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Catching Up With Gus Triandos

Each Tuesday in the Toy Department, veteran Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's going on in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With ..." Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ..."

The weathered metal street sign hangs atop the wet bar in his home, a green-and-white reminder of his baseball years in Baltimore. "Triandos Drive," it reads.

"That is my favorite memento," said Gus Triandos, 78, onetime Orioles slugger. Half a century later, he remains one of only three players to have a road named for him (with Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, Jr.).

A burly, brooding, slow-footed catcher, Triandos was the Orioles’ first power hitter – the favorite of fans when he rattled the fences and the goat when he didn’t. But the three-time All Star accomplished enough that in 1962, when he moved into a new development in Timonium, a street there took his name.

"Some years ago, they replaced the street sign and mailed the old one to me," said Triandos, of San Jose, Cal. "It’s one of my few (keepsakes). I didn’t save much stuff over the years. I never wanted to be in situations where I had to bore guests with my exploits."

In a 13-year career – eight with the Orioles – Triandos caught two no-hitters, hit 30 home runs in one season (then an American League record for catchers) and won the sympathies of fans for his ballyhooed efforts to handle the elusive offerings of knuckleball pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm.

Finally, the Orioles developed an oversized mitt to help Triandos capture Wilhelm’s knucklers.

"Hoyt’s was an amazing pitch. It waved at you as it went by," Triandos said. "Catching him wasn’t a great deal of fun."

In 1958, when Wilhelm no-hit New York’s AL champs, 1-0, Triandos’ 425-foot clout in the seventh inning won it.

"Catching Hoyt was such a miserable experience, I just wanted to end the game," he said.

An Oriole from 1955 through 1962, Triandos hit 142 home runs for Baltimore, many in cavernous Memorial Stadium which was more spacious early on than later. At 6 feet 3 and 215 pounds, fans thought him aptly named: Gus Triandos, a rugged Greek with a brawny look and a plodding gait.

He still derides his lack of speed.

"They called me the slowest player of the decade," he said, "but it was more like the century. Of course, I thought I was runnin’ like hell – except that the scenery didn’t pass by too fast."

Once he hit an inside-the-park home run against Boston, chugging around the bases as Hall of Famer Ted Williams chased the ball through the outfield.

"I scored standing up," Triandos said proudly. "Winded? Sure. I wasn’t used to stuff like that."

He also stole one base, against Yankees catcher Darrell Johnson on the final day of the 1958 season.

"I went in standing up on that one, too," Triandos said. "Johnson never got over that."

Dealt to Detroit in 1962, he bounced around the majors for a while. In 1964, Triandos caught Hall of Famer Jim Bunning’s no-hitter for Philadelphia.

After baseball, he moved to California and started a mail delivery business. Now retired, Triandos lives in a trailer park with Evelyn, his wife of 57 years. A great-grandfather, he is fighting a leg infection that has kept him in bed for two weeks.

"I think I’m mildewing," he said. "Whoever said that getting old is beautiful was full of it."

Photos: Sun file photo by Richard Stacks (top); Sun file photo by Joe DiPaola, Jr. (bottom)

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