Old school

December 23, 2005

On the day when the really big news in major-league baseball was the Yankees' signing of Johnny Damon - just the latest big-name player to jump for big bucks from one big-payroll team to another - the game lost a man who proudly put in 37 seasons with the same club.

Elrod Hendricks, who died Wednesday just a day shy of 65, was a true rarity, and not just because, in his playing days, he was a left-handed-hitting catcher who knew how to handle pitchers. He was an old-school gentleman who, as the Orioles' bullpen coach since 1977, set a standard for loyalty unlikely to be matched in the game today. He served as the ever-available community-relations face of the Orioles, its last link in uniform to the team's glory days of the 1970s. But he became an even larger and beloved institution in this town, one of those unique people who define Baltimore.

If you took your kid to Camden Yards to see her first baseball game, part of that experience had to be getting Mr. Hendricks' autograph. You could count on him being there before every game, on the edge of the playing field by the O's dugout, leaning over the guardrail to greet the fans and fulfill every autograph request. With the O's uniform on his back, catcher's shinguards strapped to his legs and a smile for everyone, he was the real thing, a baseball man.

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