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Stanhouse Looks Back Fondly On His Often Hair-raising Championship Year

August 19, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

It has been 30 years since he starred on the mound, a master of comic relief for the Orioles. Was there ever a closer like Don Stanhouse, the big right-hander with the Harpo Marx hair, the wacky demeanor and a knack for making every save an adventure?

The closer for Baltimore's 1979 American League champions, Stanhouse won seven of 10 decisions, saved 21 games and compiled a 2.85 ERA. But it was the way he pitched - creating a jam, then escaping it - that drove Orioles manager Earl Weaver nuts.

"He [Weaver] would bring me in, then disappear down the tunnel and start chain-smoking his Raleighs," recalled Stanhouse, who was nicknamed "Fullpack" for that reason.

In the American League playoffs, with the Orioles enjoying a 9-4 lead over the then-California Angels, Weaver summoned his frizzy-haired All-Star in the ninth inning. Stanhouse promptly surrendered four runs before ending the game with the bases full.

Later, asked why he hadn't yanked Stanhouse, Weaver replied, "I still had three cigarettes left."

Acquired in 1978, Stanhouse perked up the Orioles' clubhouse with his quirky looks, offbeat antics and a panache right out of Woodstock.

"I'm pretty on the inside," he would say. "When they took X-rays of my head, they found flowers."

He dressed in black, drove a black Cadillac and furnished his apartment as if the Addams family lived there. He kept a stuffed gorilla atop his locker and a "Happy Feet" welcome mat beneath it. Teammates knew it was game time because Stanhouse uncorked a primal scream after warm-ups.

"Stan The Man Unusual," the players called him. Even his delivery was unorthodox.

"I'd go into the stretch and drop my head, like I'd fallen asleep," Stanhouse said. "Eventually the hitter would step out of the box and the umpire would come out and say, 'Wake up!' "

He held the ball for good reason, he said.

"If I was facing Reggie Jackson, whom I knew I was going to walk anyway, making him wait 10 minutes would tire out the guy on deck," Stanhouse said. "There's always an angle."

A free agent in 1980, he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 million but hurt his back and was released a year later. In 1982, he returned to Baltimore but struggled and retired at 31 after a 10-year career.

And now? At 58, Stanhouse has swapped the unfettered life for the button-down world. He's a business consultant for a venture capital firm. Married 27 years and the father of three, he lives with his wife, Kyle, a flight attendant, in Trophy Club, Texas.

"I put on a suit and tie and drive a white SUV and do things I never thought I'd do," Stanhouse said. "Even my hair has turned white."

The onetime Orioles reliever is now a frosted flake.

"I had a hell of a time in baseball," Stanhouse said. "I didn't always do things the right way, but between the white lines I was as competitive as anyone. And 1979 was the best year of my life. We kicked a lot of butt and had a lot of fun.

"You look at the Yankees and Boston and California, and the personnel they had that year, and you think, 'Wow, were they good!' But you know something? We beat 'em all.

"There was nothing like Orioles baseball - pitching, defense and the three-run homer. Tell you what, life will be good in Baltimore if it ever gets back to being Orioles baseball."

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