Groundskeeper hangs up rake Santarone retiring after 22 years

financial officer leaving after 37

February 02, 1991|By Kent Baker

The Baltimore Orioles are more than two months away from their season opener, but they incurred two big losses yesterday.

Pat Santarone, the club's colorful head groundskeeper, and Joe Hamper, the chief financial officer and one of two members of the original front-office staff in 1954, have announced plans to retire.

Both will assume part-time consulting roles for an indefinite period.

"To most of us, Pat and Joe are as much a part of the Orioles' history and tradition as any player," said team president Larry Lucchino. "Each made major contributions to the long-term success of this franchise.

"Boy, will we miss them, both professionally as colleagues and personally as friends. They are real Orioles."

General manager Roland Hemond said, "We are losing two outstanding people, but I'm glad we'll still see them around."

Santarone, 62, has been considered one of the leading groundskeepers in the nation, and his meticulous care of and protective nature toward the Memorial Stadium field has made him one of the most well-known.

"I've had shouting matches with some good ones," said Santarone. Recently, the adversaries included Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens and Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine.

"Valentine popped off, saying I was sloping the visitors' bullpen mound differently, and Clemens blasted the game mound after he got knocked around. Two times after that, he pitched a shutout here and complimented it, like 99 percent of the pitchers do."

Santarone has spent his adult lifetime in pro baseball after following his father, Val, into the trade in Elmira, N.Y., in 1952.

"Dad was from the old country [Italy] and couldn't read or write English well," he said. "Three of his boys and our mother worked with him for the same pay, which was nothing.

"I remember when I was 8 or 9, we had a herd of goats we had to tend. We sold the milk to a tuberculosis hospital nearby. We'd turn them loose in the outfield, and we had to pick up all the goat droppings in a pail. The players really bitched about that."

Santarone met Earl Weaver in Elmira, and Weaver persuaded him to come to Baltimore in 1969. Their tomato patch along the left-field line became legendary in baseball and led to the marketing of "Earl 'n' Pat's Tomato Food," their own product.

"I've got an encyclopedia of memories with Earl Weaver," Santarone said. "The one that strikes me is when he picked up third base after an argument and took it into the Elmira clubhouse.

"The umpire was going to forfeit the game and told me to go get it. You only have one set of bases in the minors. I wasn't going in there as mad as Earl was. I think they wound up sending a cop for it."

Santarone also became very angry several seasons ago, when vandals broke into Memorial Stadium overnight and painted a highly visible obscenity on the infield grass.

"That was probably the low point of my career, the desecration of that field," he said. "The next day was a national TV game on NBC, and there was nothing I could do to alter it. It was burned in there with kerosene and something else.

"I was sick. I thought the world had come to an end. I wanted to go up and jump off the stadium. Or, if I had caught who did it, to throw them off."

Last season, another memorable incident occurred when a teen-age member of his ground crew, John Soper, suffered a heart attack during removal of the tarpaulin.

Santarone assisted in saving Soper's life with CPR, a skill he had learned at the behest of former Orioles executive Jack Dunn.

"All of a sudden, he was rolling around, and I knew it wasn't a stomachache," Santarone said. "It was a pretty strange feeling. He was dead and then the paramedics arrived and jolted him and got a heartbeat.

"Now, he has a pacemaker, and he wants to come back to work."

A man of varied interests, Santarone is a gourmet chef, a wine connoisseur, author, gardener, photographer, rifle-maker, target shooter, scuba diver and golfer.

"I'm not going to lack for things to do," he said. "I've never had a summer vacation, and now I'm going to live in Montana because it has the best trout fishing in the country."

Santarone joins the majority when naming his favorite Oriole. "Brooks [Robinson] has to come first," he said. "He was not only a great player, but a real man."

Hamper, 65, was hired as an accountant in 1954. He rose to controller four years later and to a vice presidency in 1966.

He served as an executive vice president of the Baltimore Bays soccer team, an Orioles subsidiary, treasurer of the Baltimore Orioles Foundation and secretary of the company.

"Joe always went about his work very quietly, but very effectively," said Hemond. "He always had a very level-headed attitude and finance officers from other clubs in the league often sought his advice. He had great respect in baseball."

He will be succeeded by Aric Holsinger, 27, a 1985 graduate of the University of Virginia. The new head groundskeeper will be Paul Zwaska, 30, Santarone's assistant for six seasons.

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