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Clutch Clint Courtney collected cattle, made catching an adventure with O's

Call them flakes, misfits or screwballs. They are athletes whose offbeat antics mystify teammates and fascinate fans and, over three centuries, Baltimore has been blessed with its share. The Baltimore Sun is counting down The Daffy Dozen, the 12 most memorable characters in the city's sports lore. Today's oddball, No. 6, is former Orioles catcher Clint Courtney, who played for the team in 1954, 1960 and 1961.

The first home run at Memorial Stadium was hit by a bowlegged, balding, myopic, tobacco-chewing Louisiana farmboy. But that homer isn't why teammates remember Clint Courtney, who was as zany off the diamond as on it.

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Courtney bought cattle during the Orioles' midwestern road trips, visiting the stockyards in Chicago and Kansas City to fatten his 600-acre spread back home.

"Clint would stomp around in that cow manure, wearing his only suit, then come straight to the park," shortstop Ron Hansen once said. "The stink didn't bother him."

Courtney drove a Cadillac and thought nothing of sharing it with livestock.

"I rode with Clint once," pitcher Dick Hall said. "It was like being in a barn."

On the road, he seldom changed clothes and, when bored, lay on his bed and spit at the ceiling. Roommates came and always went. But all admired his grit in the clutch. He battled pitchers to the end and rarely struck out — seven times in 1954, or once every 56.7 at bats, still an Orioles record.

"Scrap Iron," they called the 5-foot-8 Courtney, who never backed down from a fight — or won one.

Terribly nearsighted, he was the first big league catcher to wear glasses, which made him look like "a frog looking up through a 50-pound block of ice," slugger Boog Powell said. Watching him field foul pops was a sight. Seeing Courtney circle under the ball, reporters likened him to a waiter serving pizza on roller skates.

"Clint really struggled with pop-ups," shortstop Billy Hunter told The Sun in 2004. "Finally, he decided that instead of waiting for the ball to come down, he would jump up in the air and meet it.

"I guess he thought that if he didn't catch it, he'd get another chance before it hit the ground."

Twice traded by the Orioles, Courtney kept coming back. For a time in 1960, he seemed to forget how to return the ball to his pitcher.

"He had this mental block where he couldn't get the ball to the mound," pitcher Jack Fisher said. "So Clint would either throw to third base or walk halfway to the mound and lob it back."

Courtney also struggled to throw out base runners until the Orioles discovered he was throwing sliders that handcuffed his fielders.

Courtney died of a heart attack at 48 while playing pingpong.

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