NORTH BEND - Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer could comprise a Baltimore Orioles' version of Mount Rushmore, but Eddie Watt of North Bend simply knew the baseball Hall of Famers as teammates.
Watt played eight seasons (1966-1973) of his 10-year Major League career with the Orioles. He was one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver's top relievers on Baltimore's World Series teams of 1969, 1970 and 1971.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Orioles' five-game victory over Cincinnati for the world title. The championship came one year after the Orioles were stunned in a five-game series by the underdog New York Mets.
"We approached 1970 that is was business as usual," said Watt, who resides in North Bend with his wife of 38 years, Betty. "We didn't try to do anything differently in 1970 than we did the year before or in 1971 when we lost to the (Pittsburgh) Pirates in seven games."
Watt enjoyed one of his finest seasons as a pro in 1969. He went 5-2 with 16 saves and an earned run average of 1.65. The following season he went 7-7 with 12 saves and an ERA of 3.25. The right-hander joined lefty Pete Richert as the Orioles' co-closers.
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Under Weaver's tutelage, the Orioles compiled a record of 108-54 in 1970. The previous year they went 109-53 and finished 101-57 in 1971.
"Each of those years, we started out just a tiny bit slow," the Lamoni, Iowa, native said. "But by the first of June or so - while we didn't have the pennant in the bag or anything - we had started to show our dominance that we were an exceptional club."
The 1970 Orioles won the American League East Division by 15 games over the second-place New York Yankees. Part of the reason for the Orioles' success was continuity.
"We didn't change much," Watt said. "We would finish one season then we'd start the next with about 20 or 21 guys of the 25 back from the year before. Earl would get the club together and say that there were X amount of positions open. It wasn't that garbage you hear that everyone has to earn a spot. Guys like Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Brooks Robinson or Boog (Powell) were simply better than others. Earl would say there might be two or three positions open and seven or eight guys were playing for those roles."
Watt believes that Weaver never asked any of the players to do something they weren't physically capable of doing. For example, perennial Gold Glove shortstop Mark Belanger wasn't asked to hit 25 home runs or be the primary run producer.
"We knew we wouldn't be outmanaged so our job was to not be outplayed," Watt said. "Everyone knew their specific jobs and Earl used the 25-man roster better than any manager I saw during my time in the big leagues. Everyone knew what was expected of them."
Before facing the Reds in the World Series, the 1970 Orioles met the Minnesota Twins for the second year in a row in the American League playoffs. Just like in 1969, the birds swept the Twins in three straight.
"We didn't have their number or anything," Watt said. "We just happened to play well against them like we did most clubs. We didn't have a hex on them or a witchdoctor on our side. They just happened to be standing in our way. At that time of the season and in the life of the Orioles, we were going to win."
The playoff victory set up a World Series matchup with first-year manager Sparky Anderson and the Reds. Although Joe Morgan was still a couple of years away from joining the "Big Red Machine," Cincinnati featured a formidable lineup that included Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Lee May.
"They were a very, very good club," Watt said about the Reds. "They virtually had an all-star at every position, but they were a little short on pitching."
The Reds' pitching staff did pale in comparison to the Orioles, which featured the starting rotation of Palmer, Cuellar and Dave McNally for the series.
Palmer won the opener 4-3 and Elrod Hendricks' two-run double helped the Orioles rally for a 6-5 Game 2 win at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. McNally pitched nine innings and hit a grand slam to help the Orioles easily win Game 3 9-3 in Baltimore.
That set the stage for Game 4.
Palmer started for the Orioles again and took a 5-3 lead into the top of the eighth. He walked Perez and allowed a single to Bench before Weaver brought Watt in from the bullpen. The first batter he faced, May, drilled a home run to put the Reds ahead. They would go on to avoid elimination with a 6-5 win.
"I was disappointed because no one wants to come in and not do well," Watt said. "If an athlete doesn't have pride in his ability then he probably isn't an athlete. I didn't go home and kick the dog or anything or have a burning desire to prove myself because of what happened. I think I had proved myself during my six years in the league up to that point. One outing wasn't going to determine my place in baseball."
The media and fans, however, had been intent on the Orioles sweeping the Reds in four straight games. Watt remembers many in the Memorial Stadium crowd that day carrying brooms.
"The only thing that bothered me was the press was all about the sweep," Watt said. "When I lost Game 4 and came back the next day, I was booed horribly as soon as I set my foot out on the field to go to the bullpen. I was booed for the next two or three years."
Watt was familiar with how fickle fans could be, but it was tough on his three children who were all 7 or younger.
"It was very difficult for them to understand what was going on," he said. "Their dad went from kind of a hero status and a productive player on a championship club to getting booed. ... It went with the territory as a relief pitcher. You go from hero to goat status in the space of a day or the space of one pitch."
The Orioles won the next day. The Reds roughed Cuellar up for three runs in the top of the first, but Baltimore dominated from that point on for a 9-3 win. Brooks Robinson was named the Most Valuable Player of the series as he hit .429 and put on a fielding clinic at third base.
"People stopped counting the unbelievable defensive plays he made," Watt said. "He put together the best five games that anybody ever has in a series."
The Orioles conducted a 40th reunion of the championship team June 25-27. Watt, a 2000 Orioles Hall of Fame inductee, was able to reminisce with many former teammates.
"I hadn't seen some of them in 10 years," he said. "Then there were some I hadn't seen for 20 years or longer. It was a lot of fun. After we were together for 10 minutes, it seemed just like yesterday that we had (won the title). The sad thing was there were some who weren't there."
Some of Watt's former teammates, including McNally, Cuellar, Belanger and Hendricks, have died. Although they are gone, their contributions to the 1970 Orioles won't be forgotten.
"It was a special group, individually and collectively," said Watt, who also played for Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs. "We were very compatible and during my eight seasons in Baltimore there were very, very few individuals that didn't fit in. If they didn't fit in, they didn't stay long. The Orioles did a good job of putting the club together and maintaining it."
While Frank Robinson works for the commissioner's office and Boog Powell greets fans at his barbecue at Camden Yards, Watt is content with his life in North Bend.
"I'm not a hermit, but I've always been happy to stay out of the limelight," Watt said. "Fremont is about 15 times too big for me to even think about living there. I'm very happy with my life in North Bend. I honestly couldn't be happier."