Earl Brannan brightens lives through sports

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

May 23, 2004

LIKE EVERYTHING enduring, baseball has huge numbers of strong, silent people who never find fame or fortune but stay with what they love for a lifetime.

Some even get recognized, eventually. Earl Brannan is one who, at age 79, is learning that others feel he made more of an impact on many lives through sports than he ever suspected.

Brannan, an Ellicott City resident for about five years, is a long-retired professional baseball player you probably never heard of -- he made it only to Double A ball in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system and after six years quit to get a full-time job.

The minors were lots tougher then, with far more teams, more players, fewer major league teams and, thus, fewer opportunities. Brannan, a first baseman, hit .341 one season and didn't get promoted.

Nevertheless, he was inducted Wednesday night into his third sports hall of fame.

Not Cooperstown. Brannan went into the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame for his lifetime contributions to baseball, a sport he's been devoted to for more than five decades, from the youth level to scouting for the Cleveland Indians and for much longer, the Orioles. That honor joined recognition he received with inductions into his high school's hall of fame (Patterson) and his college's hall (Loyola in Baltimore).

If you grew up in southwestern Baltimore County and played baseball, you may have run into Brannan. He was a county Department of Recreation and Parks sports supervisor for about 25 years, starting in Lansdowne and finishing in Catonsville, and lived for much of that time in Catonsville.

Among his many activities, he ran baseball clinics for years, tying in early with the Orioles and more recently with the Ripken family, which is building a youth baseball empire in Aberdeen. He still hands out an Orioles business card identifying him as an associate scout.

Early last week, he said, he trekked west to the Williamsport area to check on high school pitching phenom Nick Adenhart. He found about 40 pro scouts there. That kid was hot, but then he spun an early pitch wrong, grabbed his throwing elbow, and now faces surgery that will prevent him from possibly being the top pick in the next major league draft.

Brannan talks freely about more recent Baltimore-area high schoolers, such as Mark Texeira, the Mount St. Joseph alum now slugging for the Texas Rangers.

Four years ago, John Steadman, longtime sports editor for the News American and after it folded a columnist for The Evening Sun and The Sun, wrote that "scout-at-large Earl Brannan is the best-informed of all Baltimore-area baseball scouts when it comes to tracking high school prospects."

Brannan's recreation career gained him other recognition for setting up and, for years, conducting clinics in baseball, soccer, tennis and other sports for children with varying disabilities, from mental retardation to severe physical limitations.

"I was sort of drafted into doing that," he said. "I learned so much from those kids, probably more than they did, in fact, but it also helped a lot of them, too. You'd see them come in the first time, their heads down, and when they learned what they could do -- it was very rewarding."

Ask him to share his views on trends in sports, you get responses such as this:

Differences in players today: "Kids don't realize how much work it takes to be a big-league player. The work ethic isn't what is used to be. One of the reasons is parents give their children too much, but they don't give enough of what's important, and that's time."

Increasing number of foreign players on major-league rosters: "The Latin American players, and some from Asia as well, they don't have anything back home. So they play ball. They play all the time, and they play really well."

Baseball's future: "I'm concerned. There's millions and millions being paid to players. I'm afraid that some of the clubs are going to have to fold because they can't compete.

"Ballplayers weren't held in the esteem years ago that they are today. We had to work, so I just hope that money doesn't ruin it. Baseball's such a darned good game."

Call the writer at 410-332- 6525 or send e-mail to lowell. sunderland@baltsun.com.

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