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Catching Up With ... Former Orioles second baseman Bobby Grich

The handsome black mustache, once the talk of baseball, is gone.

"Too many gray hairs were popping in," Bobby Grich said. Last year, knee surgery robbed him of half of his cartilage. But his physical woes stop there.

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"All of my other parts are in gear," said Grich, 66, a onetime Orioles second baseman. He skis in Idaho and plays golf in California, where his home hugs the fairway of the sixth hole of a course in Coto de Caza.

"The green is 80 yards from my door, so I know every break on it," he said. "On the other hand, if I'm playing a round and mess up out there, lack of familiarity is no excuse."

Preparedness has always been Grich's forte. It won him win four Gold Gloves (1973-1976) as an Oriole. He studied hitters, calculated outcomes and flagged down scorchers that other second basemen could only wave at.

Three times as an Oriole, Grich handled more than 900 chances, a feat surpassed in history by only one second baseman — Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski. Moreover, Grich's total of 484 putouts in 1974 is the most at his position since the big leagues started handing out Gold Gloves in 1957.

He was part of the Orioles' lockdown infield of the time. For three years (1973-1975) Grich, shortstop Belanger and third baseman Robinson all won Gold Gloves. And the Orioles won two division championships.

"Nobody put more effort into defense than I did," Grich said. "One year [1973] I made five errors, and I remember every one. I was never satisfied. When you're around players like Brooks and Frank [Robinson], you try to push yourself to their level — and they set the bar pretty high."

Grich's secret? For one thing, he consumed honey. Lots of it.

"On the way to the ballpark, I'd stop at a farm stand in Jacksonville, get three or four quart tin cans of raw honey and keep it in my locker," he said. "In the humid summer months, I'd go into the clubhouse in the second, fifth and seventh innings, and glug that honey. It helped tremendously to beat the heat."

Offensively, Grich blossomed into one of the top power-hitting second basemen of his day. He batted .262 over seven years with Baltimore, hit a team-high 19 home runs in 1974 and was the first Oriole to hit three homers in one game at Memorial Stadium.

Grich left the Orioles in 1976, at the dawn of baseball's free agency, and signed a five-year deal with the California Angels worth about $1.5 million. He starred for the Angels for 10 more years.

"The Orioles offered me a decent [$1.2 million] contract, and the Yankees offered $2.2 million," he said, "but my dream was to play for the Angels, and in front of my parents."

Nowadays, the six-time All-Star works both in sales for a title insurance company and for the Angels in community relations. Golf is a passion. Years ago, Grich determined to play each of the top 100 courses in America as ranked by Golf Digest in 1989. Last year, at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, he completed the task.

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"When I set my mind to do something, I like to make it happen," he said.

Though touted by some for the Hall of Fame, Grich calls it a long shot.

"I had some great numbers, but I truly don't think I was of that caliber," he said. "Historically, there hasn't been much credence given to defense, which is often overlooked. Also, I never did much in All-Star or playoff games, which would have helped my case. Nothing I did on a national stage had any notoriety."

Except for the time Grich poured a beer on former President Richard Nixon's head.

"We [the Angels] were celebrating our first division championship in 1979 in the locker room when who shows up but owner Gene Autry and Nixon, his friend," Grich said. "They stood by the door a while, laughing and watching the champagne spray fly; then they walked toward us.

"Well, we'd run out of champagne, so I grabbed a can of Budweiser, went over and said, 'Mr. Nixon, this Bud's for you.' I poured it on him and the beer splashed down his forehead and shot right out over his ski nose."

The photo made the front page of newspapers nationwide.

Six years later, Grich said, the Angels were in New York to play the Yankees when Nixon barged into the clubhouse with his Secret Service entourage.

"In this big booming voice, Nixon said, 'Where's Grich? Get over here!' So I walked over sheepishly to make my apology," Grich said. "He put his arm around me and said, 'Bobby, I got more good press from you pouring that beer over my head than my staff ever got for me.' And we had a good chuckle."

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