Flashback Friday: Alto Was Key

Remembering the manager of the Orioles’ last World Series team

“A lot of people are frightened of the word ‘pressure,’ but your job’s not worth a hill of beans without a little of that.”

-Former O’s manager Joe Altobelli, as quoted in The Baltimore Sun

He managed a 1971 Rochester Red Wings team that included Mike Ferraro, Johnny Oates, Don Baylor, and Ray Miller, each of whom would likewise manage in the majors.

He instructed the youthful iterations of Cal Ripken Jr., Don Mattingly, and Mark Grace on how to play the game.

His stories of mentoring Steve Dalkowski, a pitcher who threw as hard as he partied, provided screenwriter and director Ron Shelton with the grist for the Bull Durham characters Crash Davis and Nuke NaNoosh.

His jersey was the first of two that have been retired in Rochester, where is known as “Mr. Rochester.”

In 2008, he was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame.

But Baltimore fans know him best as the manager of the last Orioles team to win the World Series.

A Thursday Roar from 34 post asked, “What day is complete without a Joe Altobelli reference?” So it seems that this day, a Flashback Friday, will be complete.

Joseph Salvatore Altobelli arrived in Baltimore in Earl Weaver’s shadow and perhaps never escaped it.

After taking over a job he “never applied for” in 1983, Altobelli led the team to its first World Series in 13 years. A longtime minor league player and manager who batted .210, with five home runs and 28 RBIs in 166 major league games, Altobelli served three years in Orange and Black, following a championship season with 85 wins in 1984.

Owner Edward Bennett Williams, who reportedly called Altobelli a “cement head” behind his back, dismissed the manager in 1985 after a 29-26 start and replaced him with the man he had replaced – Earl Weaver.

After leaving Baltimore Altobelli managed one game in the big leagues, an 8-6 Cubs loss to the New York Mets on May 21, 1991, in place of the fired Don Zimmer. Altobelli’s major league record as a skipper was 212-167 (.559).

As a minor league manager, Alto finished in first place six times in 12 seasons. From 1971 to 1976, he led the Rochester Red Wings, then an O’s affiliate, to a 502-350 (.589) record, two Governors Cup titles, four pennants, and one Junior World Series.

Following his retirement from the game, Altobelli filled every available role for the Red Wings except – as noted by The Baltimore Sun – the mascot’s position, which he left to his grandchildren. Altobelli moved into Rochester’s broadcast booth in 1996 and remained there through last year. The 2009 season is the first since 1950 that Altobelli has spent away from organized baseball.

Altobelli’s entry in the International League Hall of Fame reads as follows:

Joe Altobelli is known as “Mr. Baseball” in Roch­ester, where he has served the club as a player, manager, general manager, and radio broadcaster. The Detroit native won a HR championship and a Governors’ Cup crown as a player before going on to manage three more Governors’ Cup Champions. The three-time IL Manager of the Year is Rochester’s alltime leader in victories (502) and was an inaugural member of the Red Wings Hall of Fame in 1989. His #26 was the first uniform number ever retired by the Red Wings.

Sources: Minor league news

The Baltimore Sun (Mike Klingaman, April 6, 2008: “Remembering the 1983 Orioles; 25 years laters, still a good Joe; Altobelli Remains Consumate Pro After Six Decades.”)

Sports Illustrated (Pete McEntegart, June 30, 2003, “Where Are They Now?”)

Baseball Reference

Image source: Baseball Almanac (click photo for original)

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About mptaylor11

Roar from 34, a Baltimore Orioles Blog. Humor. History. Homerism. Since 2006.
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