Dempsey's return to field latest in old-time trend

June 23, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

Eventually, the great Orioles all seem to come home to roost.

Frank Robinson returned to coach and manage and is now in the front office. Mike Flanagan is back on the field. Boog Powell is selling barbecue on the promenade at Oriole Park. Jim Palmer, always here as a telecaster, tried to return to active duty.

So, it is only proper that the Orioles activated Rick Dempsey yesterday and that his twilight on the field will be passed in Baltimore, where he spent the best years of a playing career that spans four decades.

He is three months shy of 43. His first appearance will make him the oldest Oriole ever, 6 months older than Dizzy Trout was in 1957. On the all-time list, only 14 players have caught more games than Dempsey.

"I consider it like a dream come true," said Dempsey, who replaced Chris Hoiles on the roster, after Hoiles suffered a fractured right wrist when hit by a pitch from Tim Leary on Sunday night against the New York Yankees.

"After I got cut [April 5, the day before Opening Day], I wanted one more chance to go out the right way. In my wildest dream, I'd like to help the team win the pennant and be the World Series MVP again."

Dempsey is unlikely to repeat that 1983 feat, being the short-term insurance until Hoiles returns in an estimated four to six weeks.

But, said general manager Roland Hemond, there was only a brief discussion about who would replace Hoiles.

"All of us agreed it would be Rick," said Hemond. "He had a decent spring with us, has done a similar job in Los Angeles and other places, and he's in good condition and prepared."

The days are gone when Dempsey would play every night, scrapping with everybody, including at times his teammates and manager, climbing the backstop screen to reach foul balls and daring runners into crashes at the plate.

But Dempsey still could have his moments of glory.

Manager Johnny Oates said he will fulfill the reserve role previously handled by Jeff Tackett, who moves up to the No. 1 slot.

That means an occasional start and a lot of bench time.

"Rick might start once a week. He'll do what Tack's been doing," said Oates.

So, the pursuit of golf and his occasional appearances at Towson-area nightclubs as a singer will be severely restricted for now.

"He'll be OK short term," said coach Elrod Hendricks, a former catcher. "He was throwing the ball well in the spring and caught well. He's not going to be in there every day, so he can do it."

Dempsey hasn't caught for the Orioles since Oct. 1, 1986.

He parted with the club on less-than-amicable terms, believing he still could be a regular, but hasn't appeared in more than 79 games in any season since.

"After six weeks in the spring, everything started to come back," he said. "I just need to get behind the plate and get some of the rust off. But my arm is good and the bat's OK.

"The backup role must be what's good for me now. I've had a lot of success in it, 600 at-bats, 18 homers, 82 RBI. I never did that when I was a regular."

Dempsey says it may take awhile for him to adjust to some of the hard-throwing pitchers he might face, but he can help the Orioles in another capacity just by being there.

The next opponent is the go-go Milwaukee Brewers, who like to run at any time.

Dempsey played for the Brewers last season.

"I know what to expect from them," he said. "They have some guys who run fairly well, and they like to put pressure on you. I've seen them a lot. I know their tendencies."

Now, Dempsey is trying to beat the Brewers. As an Oriole. It is a fitting climax.

Oldest Orioles

When catcher Rick Dempsey was activated yesterday, he became the oldest Oriole ever. A look at the Orioles over 40, with age in years/months.

Name. . . . . . Year. . . . Age

Rick Dempsey . . . 1992. . . . 42/9

Dizzy Trout. . . . 1957. . . . 42/3

Dave Philley . . . 1961. . . . 41/4

Dick Hall. . . . . 1971. . . . 41/0

Mike Flanagan. . . 1992. . . . 40/7

Brooks Robinson. . 1977. . . . 40/3

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