Joe Altobelli, Detroit prep star who managed Orioles to 1983 World Series title, dies at 88

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

One of his best attributes is that he wasn't Earl Weaver.

Joe Altobelli, who grew up in Detroit and was a star three-sports athlete before going onto a long career in professional baseball and managing the Baltimore Orioles to the 1983 World Series championship, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Altobelli died at home in Rochester, New York, where he was a legend, with multiple stints and roles with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.

Joe Altobelli grew up in Detroit and played at Eastern High School. He died Wednesday at 88.

Altobelli spent 11 years managing the Red Wings, who then were the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, before he succeeded the fiery Weaver in 1983. 

Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer called Altobelli "very compassionate and sensitive compared to most managers," and said Weaver, "isn't all that compassionate and sensitive even compared to most chain-gang wardens."

On Opening Day in 1983, Altobelli even addressed the comparisons between the two, saying, according to an obituary in the Baltimore Sun, "It's like when my wife gets loud in an argument. I tell her, 'Just because you're loud, it doesn't mean you're right."

With a lineup led by slugger Eddie Murray and shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., and a pitching staff of Scott McGregor, Storm Davis, Mike Boddicker, Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan and Palmer, the 1983 Orioles finished 98-64, winning the American League East by six games over the Tigers. They beat the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, in the ALCS, and the Philadelphia Phillies in five games in the World Series. 

Altobelli is one of nine men since 1980 to lead a team to a World Series title in his first year on the job, joining Lou Piniella (1990 Cincinnati Reds), Joe Torre (1996 New York Yankees), Jim Leyland (1997 Florida Marlins), Bob Brenley (2001 Arizona Diamondbacks), Jack McKeon (2003 Marlins), Terry Francona (2004 Boston Red Sox), John Farrell (2013 Red Sox) and Alex Cora (2018 Red Sox).

Baltimore was 85-77 the following season, but never had a chance in the AL East against the eventual World Series champions from his hometown of Detroit.

He was fired early in the 1985 season, and Weaver got his old job back, albeit briefly. The Orioles haven't won a World Series since 1983.

Altobelli previously managed the San Francisco Giants for three seasons — they were 89-73 in his second season — and he managed one game for the Chicago Cubs in 1991 after his boss, Don Zimmer, was fired.

For his major-league managerial career, he was ejected 18 times, compared to Weaver's 96.

Altobelli, or "Alto," also had multiple stints coaching with the New York Yankees, in their system and in the major leagues.

He spent nearly 60 years in professional baseball, including as a player after signing as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians out of Detroit Eastern High School. A first baseman, he batted .210 with five home runs and 28 RBIs in parts of three seasons with the Indians and Minnesota Twins. He had an 18-year minor-league career that included stints in the systems of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, before he finally turned to coaching.

Born in Detroit in 1932, Altobelli played baseball, basketball and football at Eastern High School, located at the intersection of  Mack Avenue and East Grand Boulevard. The school moved in the 1960s and now is known as Detroit Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School. He was all-city in Detroit.

He was preceded in death by Patsy, wife of 52 years, and is survived by partner Michele DiGaetano, and six children; Mike, Mark, Jody, Jackie, Jerry and Joe. 

A celebration of life is scheduled this summer at Frontier Field in Rochester, home of the Red Wings, for whom, during different stints, he played, managed, served as GM and was even the team's broadcaster. Altobelli retired in 2009. There's a statue of him at the field, and he's known as "Mr. Baseball" in Rochester.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984