June 20, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Boog Powell


DEAN HYBL on BOOG POWELL

The Baltimore Orioles of the 1960s and early 1970s boasted a roster busting with stars from top to bottom. While future Hall of Famers Brooks and Frank Robinson were the two best players on the team, the most imposing figure was a 6-foot-4, 240 pound first baseman who hit towering home runs and picked throws out of the dirt with ease. It was that player, Boog Powell, who became a favorite to many young fans, including myself.

Given the super-sizing of professional baseball players in recent years, Powell’s size may no longer seem particularly special, but during an era when most players were shaped like string beans, Powell was hard to miss. With tree trunks for arms that looked even larger when wearing the Orioles tight fitting gray uniform top, he spent more than a decade launching mammoth home runs and playing first base for the Baltimore Orioles.

A fair-skinned giant with reddish hair, Powell looked like a farm boy from the Midwest, but actually was born in Lakeland, Florida and grew up in the Sunshine State. Though his given name was John Wesley Powell, he earned the nickname “Boog” as a kid due to his mischievous nature. He seemed to always be getting into something and became known as Booger, as in, “What’s that little Booger doing now?” The nickname was eventually shortened to Boog, probably around the time he got big enough to beat the snot out of anyone who would dare call him Booger.

Powell’s prowess on the baseball field was evident from an early age. In 1954 he was part of the Lakeland Little League squad that played in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Orioles in 1959, Powell quickly made his way to the majors. He led the International League in home runs in 1961 and made his major league debut that September.

The next season he became the starting leftfielder for the Birds and was an important reason the Orioles were steadily moving from perennial doormat to contender in the American League. Powell blasted 25 home runs in 1963 and the following season hit 39 homers and led the American League with a .606 slugging percentage despite playing in only 134 games due to a broken wrist.

In 1965 Powell moved to first base and for the next decade his soft hands helped make infielders Davey Johnson, Mark Belanger, Luis Aparicio, Bobby Grich and Brooks Robinson regular Gold Glove recipients. Despite the presence of so many Gold Glovers in the Orioles infield, and the fact that Powell posted a better fielding percentage than the league’s Gold Glove first baseman on several occasions, he never won a Gold Glove.

The 1966 season proved to be a breakout year for Powell and the Orioles. Baltimore won the American League Pennant for the first time and then defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to claim the World Series title. Powell finished third in the voting for Most Valuable Player (behind Frank and Brooks) after hitting 34 home runs and driving in 109 runs.

The 1969 season began a six year stretch during which the Orioles reached three World Series and won five AL East titles. Powell set a career high with 121 RBI in 1969 and finished second in the AL MVP voting. The following season he blasted 35 home runs and drove in 114 runs to earn AL MVP honors as the Orioles won their second World Series title.


The 1971 season saw Powell’s numbers drop slightly to 22 home runs and 92 RBI, but he earned his fourth straight All-Star appearance. Injuries started to catch up with Powell over the next three seasons as he hit 21 home runs in 1972 and then a combined total of only 23 home runs during the next two seasons.

The Orioles parted ways with their popular first baseman following the 1974 season as he was traded to Cleveland for journeyman catcher Dave Duncan. The move reinvigorated Powell as he was reunited with his former teammate Frank Robinson, who was the player-manager for the Indians. Returning to the everyday lineup for the first time in three years, Powell responded with his best season since winning the MVP Award. He hit .297 with 27 home runs and 86 runs batted in while finishing third in the league in slugging percentage.

That proved to be Powell’s final productive season as he hit only nine home runs during the 1976 season before being released by the Indians during the 1977 spring training. He saw limited action as a pinch hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977, but was released late in the season.

While Powell’s play on the field was outstanding, the key to his great popularity was his status as a “gentle giant” of the game. Known for his sense of humor and fan-friendly attitude, Powell was a beloved figure in Baltimore and across baseball. That larger-than-life personality made Powell a popular figure in a number of Miller Lite television commercials following his retirement. When the Orioles opened their new Orioles Park at Camden Yards in 1992, it made perfect sense that Powell would play an important role in setting the atmosphere of baseball’s best park. A trip to the stadium isn’t complete without a visit to “Boog’s Barbeque.”

Though his career numbers (339 home runs, 1,187 RBIs, .266 batting average) aren’t worthy of consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the accomplishments and personality of Boog Powell should never be forgotten.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dean Hybl is the founder of Sports Then and Now, a site dedicated to looking at the current sports world while also regularly taking walks down memory lane by remembering great players, teams, events, moments and games from the history of sports. Be sure and “like” Sports Then and Now on Facebook and also follow them on Twitter.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Loved the article - Growing up Boog was also my favorite - great guy.