I'm cutting Movie Week a day short. The only other Oriole I could find was Butch Davis in Bull Durham. He's not exactly "vintage", and I haven't seen the movie (one of my secret shames), so here we are.
I'm not sure when "Ellie" Hendricks became "Elrod". From the beginning of my fanhood, I knew him only as Elrod Hendricks, the perpetual bullpen coach of my hometown team. Heck, the Orioles were his hometown team too, in a manner of speaking. He spent thirty-eight years in the major leagues as a coach and player, and only one of those years was not spent (at least partially) in an O's uniform. For twenty-eight years, he served as the team's bullpen coach.
Twenty-eight years. Can you imagine? I've been at the same job for nearly three years, and the thought of it makes me anxious. I feel like I'm stagnating here, benumbing myself to the near two-hour commute each way. There's no potential for upward mobility, and yet I remain.
But for nearly three decades, Elrod showed up to work every day with a smile and a laugh. There are generations of children in Baltimore with stories about the time he signed a ball for them in the bullpen, or showed up at their community center dressed as Santa Claus. For a man who was born in the Virgin Islands and spent his first ten years in baseball bouncing from Nebraska to Winnipeg to Mexico to Texas to Seattle...Baltimore became something permanent and meaningful. It became his home, and so did that bullpen, first in Memorial Stadium and then Camden Yards. I suppose he didn't really think of what he did as work, when it came right down to it.
When Elrod died suddenly of a heart attack two winters ago, there was an outpouring of grief and affection from O's fans everywhere. Many insisted that the team retire his uniform number. The team didn't go that far, but they did memorialize him with a "44" sleeve patch for the 2006 season. You might wonder why anyone would ever want to retire the number of a bullpen coach. If you'd ever been around him, you'd understand. Number 44 will always be synonymous with Elrod Hendricks, and his name will always be synonymous with the Orioles.