'Old Oriole' Brodie's election would be final feather in cap

January 04, 1998|By John Steadman

For well over a century, Baltimore and the Orioles have represented a city and a team that have made inestimable contributions to the rich legends, the storied lore and the enticing lure of baseball. Now, another Baltimore and Orioles ambition is waiting to be fulfilled: the first to be honored with an entire outfield enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

It's a scenario that goes back 100 years, to when the "old Orioles," a reference to the players' colorful antics, inventiveness, physical durability and win-at-any-cost approach to the game, dominated what was then the only major league in existence. They were champions of the National League, but also the world. Three straight years they won the Temple Cup, emblematic of league supremacy.

Their fame was achieved by an insatiable thirst for victory, which led to a studious and innovative approach that originated much of the strategy that continues to this day. The Orioles' outfield of 1894, 1895 and 1896 has been evaluated as one of the best of all time. It comprised Wee Willie Keeler, Joe Kelley and Steve Brodie, no relation but nicknamed for the celebrated daredevil, or faker, who allegedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886.

Since Keeler (in 1939) and Kelley (in 1971) were formally enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the odd man out has been Brodie, who played between them as the Orioles' center fielder with a reputation as the finest at the position during the horse-and-buggy era. Some critics even acclaimed him superior to Tris Speaker and Joe DiMaggio, which is elevating him to the heights of high society.

The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, including l5 former players, executives, sportswriters and broadcasters, will meet in early March in Tampa, Fla., to scrutinize additional players, managers and front-office leaders, including those from the black leagues, who were passed over in the regular contemporary elections held by the Baseball Writers' Association America.

Brodie's credentials create a compelling record for comparison with the 54 outfielders already enrolled in the Hall of Fame.

At first glance, his .303 average for 12 seasons in the majors is modest when compared with the likes of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb but it must be pointed out that it surpasses 15 outfielders already in the Hall of Fame, including Al Kaline, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and other notables.

Brodie performed in the era when the ball had all the resilience of a grapefruit, the playing fields were the size of airports and choke-type hitters had almost as much wood showing under their hands as they did on top.

Brodie, playing with a glove not much larger than what modern construction workers wear, was a superb judge of fly balls and, on occasion, when the outcome was a foregone conclusion, would catch a fly ball behind his back for the amusement of the spectators. It was a trick for an Al Schacht, Nick Altrock, Max Patkin or Jackie Price, but Brodie was no pre-game entertainer who hired out for exhibitions.

The official presentation of Brodie's extensive resume to the Hall Fame, plus letters of endorsement from Pat Gillick, general manager of the Orioles, and Mike Gibbons, director of the Babe Ruth Museum, has been organized by Bob Chapman of Lutherville, a descendant of the outfielder who played for the club when it was first in the National League, then the American and eventually the Eastern League.

Brodie also scouted for the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League and helped in the coaching of college teams at Princeton, Rutgers and the Naval Academy. In World War I, at age 49, he went to France as a representative of the YMCA to put on recreation programs behind the front lines for U.S. troops. Still later, he supervised the administration of Municipal Stadium and the city's system of amateur baseball fields for the Baltimore Park Board.

A native of Roanoke, Va., he died in Baltimore in 1935 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Brodie was an extrovert who would talk to himself, on occasion, for three minutes at a time, without getting involved in a physical confrontation. He was difficult on umpires and, as with other athletes of his time, was known to take a drink or two, but never wound up in a drunk tank. At one time he held the National League record by playing in 574 consecutive games.

Brodie was once called out on strikes and decided not to react verbally. He merely reached into his back pocket, pulled out a handkerchief and stuffed it in his mouth. A self-imposed gag order. The crowd roared. He had made his point by giving the umpire the silent treatment. One time, in Chicago, he noticed the bleachers were on fire and ran into the stands with teammate James "Ducky" Holmes to put out the blaze, serving as a `D volunteer fireman as he pulled up the burning seats and tossed )) them aside.

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