For his involvement in some of baseball's most memorable moments and his associations with some of the game's greats, ex-Orioles outfielder Jackie Brandt's career as a baseball journeyman was anything but ordinary.
As a rookie in 1956, he lockered next to Stan Musial with the St. Louis Cardinals. As a San Francisco Giant, he played in the outfield alongside Willie Mays. In Baltimore, Brooks Robinson was a teammate. Ted Williams' fabled home run in his final career at-bat in 1960 sailed over Brandt's head and into the right-field stands at Fenway Park. And as a Philadelphia Phillie in 1966, Brandt was the final regular-season strikeout victim of Dodgers' ace Sandy Koufax.
"I was very fortunate. All Hall of Famers," said Brandt. "It was a dream era and I really enjoyed every second of it."
Now a spry 77-year-old who lives in Leesburg, Fla., Brandt is also remembered - in a roundabout way - for helping to usher in a new era of Orioles baseball. On Dec. 6, 1965, the O's dealt Brandt and reliever Darold Knowles to the Phillies for pitcher Jack Baldschun. Three days later, the Birds packaged Baldschun, pitcher Milt Pappas and outfielder Dick Simpson in the deal that brought slugging outfielder Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds.
"I loved Baltimore, hated to leave," said Brandt, who batted .258 with 86 homers and 344 RBIs from 1960-65 for the Orioles. "But without me, there's no Frank Robinson, no World Series in 1966."
Brandt recently returned to Baltimore to participate in the Orioles Alumni Autograph Series. Each Monday and Thursday home game, former O's from all eras gather in the MASN tent on Eutaw Street to meet and greet fans, and sign free autographs. Participants are not announced in advance, but sign for an hour beginning 90 minutes before those games.
"Tonight, we did maybe 200 or 300 autographs, but I bet there were only maybe five or six that remember Memorial Stadium and the '60s," Brandt said after a recent signing.
Current O's fans may not be acquainted with the 11-season major leaguer who preceded Paul Blair as the Birds' center fielder, won a Gold Glove in 1959 with the Giants and got an All-Star nod in 1961, but Baltimore definitely made an impression on Brandt.
"What do I remember most? The people," said Brandt, who fondly recalls postgame plates of veal parmigiana at Velleggia's in Little Italy. "I was here six years and I couldn't believe it - I couldn't go anywhere in town or in the county without somebody talking to me or yelling at me. They knew me. I had more friends outside of baseball in Baltimore than I had in baseball. Everybody said, 'You can't go with that guy - he's a mechanic or an electrician.' Well, he's one of my best friends. I don't care. Man, I had a ball and I loved every second of it."
That 1961 campaign - a .297 batting mark with 16 homers and 72 RBIs - was the high-water mark of Brandt's Baltimore career. He batted .262 with 112 home runs and 485 RBIs with the Cardinals, Giants, Orioles, Phillies and Astros before retiring following the 1967 season.
"A baseball player's dream is to spend his whole career in one place. I just happened to spend mine in a lot of places, so I didn't have the big dream," he said. "But I really admire the players that are able to accomplish that - Musial, Williams, (Joe) DiMaggio, ... Brooks, (Cal) Ripken (Jr.). It doesn't happen that often. Too much money involved. Back then, it was liking where you played because you didn't make that much money."
Brandt's son and daughter went to high school in Baltimore and made thier homes here, so he returns frequently to visit his children and grandchildren. Otherwise, Brandt spends his time playing golf and prowling flea markets in central Florida.
Still, fans seem to find him in an out-of-the-way hamlet wedged between Lake Harris and Lake Griffin - even if their claims to remember Brandt's playing days almost half a century ago might not add up.
"It's kind of crazy," Brandt said with a chuckle. "I get probably 10 to 20 fan letters a week in my mailbox (that say), 'Gee, whiz, you were my favorite player.' They say, 'I'm a 40-year-old school teacher in Pennsylvania, and you were my favorite player.' But I quit 50 years ago. The math don't add up. I read their letters and it's really hilarious."