|12-31-2005, 06:22 PM||#1|
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Cooperstown, NY
Cooperstown Confidential--December 31, 2005 (Part 1)
Of the many baseball people who passed away in 2005, I had to the chance to interview four of them. Although the encounters were relatively brief, they all left a favorable impression. Here’s to the good memories left behind by Messers Hendricks, Clendenon, Broeg, and Briles.
It’s especially sad when someone dies so close to the Christmas holiday, and even more so in Ellie’s case because he passed away just one day before his 65th birthday.
While I certainly can’t claim to have known Hendricks as well as someone like fellow blogger Brooks Robinson (the truest of baseball gentlemen), I did have the pleasure of interviewing Ellie one time in spring training. As I recall, it was during the spring of 1996, at the Yankees’ new spring training facility in Tampa, Florida. With the Orioles preparing to play the Yankees, Hendricks was in his usual location—on the playing field, where he loved to be whenever possible. At the time, I was conducting video interviews for the Hall of Fame’s archive, and found Hendricks, who would talk to anyone, to be as approachable as anyone. I started asking him about his favorite memories, including World Series moments. And while I don’t remember off-hand too many of the details of what Hendricks had to say, I do remember him smiling, being affable at all times, and doing his best to offer some legitimate insights for the Hall’s archive. From what I hear, this was typical Ellie Hendricks.
While star players often become the faces of franchises, sometimes journeyman ballplayers became synonymous with a team through hard work, longevity, a community-minded spirit, and a general amicability. Hendricks embodied all of those qualities, making him as recognizable to Orioles diehards as superstars like Cal Ripken, Jr. or Brooksie himself. In many ways, Hendricks was the Orioles—from 1968 through this past season, as a player, player-coach, and bullpen coach. If not for brief pitstops with the Chicago Cubs in 1972 and the New York Yankees in 1976-77, Hendricks would have been associated continuously with the Orioles from 1968 to the current day—for a total of 37 consecutive years.
A few other thoughts on Hendricks:
*Although hardly a star, he was one of those critical role players that Earl Weaver used so expertly during Baltimore’s glory years from 1969 to 1971. As a left-handed hitting catcher, Hendricks platooned with Andy Etchebarren giving the Orioles an occasional home run, solid defense behind the plate, and a catcher who capable of forging a good rapport with his talented pitching staff.
*I’m not sure why the Orioles traded Hendricks to the Cubs in the middle of the 1972 season, but they quickly realized their mistake and reacquired him prior to 1973. And then again, the Orioles traded him in 1976, this time as part of the massive deal that brought Rick Dempsey to the Birds. Hendricks became a backup catcher with the Yankees, playing behind the durable and gritty Thurman Munson. As a left-handed hitter and strong character guy in the clubhouse, Hendricks seemed like a perfect fit as a backup catcher in the Bronx. That’s why I don’t understand why the Yankees let him go after the 1977 season, allowing him to return to Baltimore for a third stint with the Birds.
*Hendricks didn’t look like your typical catcher. Built tall and lean, he featured the wiry frame of a rangy shortstop or a light-quick center fielder. He was also a catcher at a time when few African Americans were given the chance to play behind the plate, in part because of racist inclinations that regarded blacks as somehow lacking the needed intelligence to call a game. Not surprisingly, catchers like Hendricks and Manny Sanguillen proved the racists wrong.
*Hendricks’ career statistics are hardly overwhelming, but for fans of baseball in the 1970s, his value exceeded the numbers. More importantly, Ellie was one of baseball's good people—positive, upbeat, and always willing to give back to the game. For that—and many other reasons that Orioles fans surely understand—Ellie Hendricks will be missed considerably.
Author of the book, Tales From The Mets Dugout, available from Sports Publishing.
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