It's an old joke, and not a particularly funny one, either.
ßkern2 Its punch line is narrowly focused, but any sports fan who
grew up in or around Baltimore
gets it. Anyone who ever took a
glove to Memorial Stadium or
Camden Yards or a pen and keepsake book to one of those offseason Orioles caravans will smile
softly while reading it.
Countless times in the late
1970s and early 1980s I stood on
my front porch waiting anxiously as my sisters and parents
readied for the drive down Loch
Raven Boulevard toward Memorial Stadium. I'd scream at them
because their tardiness would
make it tough for me to get
And, sure enough, by the time
we made it to our seats, the
players almost always had retreated to the clubhouse until
the first pitch. Yet one man in
uniform would remain near the
mesh screen around home plate
satisfying all of the latecomers,
acting as the consolation prize
for missing out on a Murray or a
Palmer or a Ripken.
It didn't really matter that he
was at the end of his nondescript 12-year baseball career or,
in later days, was a bullpen
coach, the lowest tier of uniformed personnel.
Elrod "Ellie" Hendricks was an
Oriole. And that was enough for
all of us.
So, like every other kid I knew,
I owned about 100 legible-yet-flashy Hendricks signatures.
You just never tired of huddling
around No. 44 waiting for the
autograph, and maybe the ultimate payoff, a baseball.
By the time I became a sportswriter covering the Orioles, the
hero worship of my youth had
long since expired. The players I
had idolized as a kid were just
old men now, human beings
and not baseball-playing gods.
That's when my new appreciation for Elrod arose. Yes, he was
one of Baltimore's favorite sons,
a gracious ambassador for the
game and the organization. But I
also learned he had an edge, one
the kids who leaned over the Memorial Stadium railing never witnessed. One that was evident
once you were in the clubhouse.
Elrod was hilarious. He would
say anything at any time. It
didn't matter who was within
earshot. He wasn't afraid of offending anyone - and he seemingly never did. He got away with
things others never would have
because he was the incomparable Elrod. There wasn't a curse
word in Spanish or English he
didn't know or wouldn't use. He
would even make up his own
profane phrases and deliver
them with a booming laugh that
could make a blushing nun
But he was more than just a
wisecracking character. He was a
dedicated community man who
gave of his money and time to
generations of Baltimore children. He was their baseball instructor and, for many underprivileged kids at the Orioles' annual Christmas party, he was
their Santa Claus.
He also was a walking history of
baseball in general and the Orioles in particular. For decades he
was the club's eyes and ears, and
its perfect mouthpiece.
Ask him who was the best
teammate he ever had and he'd
snap, "Frank Robinson" without
hesitation. Ask him who was his
favorite Oriole of all-time and
he'd struggle, because he loved
so many of those guys: Frank and
Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell,
Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken. And,
of course, Eddie Murray. No one
was closer to the enigmatic Murray than Hendricks.
Elrod could tell you stories to explain why Murray was misunderstood. He could tell you stories
about an 8-year-old Rafael Palmeiro running onto the spring training field in Miami to snag baseballs for his brothers. He could tell
you stories about playing for Earl
Weaver and Billy Martin and the
insanity that ensued.
He would also tell you how
baseball and its players have
changed. How there is a lesser
sense of camaraderie, both in the
stands and in the clubhouse.
Most of today's players, he felt,
took the fans for granted. They
also didn't cherish their teammates the way they should. He
blamed technology, such as video
games, TVs and CD players, as
much as free agency for the
chasm in today's clubhouses.
"You see," he once said in a professorial manner, "when there
were rain delays when I played,
everyone would sit in the dugout
and tell stories. You'd have
coaches and players telling great
baseball stories. Now, these guys
play their video games or listen
to music on headsets and don't
That's why nearly every time it
rained before games in Baltimore, you could find Elrod sitting in the dugout, twirling a bat
and holding court for whoever
trickled by. Occasionally, I'd find
myself there, listening and
laughing to this .220 lifetime hitter whose kindness and personality made him into a team legend.
To a man, from owner Peter
Angelos to executive vice president Mike Flanagan to manager
Sam Perlozzo, everyone understands what Hendricks meant to
this franchise and city.
Hopefully, the club soon will announce the retirement of Hendricks' No. 44, allowing him to
join Murray and the Robinsons,
Palmer, Ripken and Weaver in
that honored group.
On the day of that ceremony,
there surely will be plenty of men
and women in the stands telling
their kids about Hendricks. Not
about the player so much as the
man in the shin guards who gave
them their first autograph.
And their 10th and 15th and
20th, too. And how they always
went back for more.
Because he was an Oriole. But,
mostly, because he was Elrod.
From Friday's Sun
A character with class, Elrod never failed the fans
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