Sterling "Sheriff" Fowble was a baseball man to the end.
Only a few weeks ago he was saluted by a national organization as amateur coach of the year for Maryland. He went to a Western Maryland Hall of Fame affair and attended Carroll County and Patterson Park old-timers functions.
On Friday, Fowble, who managed 14-16 age group sandlot teams for 46 years in Baltimore, died of congestive heart failure at the age of 76.
For decades, when you thought of amateur baseball in this area, you thought primarily of two men: Fowble and Walter Youse, general manager of Johnny's in an older age group.
When Orioles general manager Roland Hemond spoke at an old-timers' banquet last year, he said: "If there were more men like Sheriff Fowble and Walter Youse in other cities, baseball would never have to worry about anything."
More than 800 boys came under Fowble's guidance. Last summer, even when his health was failing, he was general manager of the Harbor Federal Savings and Loan team and his wife of 51 years, Virginia, as always, was scorekeeper. Bill Becker, who played under Fowble in 1955, was manager.
"We had no children of our own, but every year we kept 18 boys out of trouble," Virginia Fowble said. "We were the richest couple in the world."
Fowble worked as an accountant for Bethlehem Steel for 42 years. On the side, he scouted for the Cincinnati Reds for 15 years and for the New York Mets for 22. But his passion, and Virginia's, was their sandlot team.
Twelve players managed by Fowble went on to the major leagues, including Al Kaline, Dave Boswell, Phil Linz, Jim Spencer, Ron Swoboda and Moose Haas. Kaline wound up in the Hall of Fame.
Swoboda wound up in the outfield of the New York Mets when they upset the Orioles in the 1969 World Series. Today he is the sports anchor for WVUE-TV in New Orleans -- and a grandfather.
"Sheriff didn't have kids, but in another sense he had a whole lot of them," Swoboda said. "I was lucky enough to be one of Sheriff's boys. If you didn't play for Sheriff and Youse in Baltimore, you didn't make it in pro ball. I'd never have been elevated to Youse if it hadn't been for Sheriff."
It was Fowble who switched Swoboda from third base to the outfield. Swoboda was indignant. Even his mother was upset.
"In my first game in left field, on the Patterson Park diamond near the tennis courts, a ball was hit over my head," Swoboda said. "I ran it down and threw the guy's butt out at third base. I thought, 'Hey, you can win games out here, too.'
"Sheriff was relentless. When you did something wrong, you heard about it. It was the first time a coach yelled at me. He was never malicious, never tore you down.
Fowble's teams, known variously as High's Ice Cream, High A.C., Gordon's Stores, G & M Scrap, Highland Lanes, Hi-Landers, Highland Federal Savings and Loan and Harbor Federal, won 24 Baltimore City championships.
He had a couple of undefeated seasons and during a stretch from 1956-58, Gordon's Stores won 83 straight. In their East Baltimore home, the Fowbles have a baseball for every year they were active with a team, except Kaline's year, 1951. Sheriff said somebody took it out of the display case.
It all began one day in 1946 when a group of neighborhood boys knocked on the Fowbles' door and told Virginia they wanted Sheriff to manage a baseball team.
"He's down at the tavern playing cards," Virginia said. "Go ask him. It would be good for him."
An all-around athlete at Westminster High, Fowble went on to Western Maryland College and played four sports there. An outfielder, he spent a few weeks with a Boston Red Sox farm team in the Piedmont League, but couldn't throw a lick because of a cranky shoulder that lingered from his football days.
By 1946, Fowble's sandlot playing days were over, too. He was ready for the overture from the neighborhood boys. The captain of his first team was Bill Pfeifer, who later played at Poly and at the Fowbles' beloved Western Maryland. Pfeifer retired last June as Overlea High's principal.
Instead of a public funeral, Virginia Fowble arranged for a "service of memories" for Sheriff on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St. She says it will be a "happy celebration."