Out of left field, eccentric Brandt brought humor

April 18, 1999|By John Steadman

What was the expected became the unexpected. Jack Brandt was an original unto himself. In the long and eventful history of Baltimore baseball, there was never a more entertaining individual. It was the personality in all its bizarre aspects.

His natural, God-given ability frustrated managers and created professional envy among players. The maximum performance never truly exhibited itself, but he was to spend 11 seasons in the major leagues.

All the necessary ingredients were there -- exceptional throwing, fielding, running, hitting and the power quotient. Brandt's outlook, bordering on the eccentric, made him as refreshing as an all-day picnic.

Orioles general manager Lee MacPhail encountered Brandt a day before the schedule ended and wished him an enjoyable off-season. And Jack's response? "I always have a good off-season; it's the baseball season that gives me hell."

Manager Hank Bauer rebuked him for guessing on pitches. "I'm not guessing," he insisted. "Then what are you doing?" Bauer wanted to know. "I'm anticipating," he explained with a blank expression that left the manager more than slightly perplexed. What does he say after that?

At a team meeting with another manager, Billy Hitchcock, the outfielder said he had been waiting since high school for a changeup on the first pitch. And he had only seen it once in all that time. What happened, the manager asked? "I fouled it off," replied Brandt.

Playing golf with the late Joe Croghan, Brandt mentioned his putting had gone sour. Croghan told him to read a book by Tommy Armour, but Brandt felt compelled to ask, "What does a meat-packing guy know about golf?"

Once in Fenway Park, there was an invasion of gnats as Brandt entered the batter's box. A groundskeeper's aerosol bomb quickly took care of the insects and Brandt was ready to hit. Suddenly, and with all eyes studying him, he called time, got down on his knees at home plate and moved dirt with his hands. He said he was giving the bugs a respectable burial before continuing his turn at bat.

In Houston, with the Orioles playing an exhibition in the Astrodome, the PA announcer said: "Now batting for Robin Roberts, No. 25, Jack Brandt." But instead of going to home plate, Jack left the dugout and walked toward the backstop before making a wide detour back to the plate. It was his way of reminding management he hadn't played in so long he couldn't find home plate.

Brandt was unconventional, maybe eccentric, but he never thought so. Married for the third time, one of his dear wives was annoyed that he came home from a bar when the birds were singing. She, the good wife, toyed with a gun in a threatening manner, as if he didn't arrive at an earlier hour something more serious might happen. But Brandt looked down the barrel and wise-cracked, "If you pull that trigger, I'll never speak to you again."

All in the fun-loving life of Jack Brandt, who never took himself seriously, whatever the circumstance.

In New York, he rode to nearby Dobbs Ferry with other players in quest of an ice cream parlor that offered 45 different flavors. Exotic choices were the call for most of the players, but Brandt, who had brought them there because of the grand variety offered, merely said, "I'll take vanilla."

The Cardinals signed Brandt in 1952 for merely a railroad ticket to their training complex in Albany, Ga., and in his first year at Ardmore in the Sooner State League, he batted .357, had 27 home runs and drove in 131 runs in only 120 games.

His quick wit was subtle; his outlook on baseball and life was never intended to be solemn. Off the field, his close friends were Stu Miller, Gordon Jones, Jerry Adair, Boog Powell and Dick "Kayo" Tobin, a combination policeman, horse owner, Marine sergeant, actor and batting-practice catcher.

"I enjoyed Baltimore so much," he remembered recently while visiting for a card show in Dundalk. "I'd go to Colt games by going in the locker room, grab a stack of towels, walk on the field like I belonged and talk to John Unitas. I even worked out with the hockey team, the Clippers, and went to all the Bullets games. They were great times for me."

Jim Gentile, a teammate, once asked Brandt why he didn't travel with more pretentious companions. "I told him he wouldn't understand, but the real people in Baltimore were pipefitters, mechanics, electricians, bartenders, Pat Healy, Bill Saul, Alex Hawkins and Benny Graul."

Brandt was to manage seven years in the minor leagues and got fired twice. "They dumped me at Columbus in the South Atlantic League because the owner said I wasn't colorful enough in the coach's box. Today, baseball is different. Players tell the manager and general manager what to do, and they do it."

After baseball, Brandt returned to his native Omaha, Neb., where he drove an overnight trailer for UPS for 21 years, running routes to Kansas City, Mo., Sioux Falls, S.D., Davenport, Iowa, and Kearney, Neb. He's now 64, is a scratch golfer, and wherever he seems to go, his peculiar flair for fun makes its presence.

Jack Brandt stands alone as a beacon for good times. Smart, humorous, considerate of others. An Oriole never to be forgotten.

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