02/10/11 10:00 AM EST
Bumbry treasures connection to Baltimore
Former O's star reflects on integration, shares excitement for son
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
It's not his individual accolades -- which include winning the 1973 American League Rookie of the Year Award and making an All-Star Game appearance in '80 -- or his two World Series trips with Baltimore, in '79 and '83.
Bumbry's most precious memory involving the Orioles didn't take place inside the lines of a baseball diamond at all, or even in a ballpark. Rather, it was on the streets of a city that embraced its team, win or lose.
"After we lost the World Series in 1979 to the Pirates, they had a parade for us," Bumbry said. "I couldn't believe all the people who came out to the parade. They showed how much they appreciated us, showed their love and support. You would have thought we won the World Series."
The fans' gesture still brings excitement to Bumbry's voice more than 30 years later as he recounted how welcoming Baltimore was for a young African-American baseball player in the early 1970s.
"[I had a] pretty smooth transition from a discriminatory standpoint," Bumbry said. "I don't feel like I was discriminated [against]. When I first came to the Majors, and having played with Baltimore all those years and having the relationship I had with the fans, I was very comfortable with that."
Born April 21, 1947, in Fredericksburg, Va., Bumbry grew up in a time when African-Americans were just starting to integrate into Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers that same year, and with February being Black History Month, Bumbry took some time to reflect on what led to baseball's full integration.
"I couldn't envision the difficulties [Robinson] had, that he had to endure," Bumbry said, referring to the abuse and backlash from fans and other players that Robinson had to endure.
"The opportunity was there for me to play, and I took advantage of it. When I look back and think about it, the discriminatory things and treatment that [Robinson] received, I can only imagine having to endure the things he did.
"[Robinson's presence] made the baseball world aware that blacks could play the game of baseball."
That game has come full circle for Bumbry, whose son, Steven, was selected by the Orioles in the 12th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Al Bumbry, who retired after spending 1985 with the San Diego Padres, is hopeful that his family's path in professional baseball is just beginning. Steven Bumbry spent last season at Class A Delmarva -- hitting .263 with four homers and 34 RBIs -- and is part of an Orioles Minor League system that has undergone vast improvements in adding young talent.
"I love to watch him play," said Bumbry, who was Baltimore's 11th-round pick in 1968. "There are certain things I know he needs to improve on before getting to the Major Leagues, but the main thing is now he has that opportunity, obviously."
It is an opportunity that Bumbry makes sure his son doesn't take lightly and one that comes from the courage and strength of players like Robinson.
"I'm not so sure I could have done the same he did," Bumbry said. "I'm very grateful that he was able to endure and for him to create that path."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.