A native of Key West—the place where Pan Am began, the U.S.S. Maine sailed from on its last journey before exploding in Havana Harbor, and Ernest Hemingway maintained a legendary home—John Wesley Powell, also known as Boog, spent most of his 17-season career in an Orioles uniform. One of those seasons—1970—resulted in him winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Powell ran away with the MVP voting, gaining 11 of 24 first-place votes and 234 points. The next four contestants weren’t even close:
- Tony Oliva, Minnesota Twins (157)
- Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins (152)
- Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (136)
- Frank Howard, Washington Senators (91)
Memorial Stadium rocked with the cheers of Oriole Nation as Powell marched toward the coveted .300 batting average barrier, falling just short at .297. Powell’s dominance at the plate reflected in 35 home runs, 114 RBI, and a .549 slugging percentage.
It was a banner year for Baltimore’s birds—they won the World Series after getting upset by the Miracle Mets in 1969. Powell’s fellow Orioles did not fare as well with awards, despite outstanding seasons. Baltimore’s legendary pitching staff boasted three 20-game winners—Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer scored in the top five for the American League Cy Young Award voting, but got eclipsed by Jim Perry of the Twins.
Powell said, “I think it’s a shame we were neglected for the other awards. All of our three pitchers certainly deserved the Cy Young. But I’m still elated at being chosen the MVP. I feel it’s the highest honor in sports.”
Yankee skipper Ralph Houk won the American League Manager of the Year title rather than Earl Weaver, who helmed the O’s to two straight World Series. A third consecutive appearance happened against the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’71—ultimately a losing affair in seven games.
Cheers, an NBC prime time powerhouse in the 1980s, used Powell to cement verisimilitude of Sam “Mayday” Malone—a fictional relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, a recovering alcoholic, and the owner of Cheers. As the show’s theme song declares, Cheers is a bar, near the Boston Commons, where everybody knows your name.
In the first season episode “Sam at Eleven,” Sam’s former ballplayer pal Dave Richards, now a sportscaster, wants to interview the ex-Red Sox reliever at Cheers. Sam talks about a dramatic moment when he faced Powell in the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader. During the middle of Sam’s story, Dave abandons for an interview with John McEnroe. Diane Chambers, an intellectual waitress having an undercurrent of highly significant sexual tension with Sam, which gets resolved in a later episode when they succumb to their respective differences—he, a dumb jock stereotype and she, a condescending sort—asks what happened to “the Boog person” and Sam, obviously suffering from a punch to his ego, casually tells her that Powell grounded to third to end the game.
After some gentle and not-so-gentle verbal prodding from Diane, Sam talks about the injury to his psyche. Then, perhaps in a moment of catharsis, he tells Diane about the end of the second game, which also found him facing Powell in the bottom of the ninth.
Sam’s story could not have taken place during Powell’s MVP year, however. When Cheers left prime time in 1993, after 11 seasons, Sports Illustrated ran a biography of America’s favorite barkeep. “Everybody Knows His Name” recounted Malone’s career based on dialogue throughout the series. Sam Malone entered professional baseball in 1966, débuted in the major leagues in 1972, and ended his career in 1978.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 15, 2016.