Friday, July 8, 2016

BASEBALL'S DYNASTIES AND THE PLAYERS WHO BUILT THEM Omitted Bios (Chapter 15 Baltimore Orioles 1966-1971)

If you don't live in Baltimore or you're not a fan of baseball trivia, then the chances are you don't know much bout the Orioles of the late-'60s/early-'70s. If you are a trivia buff, then you've undoubtedly encountered the following question before: Who were the four 20-game winners on the 1971 Orioles staff? (ANSWER: Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer and Dave McNally) Despite winning 100 games in three consecutive seasons from 1969-1971, the O's lost two of three World Series. They had one helluva club though and I struggled mightily when it came time to make biographical omissions. In the end, I decided on Ellie Hendricks and Davey Johnson. Hendricks was used as part of a platoon and didn't hit much. Johnson was a tough omission since he won two Gold Gloves and made three All-Star appearances during Baltimore's period of dominance. But his best season came with the Braves in 1973 and he was a lifetime .224 postseason hitter with the Orioles. Both bios are included here.

BEST RECORD: 109-50/ 1969 
HALL OF FAMERS: Earl Weaver (MGR), Brooks Robinson (3B), Frank Robinson (OF), Jim Palmer (P)


Davey Johnson
Second Base
            Johnson was born in Orlando, Florida—the son of an Army lieutenant colonel. He grew up on various military bases, eventually settling in San Antonio, Texas. While playing for Texas A&M University, he caught the attention of scouts, signing with the Orioles. He received a $25,000 bonus.
            Johnson spent a fair amount of time with the O’s in ‘65, getting into twenty games and hitting .170. Despite the poor offensive showing, manager Hank Bauer installed him at second base in place of incumbent Jerry Adair during the ‘66 slate. Johnson made the most of the opportunity, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. He rapped out 4 hits in the first two games of the World Series before going hitless in his next six trips to the plate.  
            Johnson continued his college education while playing for the Orioles and developed an intricate knowledge of baseball. He reportedly entered various lineups into a computer at Trinity College to determine which batting order was ideal for the O’s. Demonstrating the skills that would later make him a successful manager, he was known to offer bits of strategy to Oriole pitchers during games.
            A five-time All-Star, Johnson had more than one good season as a power-hitter. He finished among the top ten in doubles three times between ‘67 and ‘71. His finest offensive showing with Baltimore came in 1971, when he slammed 18 homers and drove-in 72 runs while accruing a .282 batting average. He had an acute power surge with the Braves in 1973, going deep 43 times and finishing second in the league to Willie Stargell. His 43 home runs broke a long-standing record for second basemen set by Rogers Hornsby. Remarkably, two of Johnson’s teammates (Hank Aaron and Darrell Evans) reached the 40-homer mark that year—the first time in history that three players from the same club turned the trick in the same season.
            Johnson was not always a reliable postseason performer. In the ‘69 Series against the Mets, he managed one hit and a pair of walks in 18 plate appearances. He was far more successful in the 1970 Fall Classic versus the Reds, hitting .313. Another poor showing in the ‘71 October showcase dropped his World Series batting average to a feeble .192.
            Johnson engaged in frequent salary disputes with Orioles’ management over the years and, after injuries hampered his performance in ’72, he was traded to Atlanta. He told writers he was “happy to be coming to a good club.” He spent three seasons with the Braves then migrated to the Japan Central League, where he played for the Yomiuri Giants. He finished second on the club to Sadaharu Oh in homers during each of his two seasons in the Far East. Returning to the states for the ‘77 slate, he hit .321 in limited duty for the Phillies. He retired after the ‘78 campaign.
            Johnson went on to a long and fruitful managerial career. He led the Mets to two division titles, one pennant and a world championship (in ‘86). He later guided the Reds, Orioles and Washington Nationals to playoff berths. Through the 2013 slate, his clubs had placed lower than third only once.

Ellie Hendricks
            Hendricks was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As a child, a car ran over his feet, leaving him with damage that slowed his physical development. He didn’t begin playing baseball until he was in his early-teens. Within five years, he had inked a deal to play professionally.
            In the Nebraska State League, Hendricks was given the challenging task of catching for a young Phil Niekro. It was his first exposure to knuckleballs. “I just tried to keep the ball in front of me,” said Hendricks, “but it was bouncing off every part of my body.” It was a long road to the majors as Hendricks was released by multiple teams. He kept plugging away in the Mexican League until he was spotted by Earl Weaver. The Orioles drafted him in ‘67 and promoted him the following year.
            From ‘69-‘71, Hendricks was the most often used member of a catching platoon that included Andy Etchebarren and Clay Dalrymple. Hendricks was not only the most powerful hitter of the bunch, knocking 33 homers and gathering 121 RBIs in that span, but he was the most adept at handling the pitching staff. Jim Palmer once referred to him as “the perfect receiver.” Even umpires liked having the good-natured backstop around. Arbiter Ron Luciano remarked that Hendricks helped smooth out more than one dispute between himself and Earl Weaver. 
            The perpetually smiling Hendricks gunned down thirty-eight percent of all would-be base-stealers during his career—slightly above average for the era. He posted the highest fielding percentage among AL backstops twice and his lifetime mark landed him among the top one hundred catchers of all time. He is best remembered for an unusual play that took place in the 1970 World Series.
            With the score tied in the sixth inning of Game 1, the Reds had runners on the corners when pinch-hitter Ty Cline hit a chopper near home plate. Hendricks grabbed the ball with his bare hand as Bernie Carbo came racing home. Umpire Ken Burkhart, who had moved toward the ball to make a fair or foul ruling, was blocking the plate. Hendricks lunged toward Carbo, tagging him with an empty glove. Burkhart literally had his back to the play, but called Carbo out anyway. This sparked a bitter protest from Reds manager Sparky Anderson. Burkhart stood his ground and replays later showed that Carbo had missed the plate anyway.
            Traded to the Yankees in 1976, Hendricks returned for an encore in Baltimore at the end of his career. In June of ‘78, he pitched 2.1 scoreless innings in a blowout loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Of the six hurlers who took the mound for the O’s that day, he was one of only two who were not charged with any earned runs. He officially retired in ‘79 and moved on to a career as Orioles’ bullpen coach. He served in that capacity for nearly three decades, working under eleven different managers.
            In April of 2005, he suffered a mild stroke. In December of that year, he died of a heart attack. Hendricks was a beloved figure in Baltimore and his loss was felt deeply. Just days before his death, he had played Santa to a hundred underprivileged kids. “From 1968 to 2005, he was the Orioles’ good will ambassador,” said Brooks Robinson. “He gave so many laughs and so many wonderful memories during our years together.”



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