Former Orioles catcher Andy Etchebarren, a key member of two World Series-winning teams in Baltimore, died Saturday at age 76, according to reports by Major League Baseball and the York Revolution of the Atlantic League.
Etchebarren played 15 seasons in the major leagues, including the first 12 with the Orioles. He was a member of the Orioles 1966 and 1970 world championship teams. He was the catcher for the final out of the Orioles’ victory over the Dodgers in 1966, famously joining pitcher Dave McNally and third baseman Brooks Robinson in an epic celebration after a surprising sweep of Los Angeles.
“He was a terrific teammate and a good friend of mine,” said Robinson, who last spoke with Etchebarren about a month ago. “He loved the game, and he loved being an Oriole.”
Etchebarren broke into the big leagues with the Orioles in 1962 and became a permanent fixture on the team in 1966, after veteran catcher Dick Brown underwent surgery for a brain tumor. Etchebarren would go on to be named to the American League All-Star team (a feat he repeated in 1967, although he played in neither game) as Baltimore won its first World Series.
One of Etchebarren’s biggest contributions that season came off the field.
At an August team party thrown by a booster in Towson, things got rowdy and players began pushing one another into a pool. As his turn neared, Frank Robinson chose to jump. No one knew he couldn’t swim.
"I saw Frank at the bottom in the deep end, waving his arms, " Etchebarren, who had been sitting poolside, said in a 2006 article in The Sun. “I thought he was messing around, but I dived in and went down to get him.”
When he reached Robinson, the catcher said, “he put such a strong grip on me I had to break free, come up for air and go back down again to get him.”
Etchebarren dragged the slugger, gasping, from the water.
Robinson recovered quickly; he hit two home runs the next game and won the American League and World Series Most Valuable Player awards.
Etchebarren was part of teams that went to the World Series again in 1969, 1970 and 1971 and played for the American League championship in 1973 and 1974 before finishing his career with the California Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers. He retired in 1978.
“The happiest he ever was, I think, was when he hit a three-run homer off of Vida Blue out in Oakland during the playoffs,” Robinson recalled. That seventh-inning homer tied Game 4 of the 1973 American League Championship Series, and the Orioles went ahead to stay when second baseman Bobby Grich hit a solo shot in the eighth. That win tied the series at two games each; Oakland went on to win the fifth and deciding game the next day.
A California native, Etchebarren was known for his defensive abilities, compiling a .235 career batting average with 49 home runs and 309 RBIs. He had one of his best seasons in 1966 when he hit 11 homers with 50 RBIs. He had his best batting average during the Orioles’ dominant run in 1971, batting a career-high .270.
Of the starting eight nonpitchers on the 1970 world championship team, Etchebrarren is the only one not elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame; he split catching duties with Elrod Hendricks, who is a member of the select group.
“We had so many good players on that team, he really didn’t get the recognition that he deserved,” Robinson said. “He caught some great pitching staffs.”
John Wesley “Boog” Powell, a first baseman who played with the Orioles from 1961 through 1974, said Etchebrarren was “a gamer” who “understood the game as well as anybody” and would put his body on the line for the team.
He said that, during one game a foul tip hit Etchebrarren’s hand during a play and, when it was over, the catcher tried to play it off as if nothing was wrong.
“I went over and I said ‘Andy, are you alright?’” Powell said. “There (was) a bone sticking out through the right side of his hand.”
He said that, despite there being a visible bone protruding out of the catcher’s skin, Etchebrarren assured him everything was fine and proceeded to push the bone back into place.
Powell said he had to call the medical staff himself to get them to look at the catcher.
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“As a receiver and as a catcher, he was just a rock,” Powell said.
Outside the ballpark, Powell said Etchebrarren showed his California roots, at one point refusing to eat an oyster despite playing for a team in one of America’s most oyster-rich regions.
“He said ‘I’m not eating that damn thing,’” Powell said, adding that he had to push him to try a salt-water bivalve mollusk for the first time.
“He ate the oyster and, from then on, everywhere we ate we got oysters,” Powell said.
Etchebarren remained in baseball as a coach after his playing days ended. He spent time as manager of the Double-A Bowie Baysox, Short-A Aberdeen IronBirds and the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, all affiliates of the Orioles; in 1996 and 1997, he served as the Orioles’ bench coach. He also managed the unaffiliated York Revolution, guiding them to consecutive Atlantic League championships in 2010 and 2011, before retiring in 2012.