More than the players he helped shape for the major leagues, the amateur championships that were achieved and his profound passion for baseball, Sterling "Sheriff" Fowble was a momentous force for good. His presence epitomized all that's worthwhile about a game, its fiber and the boys and men who identify with it.
The reason Fowble had such an impact on Baltimore is this is where he coached sandlot teams for 46 years, never taking advantage of a youngster and being a part of their lives during the critical period of early adolescence. Saturday morning practices were at 8 or 9 a.m. and his introductory remarks at the start of every season were consistently the same:
"All of you want to be professional baseball players or you wouldn't be here. Only a few of you are going to be able to do that. But what you can all do, without exception, is grow up to be a real person and make your families proud."
So, along with being a sound teacher of fundamentals, which enhanced individual
play and, in turn, team victories, Fowble realized he was involved with something far more precious -- influencing and helping to direct young lives.
"A great tribute to him is the way he took such an immense interest in each and every kid," said Ron Bradley, who was his assistant coach for 10 years and thought so much of Fowble he encouraged his own two sons to come play for him. "The substitutes on the team knew he wanted them to do as well as the so-called stars.
"He insisted the players be in uniform and ready to practice 50 minutes before a game. It was his idea that neatness in how they dressed, on and off the field, was important. He'd say, 'We can't look like a rag-tag outfit because that would be an embarrassment to me, to our sponsor, who is paying the bills, and to your mothers and fathers.' "
From the opposite side of the field comes the perspective of Pat O'Malley, who managed teams that challenged Fowble and, for a six-year period, dominated the 14- to 16-year-old age bracket. "We had a bitter rivalry," remembers O'Malley. "He wouldn't tolerate laziness and, for some special reason, had a magnificent way of helping hitters. That was a true talent."
O'Malley, temporarily, puts all that aside. Then he remembers something else about the manager and the man. "As tough as we fought to win, when it was over we'd always meet at home plate and shake hands. In 1971, our Brooklyn Optimist Boys' Club beat one of his best teams. Moose Haas pitched for him and we won, 6-1. As we shook hands, I looked into his eyes and
they were filled with tears. That's when I really knew how much he wanted to win."
Some of the players he helped shape on the sandlots, such as Haas, made it to the majors. One, Al Kaline, was voted to the Hall of Fame and Fowble and his wife, Virginia, were present to witness the induction. Kaline never reflected on his Baltimore baseball background without mentioning the role his early manager had played in the ultimate success he enjoyed.
But there were others, too, such as Jim Spencer, Phil Linz, Ken Biscoe, Dave Boswell, Denny Neagle, Tim Nordbrook, Rusty Gerhardt, Ron Swoboda, Carroll Moulden, Bucky Guth, Dave Hollifield, Greg Smith, Chuck Porter, Danny Welsh, Rick Senger, George Kazmarek and Haas. From 1946, when he had a team backed by High's Ice Cream Co., until last year, when it was Harbor Federal Savings & Loan, he was the dominant force in Baltimore's junior baseball program.
His wife, Virginia, who had met "Sheriff" when they were attending Western Maryland College, was attached to every team he coached. She was there as scorekeeper and statistician and caring for the young players with the same kindness and understanding as the manager -- her husband of 51 years.
In 1980, 1981 and 1984, his city championship teams went on to the National Amateur Baseball Federation tournament and won the Junior World Series. But "Sheriff" Fowble (so nicknamed because his father was a Carroll County sheriff) was more than just the manager of a team that had a collection of title-winning seasons.
More importantly, he was a man who was vocal and not afraid to speak for the things he believed. Loyalty to old friends was another Fowble characteristic. A memorial service is to be held tomorrow, 11 a.m., at Grace Methodist Church when this citizen of stature is given a fond farewell. The crowd may want to applaud for the grand opportunity of having known him.