THE FRIENDS of Hunky Sauerhoff are rooting him on as though they've all got $10 bets down on him and Hunky's just starting to come out of the pack. You can bet money right now: Hunky's had a rough time of it, but the founder and president-for-life of the Loyal Sons of Pigtown says he's still got plenty of race in him.
"Oh, yeah," Hunky was saying last week, "they had me up at Sinai Hospital, man, and they're wheeling me down the corridor. They got the names of all them famous people on the wall. Hoffberger and Meyerhoff and stuff. I said, `I ain't no Meyerhoff, I'm just Sauerhoff.'"
Hunky's trying to laugh his way past the rough spots. They had him in the hospital because, at 71, and after years of living a life comprised of one raucous ad lib after another, some of which can be mentioned in a newspaper, he's taken some serious hits: four strokes since last April, and the death of his brother Jackie.
The two of them, Hunky and Jackie, were part of that legendary Sauerhoff family first brought to public attention during World War II when the father, Elmer, having served at 16 in World War I, enlisted with the Seabees after Pearl Harbor and spent three years in the South Pacific, leaving his wife and 10 kids behind on McHenry Street in Southwest Baltimore's Pigtown.
That was a neighborhood that produced the great boxer Harry Jeffra, and the former state prison superintendent Jim Jordan, and the 480-pound Hacky Hoffman, a legend based on fat. When Hacky went to the movies, he had to break the arms on the seat to sit down. And among the 10 Sauerhoff kids was the sister who went to P.S. 1, at Fayette and Greene, and shot dice in the cafeteria to win lunch money.
It was an era that produced some of Baltimore's most enduring characters, who got a personality not by something witnessed on a television set - which didn't even exist - but by living on crowded streets and scrounging for the buck. Hunky spent years pounding signs in the ground for local politicians such as the late state Sen. Harry "Soft Shoes" McGuirk. Or, on occasion, when Eli Hanover would stage fights over at the old Seafarer's Hall, he'd give Hunky $2 and a meal to hold a baseball bat and look tough if things got out of hand.
"Those were some tough days," Hunky said last week. "This stuff today, I'll get past it."
Did he say tough? When Hunky's dad shipped out for World War II, he told his kids, "They're trying to take our country. We have to fight."
The sons took him literally. When Jackie Sauerhoff turned 13, and reached the grand size of 5 feet 3 inches, 108 pounds, he enlisted in the Army. As it happened, he had bumped into an Army recruiter on Calvert Street. The recruiter, who got $25 for every name, asked if he wanted to join up.
"Well, I'm playing hooky from school right now," Jackie said, "so I'll probably get a beating when I get home. So I might as well go in the Army."
It was a fine career he had, which lasted nearly three whole weeks before somebody in the Army took a look at this pipsqueak in their midst and sent him home.
Not to be outdone, Hunky signed up at 13, too, using a forged birth certificate. The Army caught him pretty quickly. Three years later, at 16, he signed on again. This time, it took.
"Yeah, good ol' Jackie," Hunky was saying last week. "He was a good boy. Them were good times we had."
His voice was a little weak. A visiting nurse had just stopped by. Hunky's living out at his son Eddie's place now, in Morrill Park near Pigtown. In Hunky's life, nothing takes him far from Pigtown. For him, it's not just a community but a state of mind.
That's why he started his Loyal Sons of Pigtown. Over the years, he's handed out cards to hundreds of members. The group holds no meetings. The card entitles you to nothing - except Hunky's friendship, and a sense of belonging to something felt in people's hearts.
At his son Eddie's, Hunky's accompanied by his lady friend, Kathleen Perkins. "Everybody warned her about me," Hunky says affectionately. "But she's been in Pigtown for a long time, and you couldn't get her out of here without a bulldozer."
Kathleen waved a disparaging hand in the air. Pigtown's nice, but it's not the thing that holds her. She's held by the immortal Hunky. He survives street-corner hard times, and underage military sign-ups, and growing up among 10 kids and a father off at the war.
And he'll survive this time, too. Around Pigtown and beyond, all the Loyal Sons are betting on it.