Orioles All-Star catcher Gus Triandos is pictured in 1959. (Joe DiPaola, Jr., Baltimore…)
Gus Triandos, a brawny slugger who won the hearts of Orioles fans starved for someone to cheer for in the 1950s, died Thursday at his home in San Jose, Calif. He was 82.
"My father died in his sleep," his daughter, Lori Luna, said. "He'd been dealing with congestive heart failure for 10 years. It was hard for him to get up.
"His heart just gave out."
A catcher and four-time All Star, Triandos played with the Orioles from 1955 through 1962 and was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 1981. He hit 142 home runs for the club, 30 of them in 1958, then an American League record for catchers.
That same year, he caught the Orioles' first no-hitter, knuckleballing Hoyt Wilhelm's 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees. Triandos' 425-foot homer in the seventh inning won the game.
"Catching Hoyt was such a miserable experience, I just wanted to end the game," he told The Baltimore Sun in 2009.
"Gus was one of my favorite guys," said Brooks Robinson, who broke in with the Orioles in 1955. "He was so good-natured and a wonderful teammate. I had a lot of laughs and learned a lot from Gus.
"The Orioles were lucky to have him for a stretch when they were struggling, because he was so terrific."
Triandos took younger players under his wing, both on and off the field, said Ron Hansen, then the Orioles shortstop.
"On the road, Brooks and I would be eating in a diner and the waitress would come over and say, 'Your check has been paid by that gentleman over there.' It was Gus. He had a big heart. He'd tell us, 'When you guys become veterans, you'll take care of the rookies, too.'"
Triandos broke into the big leagues with the Yankees but came to Baltimore in a blockbuster deal that sent pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen to New York in exchange for outfielder Gene Woodling, shortstop Willie Miranda and a swarthy, slow-footed catcher who would take the city by storm.
How much did Baltimore love Triandos? In 1962, when he moved his family to a new development in Timonium, they named the road for him — Triandos Drive.
"That [street sign] is my favorite memento," he said in 2009. "Some years ago, they replaced the sign and mailed the old one to me. It's one of my few [keepsakes]. I never wanted to be in situations where I had to bore guests with my exploits."
Triandos' daughter called him "the best man I've ever met. He always thought about others and always felt blessed with what he did. And he talked about the Orioles with great fondness."
Unless he was reminded about catching Wilhelm, who drove Triandos batty trying to capture his fluttery pitches.
"I remember seeing black and blue marks all over Gus' chest, after games in which he caught Hoyt," Hansen said. "Eventually, they invented a bigger mitt just for Gus. That helped."
At 6-feet-3 and 215 pounds, few pitches got past Triandos, a rugged Greek born in San Francisco.
"Gus was a long ball hitter, an outstanding catcher ... and a big old teddy bear," said Jim Gentile, onetime Orioles first baseman who replaced Triandos as clean-up hitter.
Gentile, who is also from San Francisco, kept in touch with Triandos to the end.
"We'd talk every few months," Gentile said. "Some years ago, I took my son to have lunch with Gus, who lived in a trailer park. He was a great teammate and friend."
Traded to the Detroit Tigers in 1962, Triandos retired three years later — but not before catching another no-hitter thrown by Philadelphia's Jim Bunning in 1964.
He settled in San Jose where, for years, he ran a mail delivery business. Twenty years ago, an automobile accident left him with a broken neck, from which he recovered.
Triandos is survived by his wife, Evelyn, to whom he was married for 61 years; son Gary Triandos and daughters Lori Luna and Tracey Hook, all of San Jose; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Services are incomplete.