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Sports Then and Now

Al Bumbry: From Bronze Star to AL Rookie of the Year

Posted on May 31, 2021 by Dean Hybl

The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month won a Bronze Star in Vietnam before going on to win American League Rookie of the Year honors and playing 14 seasons in the Major Leagues.

Though only 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, Al Bumbry was a four-year basketball player at Virginia State College (now University). The school restarted its baseball program during his career and Bumbry hit .578 during his senior season to earn notice from the Baltimore Orioles, who picked him in the 11th round of the MLB Draft.

Bumbry began his professional career playing 35 games in 1969 for the Orioles Single A team in Stockton, California.

Because he had been in the ROTC at Virginia State, Bumbry began serving a two-year tenure in the US Army in July 1969. Bumbry served as a platoon leader in Vietnam and received the Bronze Star Medal.

He returned to the Orioles system in 1971 and quickly advanced from Single A to the majors. He appeared in nine games for the Orioles in September 1972 before earning a full-time position for the 1973 season.

After playing sparingly for the first month, Bumbry moved into the lineup batting leadoff and playing various outfield positions. He proved to be a consistent table-setter as he batted .337 and led the AL with 11 triples to earn the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Though he would never again match his rookie batting average, Bumbry spent the next decade as the primary leadoff hitter for the Orioles. With perennial Gold Glove centerfielder Paul Blair on the roster, Bumbry played primarily in the corner outfield spots until moving to centerfield in 1976.

He finished 7th in the AL in batting during the 1977 season and then after an injury-plagued 1978 campaign was a key performer as the Orioles posted the best record in baseball and reached the World Series in 1979.

The 1980 season would prove to be the best of his career as Bumbry finished third in the AL with 118 runs scored and ninth in batting average at .318. He also was named to the All-Star team for the first time and finished 13th in the AL MVP voting.

By the 1983 season Bumbry was splitting time in centerfield with John Shelby, but the duo combined to be a key component of a Baltimore squad that won the AL East and reached the World Series. Bumbry had only two hits in the postseason, but the Orioles went on to claim their first World Series title since 1970.

Bumbry became a free agent following the 1984 season and completed his career with one season as a member of the San Diego Padres.

He completed his MLB career with a .281 batting average, 1,422 hits, 778 runs scored, 220 doubles, 54 home runs, 52 triples, 402 RBI and 254 stolen bases. Bumbry was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

After his playing career, Bumbry served as a major league coach for the Orioles, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.

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