Catching Up With ... former Oriole Ron Hansen

From time to time in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening 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 ..."

He was tall and rangy, with soft, sure hands and a schnozz that earned him the nickname "The Horn."

At 6-foot-3, the Orioles’ Ron Hansen towered over most shortstops of the day. And Hansen’s success half a century ago gave the nod to bigger men who’d later fill his shoes, guys like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.

Has it been 50 years since Hansen broke in with a bang in Baltimore, earned a starting berth on the All-Star team and was named American League Rookie of the Year – the first Oriole so honored?

"I was blessed," said Hansen, 71. "People my size weren’t supposed to play shortstop, but I lasted 15 years.

"I was never a fast guy, as my records show (9 stolen bases lifetime), but my first couple of steps were good and my lateral movement was quick."

That Hansen played alongside Brooks Robinson surely helped his game. Manager Paul Richards called the two youngsters his "sliding doors" because few balls trickled through the left side of the Orioles’ infield in 1960, when the "Baby Birds" nearly won a pennant.

"What a year that was," said Hansen, who batted .255 with a team-high 22 home runs and 86 RBIs. He also got three hits in the All-Star games (there were two contests that season).

"Everything just seemed to fall into place that year," he said. "Brooks and I and (pitchers) Chuck Estrada and Skinny Brown lived in a rooming house on Chestnut Hill Ave., near Memorial Stadium. Every day we’d walk to the ballpark, signing autographs as we went."

In early September, the upstart Orioles swept three games from first-place New York to take the AL lead, but later that month dropped four straight to the Yankees to fall from grace.

"We probably could have won a couple of those games with timely base hits, but . . . the Yankees were the Yankees," Hansen said.

The season over, Hansen reported for National Guard duty at Fort Knox, Ky. It was there, during basic training, that he learned he’d won Rookie of the Year honors.

"I was called into the (base) office and told of the award," he said. No big deal.

"The army didn’t follow sports too well," said Hansen.

He spent two more years with Baltimore, then was dealt to Chicago in a multi-player deal that brought shortstop Luis Aparicio from the White Sox. Hansen retired in 1972, a pretty long run for a guy wracked with back problems all his life.

He settled in Baldwin, in northern Baltimore County, on a lot he’d bought during his rookie campaign. Hansen stayed in baseball for much of his life, as a major league coach and scout, until retiring last season.

Married 50 years, Hansen has two children, three grandchildren and a few keepsakes that are dear to his heart. Like the bat signed by every member of the 1960 AL All-Star team, from Mickey Mantle to Ted Williams.

"I was never much of a collector," he said. "But that’s something I’ll always cherish."

He’s still best friends with Robinson. They spent a day together last week at Laurel Park, watching the races and reliving old times.

While Robinson is a Hall of Famer, Hansen is proud that his glove, at least, is on display at Cooperstown. In 1968, while playing for the Washington Senators, Hansen turned an unassisted triple play, one of 15 in big league history.

"I wasn’t a Hall of Fame player, but I’m pleased that some part of me is up there," he said. "It’s a good thing to tell the grandkids."

Baltimore Sun photo credits: Top - Hansen is held up by outfielders Gene Woodling (left) and Jackie Brandt after a game-winning hit May 30, 1960 against the Boston Red Sox. Bottom - Hansen poses for a photo May 7, 1977.

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