Until war called, O's shortstop was right at home

June 20, 1999|By JOHN STEADMAN

It was the toughest of times for baseball. World War II. Only the intervention of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt allowed the sport to exist. He realized some recreational endeavors had to be maintained on the home front and, at the same time, a rooting interest provided for military stationed on the global battle lines, plus those preparing to ship out from training encampments.

Other games shut down for the duration. But baseball didn't draw any special exemptions, not after Roosevelt decreed it be continued for the morale of the country. Teams curtailed travel. Spring training had to be conducted north of the Potomac and east of the Mississippi rivers, which allowed the Baltimore Orioles of the International League to take advantage of the convenient facilities of Gilman School, which offered spacious fields and an indoor batting cage.

That's where in 1943 Ab Tiedemann reported to the Orioles and temporary manager Fritz Maisel, who was filling in for Tommy Thomas, hospitalized with pneumonia. Tiedemann had made an earlier impression with the Spring Grove club at a national semipro tournament in Youngstown, Ohio.

Sportswriter Hugh Trader Jr. of the Baltimore News-Post heard Ab was going to join the Washington Senators, working out in College Park, but persuaded him to consider the Orioles -- and he did, signing for $350 a month.

Tiedemann was to play the 1943 season and 72 games of the 1944 schedule before being called by the Army, turning the position over to 17-year-old Kenny Braun, who graduated from a Louisville, Ky., high school. When Tiedemann went off to service, he was batting .288 and was the league's best-fielding shortstop.

The Orioles had been burned out of Oriole Park on the Fourth of July 1944, in a massive fire and were struggling to maintain fourth place. The emergency -- no place to play -- moved them to Municipal Stadium, which had been converted for baseball use while the team went on a 10-day road trip, long enough for lights to be installed and a playing field cut into position.

The Orioles, tantamount to a fantasy, went on to win the pennant, playoffs and Little World Series. Baltimore was a sea of enthusiasm, even drawing a then-record 52,833 to a Little World Series game. Tiedemann could only read about it from Fort Benning, Ga., but teammates told him when he left that he'd receive a full share of any postseason money, and it came to $1,495, for which he is still grateful.

"The Orioles were first rate," he says. "Stan Benjamin and Felix Maxiewicz, who I believe came to us from the Philadelphia A's or Phils, told me, `Kid, if anyone gives you a tough time, let us know and we'll handle it.' Often if a player is with his hometown club, other players think he's getting special treatment."

The Orioles, when playing in Jersey City and Newark, headquartered, instead, in Manhattan at the Hotel New Yorker because Thomas, the manager, had a taste for rich restaurants and Broadway shows. Road meal money was $3.50 a day, but Tiedemann remembers a swanky athletic club the Orioles used in Buffalo, where a full-course breakfast cost 55 cents.

Tiedemann was with the Orioles when a young catcher came out of Arkansas, Sherman Lollar, who graduated to the American League and played 18 seasons. "You know what I remember about him?" he asked. "Thomas was a friend of Gabby Hartnett, a Hall of Fame catcher who managed Jersey City. When we played, Thomas got him to work with Sherman before pre-game practice to help his throwing. Just one baseball man doing a favor for another."

For Tiedemann, the most unpredictable was another catcher, a Southerner named Les McGarrity, who once got caught in a rundown and hollered for a timeout. "He about drove Thomas crazy. Les had a terrible time under foul flies. Thomas once told him in the locker room that when he found time he was going to ship him so far back in the bush leagues he'd never be found. Know what he answered? `I want to go now.' Once in old Oriole Park, I was in the dugout with him and fans were filling up the seats. Les looked at me and said, `They could get a hot dog and a Coke anyplace. They wouldn't be here if they knew I'm in the lineup to catch.' "

Tiedemann can't forget his happiest moment as an Oriole. He went 6-for-7, with three triples, two doubles and a single, in a doubleheader when the 1944 Orioles met the Jersey City Giants in the first baseball games held at the stadium.

He was to later be a successful salesman for a spirits company, and now at age 81 recalls his baseball past with an engrossing passion. Tiedemann grew up on Christian Street in Southwest Baltimore, where he said large families were the rule. In one block, the 2500, he says there were 125 boys, which meant sandlot games went on nonstop every day.

"I love baseball but can't understand the enormous amount of muscle pulls and strains. Players do all kinds of exercises, but don't run enough. That could be the source of the problem."

Tiedemann saw Ed Kleimann win 23 games for the 1943 Orioles, despite pitching in a bandbox of a park. On three different occasions, Tiedemann said Kleimann pitched doubleheaders, winning five of six, and got an extra $50 from the club each time for doing it.

It wasn't until he was age 23, with a war on, that Tiedemann joined the Orioles at the highest minor-league level. "Thomas wanted to know where I'd been. I told him I guess I was a late bloomer," he said.

A chance for a trial in the big leagues never came, but the baseball he played for his hometown Orioles represents precious memories. They've lived on for more than 50 years.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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