Celebrating 60: Hansen balanced military life, playing at Memorial Stadium

Shortstop Ron Hansen hit 22 home runs for the Orioles’ first winning team in 1960, but if they had gone to the World Series, he wasn’t sure that he could have played.

That’s because his military job begin a few days after the season ended.

“I guess I would have missed the World Series,” Hansen says. “I didn’t think much it (during the season’s final days), but not playing would have been a possibility. We didn’t make the World Series, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

The 1962 season, though, was another story. With the flare-up of the Berlin Crisis, an issue that dealt with the occupational status of the German city that was the Third Reich capital during World War II, Hansen’s office job dealing the Army’s medical supplies took priority. He worked at Fort Meade, Md., and played 71 games, fitting in baseball whenever possible. He played on leave. He played on the Orioles’ home weekend games and a few nights here and there.

“It wasn’t easy,” he says. “There were some nights when I’d get off at 4:30 p.m., drive to Baltimore, be dressed in uniform at 6:45, play the game, get back at 11 or midnight, sleep a few hours and be up for ‘Reveille’ at 4:30 in the next morning.”

Hansen, who grew up in Oakland, Calif., was up briefly with the Orioles in 1958 and 1959, but his rookie season in 1960 was his most memorable. He and Brooks Robinson played on the left side of the infield and manager Paul Richards called them the “sliding doors’’ because of their tight defense.

Hansen hit .324 in April. He played with future Hall of Famers in both All-Star Games, one in Kansas City and the other in New York’s Yankee Stadium, going a combined 3-for-6.

He and several players talked hitting with Ted Williams on an airplane flight. He got married on the final day of the season and was the American League Rookie of the Year. He finished fifth in the AL MVP voting after hitting .255 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs.

The Yankees’ Roger Maris was the AL MVP with teammate Mickey Mantle, Robinson and Chicago’s Minnie Minoso in the top four.

The Orioles were a mix of young and experienced players that season. Hansen’s teammates, Chuck Estrada and Jim Gentile, finished second and third, respectively, in the AL rookie voting. The Orioles won 89 games and led the league in early September. But they faded after losing a four-game series in New York.

“We could have won a few of those games, but the Yankees were the Yankees,’’ Hansen says. “It was a great year for the Orioles, the year things turned around.’‘

Hansen, Robinson, Skinny Brown and Estrada lived together that season within walking distance of Memorial Stadium.

The Orioles, with Milt Pappas pitching, played their final game of 1960 in D.C. versus the Senators. After the game, Hansen and his teammates drove to Baltimore for Hansen’s wedding. Estrada was his best man.

“I didn’t have a lot of time because of my job, so it was imperative that we have the wedding,” Hansen says. “Milt Pappas was pitching that day, and I told him that we had to make this thing go quickly. I talked to him the other day, and 55 years later, he reminded me that he had done just that.”

In the offseason, he was working at his military in Fort Knox, Ky., He was on in the field doing basic training drills when he was told to come in and answer the call that told him he had been named the American League’s top rookie.

There was no press conference or celebration. He went back to drills. “I was owned by the government,” Hansen says.

Hansen also played for the White Sox, Yankees, Washington Senators and Kansas City Royals. The Orioles traded him to Chicago in a deal that brought shortstop Luis Aparicio.

For his career, Hansen hit .234 with 106 home runs and 501 RBIs. As a Senator in 1968, he turned one of history’s 15 unassisted triple plays, putting his glove in the Hall of Fame.

After he retired as a player, Hansen coached for the Milwaukee Brewers and Montreal Expos and scouted for the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. His last season was in 2008 for the Phillies, the year they won the World Series.

Now 76, he lives in Baltimore County and enjoys looking back.

“I had a terrific career,” he said. “The time I had with the Orioles was a long time ago, but we have some great memories.”