The one thing I’ve never trusted as long as I’ve been an Oriole fan is when they’re winning during late inning ball games. Now, that doesn’t necessarily match up with the O’s in recent seasons. Maybe it’s the PTSD from the year-long Jim Johnson implosion or maybe it’s the bases loaded jams from the bullpen that occur on a semi-regular basis (see: Opening Day) or maybe Orioles baseball just makes you too pessimistic for your own good. Whatever it may be, I think it’s best to know this fear isn’t totally without basis and the Orioles have a good long history with it.
Don Stanhouse arrived in Baltimore in December of 1977 along with Gary Roenickie for a bundle of minor league players. Stanhouse was a mightily effective reliever/closer in his two seasons in Baltimore. He posted sub-3.00 ERAs both years with 20+ Saves and had a role on 1979 Championship team. However, that’s not how fans tend to remember him. To them, he’s “Full Pack” Stanhouse. The guy that would drag on in late inning ball games, giving up hits, and driving both fans and his manager Earl Weaver crazy. He’s the guy that would take 20 minutes to finish an inning. He’s the guy that had a big mustache, big hair, and said weird things. In the end, he was a guy you could count on.
“The Orioles will be all right as long as Stanhouse gets the bases loaded,” then coach Elrod Hendricks said.
Calling Stanhouse weird would be putting it lightly and he would probably take it as a compliment. To that extent, teammates also dubbed him “Stan The Man Unusual” and, ever the entrepreneur, Stanhouse had some t-shirts made up with the phrase. He took the moniker in stride and made no efforts to hide it. “I’m pretty on the inside.” Stanhouse told the Baltimore Sun. “When they took x-rays of my head, they found flowers.”
He was a self-described ladies’ man. He drove a black Cadillac and wore all black clothes. Upon his trade to Baltimore, his looks and the women were the first thing on his mind. “I wonder how I’ll look in orange and black?” Stanhouse mused. “I don’t know much about Baltimore yet, but I know Washington is only about 40 miles away and they’ve got more women than any place in the country.”
Behind the character, was one hell of a competitor and a man who loved baseball. Taking 20 minutes to finish an inning wasn’t random, it was calculated. “If I was facing Reggie Jackson, whom I knew I was going to walk anyway, making him wait 10 minutes would tire out the guy on deck,” Stanhouse said. “There’s always an angle.”
The Orioles granted Stanhouse free agency after the 1979 season after a contract dispute. Even his contract negations became Stanhouse-esque, calm, laid back, and in no hurry to be anywhere. “There’s no sense in setting a deadline.” Stanhouse said. “I just go out every day and do my job.”
Stanhouse would join the Dodgers in 1980, but the magic was gone. He was released in April of 1981 and spent a year out of baseball but, that didn’t stop him. He launched a campaign for clubs to sign him. He went around quipping, “Released but not deceased.” Even his agent Cookie Lazarus, whose name is as ridiculous and memorable as Stanhouse himself, was at a loss. “Don wants to play very badly…He’s a crazy person, but he wants to succeed in baseball.” Lazarus said.
The Orioles would end up getting their “Full Pack” back. Stanhouse, a ghost of himself in ’79, worked relentlessly to make the Opening Day roster in ’82. And he did. Come Opening Day, the fans were sure to let him know they hadn’t forgotten him. “Probably one of my most thrilling moments was that Opening Day in Baltimore.” Stanhouse said. “The way I was welcomed by the fans.”
Today, Stanhouse, to even the surprise of even himself, is a business consultant to a venture capitalist firm. “I didn’t think about life after baseball. But even if I had, I never would have dreamed that I’d end up doing what I’m doing now.” He said.
Stanhouse knows how special his years with the O’s were and how special winning the championship for Baltimore was. He said this to the Baltimore Sun in 2009, “There was nothing like Orioles baseball – pitching, defense and the three-run homer. Tell you what, life will be good in Baltimore if it ever gets back to being Orioles baseball.”
Right on, Don.
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