Robert E. Latshaw Sr., 83, played first base for 1944 Orioles champs

January 18, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Robert E. Latshaw Sr., a retired salesman who was the first baseman on the Orioles' celebrated 1944 International League team, died Tuesday of a circulatory disease at Genesis Multi-Medical Center in Towson. The Westminster resident was 83.

Mr. Latshaw earned a place in local sports history as a member of the "miracle year" Orioles in 1944. The team's homefield, Oriole Park on 29th Street, burned in an early-morning fire on July 4.

"They were in fifth place when the ballpark burned. They lost eveything - the equipment, the records, the uniforms," recalled Vince Bagli, the retired WBAL-TV sportscaster. "They went on the road and picked up the season and came back and went on to win the pennant.

"It was a very dramatic thing. Latshaw was a clutch hitter, a good hitter. He was one of the reasons the Orioles won the pennant," Mr. Bagli said.

The Orioles played out the rest of the season in improvised quarters at the old Baltimore Stadium, later reconstructed as Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street.

The Orioles squared off against the Louisville Colonels during the Junior World Series. The Orioles drew a paid attendance of 52,833. The major league World Series in St. Louis attracted 31,630.

Known for his fielding, Mr. Latshaw retired with a lifetime .293 batting average.

"He was very smooth, a very stylish first baseman," said James A. Hartzell of Towson, a baseball enthusiast. "Latshaw was a polished infielder, an outstanding first baseman."

After the 1944 baseball season, Mr. Latshaw, who was 6-foot-3-inch tall, signed with the Baltimore Bullets basketball team. He made his debut against the Trenton Tigers on March 15, 1945, at the Coliseum on Monroe Street in West Baltimore. Both teams played in the American Basketball League.

It was considered unusual for a baseball player to sign a basketball contract. Mr. Latshaw had to get permission from Tommy Thomas, the Orioles manager.

At the end of the basketball season - he played only a part of the schedule - he returned to the Orioles for the 1945 and 1946 seasons. In the 1950s, he was player-manager of the Augusta, Ga., minor league baseball club.

Born in Denver, he was a 16-year-old student at the University of Southern California when he signed a professional baseball contract with the minor league Indianapolis Indians.

He spent the 1935 season on the bench - the manager didn't believe he was 16 and sent for his birth certificate to verify his age. He remained in Indianapolis for four seasons, played for the Toronto Leafs in 1940 and 1941 and then the Milwaukee Brewers before he joined the Orioles in 1944.

He moved to Baltimore in the 1940s and bought a home in Ednor Gardens behind the stadium.

He operated Amoco filling stations at 29th and Sisson streets and Franklin Street and Warwick Avenue. He later drove a fuel truck and was a sales representative for Dryden Oil and United Oil companies in Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

He also sold sports equipment at the Sears Roebuck store at North Avenue and Harford Road.

In his retirement, he played golf and drove daily to Little Italy to lunch with friends.

In 1940, he married Jane Elizabeth Meyers. She died in 1995.

Funeral services are private.

He is survived by two sons, Robert E. Latshaw Jr. and J. Timothy Latshaw, both of Towson; a daughter, JoAnn Latshaw Robey of Timonium; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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