SAN FRANCISCO -- Until Brooks Robinson established himself, Gus Triandos was Orioles baseball -- an All-Star who hit the ball a mile, ran so slow that they used a calendar timing him to first base, set an American League record for home runs by a catcher and had a street in Timonium named for him.
Sitting down for lunch at a bar in the San Francisco neighborhood where he grew up, Triandos, who will turn 64 on July 30, smiles a lot when he talks about his days in Baltimore. He seems touched -- and amazed -- that so many people here remember him fondly.
"I wish I could look back and say I was a great player," he says. "I'm grateful for what I got, but I certainly wished I could have been a lot better. I had a few fair years, that was the extent of it."
Maybe Triandos could have been a better player. But for a young Baltimore team that had been back in the major leagues only a year when he was traded from the New York Yankees before the 1955 season, he was plenty good enough.
In 1955, Triandos hit .277 with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs. The following year, he batted .279, hitting 21 homers and driving in 88 runs. His best power year came in 1958, when he hit 30 homers -- an American League record until 1985 -- was selected to play in the All-Star Game at Memorial Stadium and received the Most Valuable Oriole Award.
In eight seasons with the Orioles, Triandos had 517 RBIs, batted .249 and collected 142 homers -- including one inside-the-park job at Memorial Stadium, against the Boston Red Sox, that was something to see.
Triandos probably would have had to settle for a double had Jimmy Piersall not stood laughing while Ted Williams, 41, chased the ball.
"That's the one he chased around the gosh-darned fence," Triandos recalls with a belly laugh. "I always end that story with a flourish. I say, 'I went in standing up!' "
"I didn't retire. I was fired in '65," Triandos says. "I was expecting it by then. I had a bad back, bad knees."
After stints as as a bartender, liquor-store owner, discount-store manager and part-time scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gus started Diamond Mail Delivery in San Jose, picking up mail at the post office and delivering it to business clients. He lives in San Jose with his wife of 42 years, Evelyn; his son and two daughters help him run the business. He's also a doting grandfather five times over.
"When I played, I didn't make the money players do now," Gus says, sounding like the small-business man he is. "When players go on a spending spree now, they spend more than I made in an entire year.