In a league of his own: the other Iron Man Another streak: Ernie Tyler, the Orioles' field attendant, hasn't missed a game since 1960.

Harford People

November 05, 1995|By Philip Hosmer | Philip Hosmer,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Ernie Tyler's streak began, Cal Ripken Jr. wasn't even born.

Mr. Tyler, a field attendant, hasn't missed an Orioles home game since he took the job in 1960. That's more than 2,800 consecutive home games, a streak that far surpasses Cal Ripken's major league record of 2,153 consecutive games played. If Mr. Ripken is the Iron Man, what does that make Mr. Tyler? The Titanium Man?

Don't ask Mr. Tyler, a soft-spoken, low-key sort. The Orioles' public relations staff keeps track of the exact number of home games he's worked, and even they have only an estimate.

"I don't keep track of how many games it is," said Mr. Tyler, a Forest Hill resident. "I just show up. I like to sit there -- I could sit there all night. It's the best seat in the house."

He's not kidding. During games, Mr. Tyler sits on a stool a mere 58 feet behind home plate -- closer to the batter than the pitcher.

Mr. Tyler, 71, is the oldest field attendant in the major leagues, according to the Orioles. And he shows no signs of slowing down. Mr. Tyler lifts weights and jogs at the Bel Air Athletic Club -- he moved to Forest Hill in the early 1970s -- and jokes that he wants to work for the Orioles for another 36 years. Given his work ethic, that's not entirely out of the question.

Mr. Tyler worked three jobs for most of his life, while he and his wife, Juliane, raised 11 children. For 31 years, he worked for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as a financial agent and chief of field operations. He moonlighted as a store detective for Hecht Co., as well as working for the Orioles.

He started working for the Orioles as a boy in the 1930s, when the team played at the old Oriole Park in the International League. Mr. Tyler lived near the park and got a job chasing foul balls down the lines. After graduating from high school, Mr. Tyler served in the Air Force as a radio operator in North Africa during World War II.

In 1958, Mr. Tyler was living a few blocks from Memorial Stadium and went to many games. He was asked to work as an usher at the 1958 All-Star game and began working part time as an usher, through the 1959 season.

In 1960, a young ballboy mistakenly picked up a wild pitch with a base runner on first. The Orioles subsequently offered the job to the older Tyler, who was then 35. He took his place on the stool behind the plate, and has been there ever since.

Mr. Tyler shows up at the stadium at 1 p.m for a night game, and 8 a.m. for an afternoon game. He sets up the umpires' room with their uniforms and equipment. His sons, Jimmy and Freddy, are the Orioles home and visitors' equipment managers.

Among his many pregame duties, Mr. Tyler must prepare 60 baseballs for each game by rubbing them with Delaware River mud to condition the rawhide. He also shows the umpires a videotape of any questionable plays in the previous day's game. Five minutes before game time, he takes his seat between home plate and the visitors' dugout.

Some people ask him whether he gets bored, sitting there game after game.

"It's not boring at all -- you're in the game totally," he said. "People who think baseball is boring are always looking for a home run or strikeout. You have to know what to look for. The catcher, the coaches, the managers, the infielders are constantly giving signals. There's so much going on out there, you can't take it all in. I could sit back there all night."

Mr. Tyler makes sure the home-plate umpires have enough baseballs and other equipment they may need. He has a phone under his stool and sometimes serves as a liaison between the umpires and the press box during a game.

Being so close to the action, Mr. Tyler sees and hears things that the average fan doesn't. Many batters, he said, mutter things to the umpire under their breath, often asking whether a pitch they swung at and missed would have been called a strike. He says he enjoys the camaraderie between umpires and catchers and among ballplayers in general.

During his 36-year career, he's gotten more than his share of memories.

He recalls talking to New York Yankee greats Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris during rainouts and having former California Angels pitcher Bo Belinksy over to his house for a game of pool. He counts Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew and former Oriole (now with the Cleveland Indians) Eddie Murray as among the nicest players he's ever encountered.

"Eddie once bought me a new pair of shoes because the ones I had were getting a little old," Mr. Tyler said.

The 1966 World Series was the highlight of his career, until this year, when he watched Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak.

"The Ripken streak has never happened before and will never happen again," said Mr. Tyler. "Players today have to travel so much, it makes it even more difficult."

Although he downplays his own streak, others in the Orioles organization are effusive in their praise of Mr. Tyler.

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