The last man to lead the Orioles to a World Series championship nearly 40 years ago has died.
Joe Altobelli, manager of the 1983 team that defeated Philadelphia in five games to win the third world championship in club history, died Wednesday of natural causes at age 88. He was beloved as “Mr. Baseball” in Rochester, New York, home of the minor-league Red Wings that served as Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate from 1961-2002. Altobelli managed the Red Wings from 1971-76 — coaching multiple future Orioles standouts in the process — and the San Francisco Giants from 1977-79 before succeeding longtime Orioles manager Earl Weaver after the 1982 season.
Replacing a Hall of Fame skipper brought much pressure, but Altobelli inherited a talented and experienced 1983 club that included three future Hall of Famers and had finished an agonizingly close second to Milwaukee in the AL East the previous year. A warm and calm presence in contrast to the combative Weaver, Altobelli guided Baltimore to a 98-64 record, a sixth AL pennant, and its first World Series title in 13 years with AL MVP Cal Ripken and MVP runner-up Eddie Murray leading the way.
“A tremendous leader, Altobelli’s compassion, skill, and baseball expertise contributed to the Hall of Fame careers of Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, and Cal Ripken Jr.,” the Orioles said in a statement. “We send our sympathies to Altobelli’s family and many friends throughout the game.”
That 1983 success should have positioned Altobelli for a longer tenure as Baltimore skipper, but an aging roster and a tapped-out farm system contributed to an 85-77 record and fifth-place finish in the AL East in 1984. Underwhelming results continued in 1985 as owner Edward Bennett Williams — who allegedly referred to the manager as “cement head” — fired Altobelli in June after a 29-26 start and brought back Weaver, who would lead the declining Orioles to a 126-141 record through the following season before retiring for good. Altobelli’s hasty dismissal foreshadowed what would become of a once-proud franchise that owns just 10 winning seasons and five trips to the postseason since 1985.
Upon being fired by the Orioles, Altobelli served as a major league coach for several more years before returning to Rochester to serve as general manager of the Red Wings and eventually settling into a radio broadcast role for their games. He is a member of the Red Wings Hall of Fame and the International League Hall of Fame and played three seasons in the major leagues with Cleveland and Minnesota, hitting .210 in 290 career plate appearances.