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. 4, is former Orioles outfielder, infielder and designated hitter John Lowenstein, who played for the team from 1979-1985.
For seven years, he kept the Orioles winning, the crowds happy and the media scratching their heads. Signed for the $20,000 waiver price from the Texas Rangers, John Lowenstein brought left-handed power and a role-playing persona, plus a cockeyed look at baseball — and life.
He'd been here barely a year when, on June 19, 1980, Lowenstein endeared himself to all. Struck on the back of the neck by an errant throw while running the bases, "Brother Lo" collapsed in a heap. Carried off on a stretcher, he abruptly sat bolt upright and raised both fists, Rocky-style. Memorial Stadium went nuts.
"I had it all planned halfway to the dugout," Lowenstein said. "I mean, the game was on cable TV and everything."
He had quick wrists and a quirky wit. A platoon player, Lowenstein hit 24 home runs and batted .320 in 1982 while practicing his swing by smashing birthday cakes in the clubhouse.
"He'd say, 'That [cake] doesn't look good,' then take a bat — and cake went everywhere," teammate Gary Roenicke said.
Lowenstein's clutch hits and fielding — three times, he slammed into an outfield fence making a game-saving catch — led manager Earl Weaver to call his acquisition "the bargain of the decade." His pinch-hit home run in Game 1 of the 1979 American League Championship Series defeated the California Angels. He hit two grand slams to win games in the Orioles' 1983 stretch run. And in that year's World Series, his leaping catch at the fence robbed the Philadelphia Phillies of a home run.
"I don't have to be a star," Lowenstein said, "but it's nice to twinkle a bit."
Teammates began wearing T-shirts that read, "Tonight, Let It Be Lowenstein." The Jewish Times published an interview in which Brother Lo described his bar mitzvah; later, he called the reporter and conceded that he wasn't Jewish.
"It's really nice of John to allow all of us to be part of his world," Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said.
Lowenstein's postgame quips were novel, to wit:
"The problem with this game is that the fielders are standing on the wrong side of the fence."
"Sure I screwed up that sacrifice bunt, but look at it this way. I'm a better bunter than a billion Chinese."
"I flush the toilet between innings to keep my wrists loose."
He retired in 1985, saying, "There's a part of the Smithsonian that I haven't seen yet." And he summed up his 16-year career in typical Lowenstein fashion:
"I've done all right for myself compared to other guys who have done the same things I've done."