor leagues. Military service halted his development early on, but 1958 would be his breakout year. Shuttling between the rotation and the bullpen, he was only 8-9 at the break, but had strong peripheral stats (3.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 2.68 K/BB). His luck turned around in the second half, allowing him to finish the year with a 14-11 record and eight saves.

A capacity crowd of 48,949 packed Memorial Stadium, and scores of fans watched at home on NBC. Vice-president Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch, and then it was time to play ball! It was a tight, brisk game from beginning to end. American League starter Bob Turley of the Yankees (a former Oriole) was shaky in the first inning, giving up two runs on singles by Willie Mays and Stan Musial, a hit-by-pitch to Ernie Banks, and a walk to Frank Thomas. A Hank Aaron sacrifice fly and a wild pitch accounted for the runs. Three of the first four A.L. batters reached in the bottom half of the inning against Warren Spahn, but a Jackie Jensen double play ball brought in the only run. The clubs traded runs in the second inning on singles by Bob Skinner for the Nationals and Nellie Fox for the Americans, and the score would stay put at 3-2 N.L. until the bottom of the fifth.

The A.L. loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth, but a Jensen RBI grounder was all they got out of it. So the game was tied for the moment. Boston's Frank Malzone led off the next inning with a single, and Triandos (1-for-2 with a single) was due up. American League skipper Casey Stengel pinch hit for the hometown hero with his own player, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra. The partisan crowd booed the Ol' Perfesser lustily. (Sound familiar?) An error by third baseman Frank Thomas (the fourth overall in the game) proved critical, as Gil McDougald singled home the go-ahead run. 4-3, A.L.

McDougald had pinch-hit for pitcher Early Wynn, so Stengel had to go to his bullpen. Perhaps trying to appease the Charm City fans, he called upon O'Dell. It may have been the smartest move he made all day, as Billy was flawless. He pitched three perfect innings, nine up and nine down, to earn the save with no margin for error. Five of the nine Nats that he retired were future Hall of Famers; he even struck out Bill Mazeroski and Ernie Banks. The American League won by a 4-3 score in two hours, 13 minutes. O'Dell was praised by Stengel, even though the Yankees didn't clinch home-field advantage in the World Series with the win or anything like that. Go figure.

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