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Remembering the Day the Athletics Met the Queen of England

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillips took in a game on May 15, 1991 in Baltimore along with President Bush and the First Lady. It made for a crazy day, and not one that those who experienced it would soon forget.

Reggie Jackson had just one spoken line in the 1988 comedy “The Naked Gun.’

The Hall of Fame slugger, then playing with the Angels, portrayed himself as a player who was programmed to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II in a game against the Seattle Mariners. “I must kill … the Queen,” Jackson says to the actress made up to look like the Queen.

He did no such thing, of course, as Leslie Nielsen thwarts him.

Three years later, Jackson was in his first Major League job as a coach, back in Oakland. It was on this day that year that he came face-to-face with the real Queen.

President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, brought Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip to their first Major League game, with the A’s playing the Orioles in the old Memorial Stadium.

There was security like you wouldn’t believe, including bulletproof glass on the field during the pregame introductions, but the Queen was in no danger from Jackson or anyone else.

Tony La Russa, the A’s manager at the time, recalls that he was excited to meet the Queen, but not as much as his wife, Elaine, and his daughters, Devon and Bianca. They flew across the country simply to be there for a special private pregame reception.

“Elaine is a big history buff, and London is her favorite city in the world, so she was ready,” La Russa said Friday. “More than anything, I was really excited for our girls. They were excited beyond belief. To this day, they talk about what a special experience it was.”

Bianca La Russa, at 11 three years older than her sister, described the meeting with the Queen to the San Jose Mercury News that day.

“She was really kind of calm and really serene,” Bianca said. “She asked where we were from and my mom said, ‘California,’ and she said, ‘My, that was a long way.’ She went to my sister and she shook hands and said, ‘Nice to meet you.’ My sister was giggling. It was very inspiring.”

Elaine La Russa would say later that the chance to meet Babe Ruth wouldn’t have gotten her daughters to Baltimore that day, but the chance to meet the Queen obviously would.

The Baltimore Sun described the day this way: “Her Majesty, the Queen of England, her most prim, her most proper, stepped into Memorial Stadium to mix it up at an O’s game. She waved that little wavette of hers, and the crowd stood, whistled, cheered and, of course, pulled out cameras and binoculars that were more abundant last night than baseball caps.”

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As for Jackson, the man who was so often the center of attention wherever he was, he was just another guy in a uniform getting a chance to shake hands with the Queen of England, who survived the encounter with ease.

Leaving the field, the two couples went to the private box owned by Orioles’ owner Eli Jacobs. They left the stadium after two innings of what would be a 6-3 Oakland victory.

Writing years later in his book Eating My Way Through Baseball, then A’s-trainer Barry Weinberg described the moment as “a crazy day.”

“I was so nervous, standing in line to meet her before the game, worried I’d say or do the wrong thing,” Weinberg wrote. “As I approached her, she reached out her hand for me to shake. I reached back. There I was, with President Bush on one side, Barbara Bush on the other, and I’m shaking hands with the Queen!”

La Russa, never one to let a learning moment slip away, was proud that the A’s were able to get past the glitz and pageantry to win the game.

“Those were great times,” La Russa said. “You know there are certain days each season that if you are not careful, your guys will get caught up in the moment, get distracted and the game will slip away. So, you tell your guys ahead of time, in spring training, that there will be special games that they’ll need to prepare for. Photo Day is one of those, like Family Day and Opening Day.”

This was a day like no other.

“You don’t want to be in the situation where all of a sudden it’s the third or fourth inning and you’re down by four or five runs,” La Russa said. “If you tell them beforehand, then everybody knows. There are going to be disrupted practices, but we always prioritized that we were going to make sure that they knew the day was different, but there was still a game to win.

“That’s when you want your team leaders to step up. And on those teams, we were blessed to have so many leaders – Steiny (Terry Steinbach was getting into it). Carney (Lansford) handled the infield and Water (Weiss) and Gags (Mike Gallego were good that way. (Outfielder) Dave Henderson was a core guy for us, like Stew (Dave Stewart) and Bobby Welch and Eck (Dennis Eckersley) could get into it.”

For that one day in Baltimore, the A’s could have lost their focus. They didn’t. Welch started and got the win. Eckersley, rare for him, entered the game in the eighth inning and got the final four outs for the save. Harold Baines got an RBI single in the first inning, the only run the Queen and the Prince would see before heading out. Lance Blankenship and Vance Law had RBI hits in the sixth. Law would drop down a bunt single in the eighth for the final run.

“I was happy that we went through that, enjoyed it, but didn’t lose our focus,” La Russa said.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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