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Catching up with former Orioles reliever Eddie Watt

By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

4:24 PM EDT, May 1, 2011

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Eddie Watt lives in peaceful anonymity, in a speck of a town in Nebraska, where the talk is of crops and cows and Cornhusker football. The Orioles? Not a word.

Many in North Bend (pop. 1,200) don't know there's a celebrant in their midst. Mention that Watt, 70, a longtime resident, owns two World Series rings and they'd scratch their heads and say, "Eddie What?"

Watt likes it there. After 42 years in baseball — including eight with the Orioles (1966-73) as a bullpen ace — he retired in 2003 and left the game behind. Nowadays, the man with the third-best career ERA in Orioles history (2.73) spends his time bass fishing in the Platte River, golfing and playing cards with the local elders.

Mornings find Watt at the senior center near his home, seated with a roomful of grey-haired women and playing a mean game of bridge.

"My partner [Marcella Pallett] is 96 and sharp as a tack," Watt said.

Has it been half a century since Watt signed with the Orioles, and 45 years since he helped the club win a championship in 1966? A rookie that season, Watt won nine games and saved four more as the Birds ran off with the American League flag and then swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

Watt had set the tone on Opening Day, earning a save in a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox. There was the pudgy, fastballing right-hander, making his first big-league appearance and nursing a one-run lead in the 13th inning. He retired the side easily, getting slugger George Scott, Tony Horton and Rico Petrocelli in order.

"That [game] fulfilled my childhood fantasy," Watt said.

During his time here, he won 37 games and saved 74 as Baltimore won four AL pennants. He shined in 1969, going 5-2 with a career-high 16 saves and an eye-popping 1.65 ERA.

Watt fit nicely in the Orioles' relief corps, an eclectic bunch that included the likes of Stu Miller, Dick (Turkey Neck) Hall, Pete Richert, knuckleballer Eddie Fisher and prankster Moe Drabowsky.

"I was there when Moe put goldfish in the bullpen's drinking water, and when he called Peking on the bullpen phone to order Chinese takeout food," Watt said. "Moe was forever bringing snakes around, and I was one of the few guys who didn't mind draping the boas and rat snakes around my neck. It freaked the others out."

The low point of his career? The catcalls Watt received after surrendering a game-winning home run in the 1970 World Series. The Birds won the Series, four games to one, but fans wanted a sweep and felt Watt had blown it.

For three years, until he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1973, Watt said he was booed routinely whenever he walked to the mound at Memorial Stadium. Crowds were unforgiving.

"It [sniping] didn't bother me as much as it did my kids," he said. "They were small; they didn't understand."

Ironically, Watt allowed only 37 home runs in his 10-year career — an average of one homer for every 18 innings pitched. He was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2000.

"That," he said, "was a pleasant surprise."

Watt spent three decades as a minor league coach with the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Phillies and San Diego Padres. Married 38 years, he has three children, five grandkids and a wife who doesn't mind him hanging out mornings with the Golden Girls.

He is 85 pounds heavier than his playing weight (180) but "in moderately good health" despite having had both knees and a shoulder replaced. Arthritis in his hands keeps Watt from wearing his World Series rings.

"If I had it to do over, I'd make a conscious effort to take better care of myself," said Watt, who declared himself an alcoholic 23 years ago. He vowed to quit drinking and said he hasn't had a drop since.

"I drank a lot as a player, though I never missed a day's work. I just stopped [boozing] on my own," he said. "But I'll still go into a bar here in town and have a Pepsi."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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