Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vintage Fridays: Merv Rettenmund, 1974 Topps #585

Today is Merv Rettenmund's 71st birthday. Though I've featured a handful of his cards on my blog, I've written next to nothing about Merv himself. Mervin Weldon Rettenmund (there's a mouthful) is one of only three "Merv"s in major league history, and the only one to play in the post-World War II era. A Michigan native, he turned down a contract offer from the Detroit Tigers after high school and attended Ball State University on a football scholarship, breaking the school's single-season rushing record. Though he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, baseball was his preferred sport. He hit .321 at Ball State, and also earned a bachelor's degree in education. When the Orioles came calling in 1964, Merv signed on for a $15,000 bonus.

Rettenmund battered minor league pitching for four seasons before making it to Baltimore to stay. In 1968, he was the International League MVP. Competing at AAA for the first time, he hit .331 with an astounding .459 on-base percentage and a .588 slugging mark. He scored 104 runs and had 25 doubles and 22 homers in just 114 games with Rochester. His first major league home run was also the only walkoff blast of his career: a tie-breaking, pinch-hit two-run shot off of Oakland's Warren Bogle on August 27, 1968. The heroic feat came in his eighth career game and the fourth appearance in his second stint with the club that season.

It wasn't easy to crack the O's lineup in those days, so Merv was something of an outfield super-sub, rotating at all three positions and pulling pinch hit duty as needed. He was at his best for the 1970 World Champion Orioles, with a batting line of .322/.394/.544 and 18 home runs in 338 at-bats. Those numbers were boosted by a torrid second half in which he put up a .373/.452/.559 triple-slash. Despite those lofty numbers, he started only twice and had one other appearance as a pinch hitter in the 1970 postseason. Undaunted, the outfielder reached base five times in 11 tries overall and drove in two runs in the Birds' title-clinching 9-3 romp of the Reds in Game Five of the World Series.

In 1971, the Orioles were the class of the American League for a third straight year, and Rettenmund had a big hand in that. Playing in a career-high 141 games, he batted .318, trailing only Tony Oliva and Bobby Murcer for the AL crown. He drew 87 walks to boost his on-base percentage to .422, scored 81 runs and drove in 75, and earned a few down-ballot MVP votes. This time he appeared in all ten of Baltimore's postseason games and started nine of those. Although he batted just .200 (7-for-35) with an uncustomary lack of walks, his three-run homer off of Dock Ellis was the key hit in a 5-3 win in Game One of the Fall Classic.

Merv would never again reach the height of those prime years in Charm City, with injuries and batting struggles marking his final two seasons in orange and black. At age 30 he was traded to the Reds in the deal that brought Ross Grimsley to Baltimore. But the outfielder spent the latter years of his career as a pinch-hit specialist with the Padres and Angels, and in 308 trips to the plate over the 1977-1978 seasons he reached base at a .432 clip. After retiring in 1980, Rettenmund got right into coaching, embarking on a quarter-century of work as a highly-regarded batting instructor. The Oakland A's won the 1989 World Series under his tutelage, and during nine seasons as the Padres' hitting coach he worked with multiple-time batting champ Tony Gwynn. Currently Merv is enjoying a well-deserved retirement.

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