Remembering two seasons spent working with Andy Etchebarren

Sometime late in 2003, a mean man decided I should no longer work as sports director at WBAL Radio and that I should exit stage right. So I did, not knowing what might come next.

For a few years, it was broadcasting play-by-play on the radio for both the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds and the Florida State Seminoles. I treasure the memories of working for both teams.

So it was a bit jarring last night to learn of the passing of former Orioles catcher Andy Etchebarren at 76. Etch was the manager at Aberdeen in 2005 and 2006 and for those two seasons I was the radio broadcaster. I couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark to talk to him about baseball, the Orioles and life.

He reminded me often that he was No. 8 before Cal Ripken Jr. He was staunchly loyal to the Orioles to the point that while we had a pretty close relationship those two seasons, he would not tip me in advance of roster moves. His bosses said to tell no one and he did not.

I admired how Etchebarren cared about the last man on that roster, who had probably no chance to ever make it even to Single-A ball, as much as he did about a first-round pick.

Etch had a gruff exterior and could intimidate young kids with that team - players and staff alike - but that was just a look. He was a softy on the inside.

opacy-glamour-shot-eutaw.jpgWe once were sitting in a dugout - I can’t remember if it was in Staten Island or Brooklyn - and I asked him what happened in 1969 when the Orioles were upset in the World Series by the Mets. In front of a dugout full of players, Etch started talking. With each minute, he became more agitated, thinking about losing that year. His voice was rising and before long some veins were bulging in his neck. He had everyone’s attention by now.

When he paused, I said, “Hey, Etch, you’re still ticked off all these years later.”

“Damn right I am,” he shouted back.

Etch had a running joke with me that whenever we lost and he saw me the next day, before he even said hello he would say, “OK, what I did mess up last night?”

Although he didn’t say mess. And he never messed up anything anyway. He was special in so many ways.

Etch was a longtime Orioles minor league manager and was also the major league club’s bench coach for Davey Johnson for their 1996 and 1997 playoff teams. He caught for the Orioles for parts of 12 seasons. He caught every inning of their stunning four-game World Series sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966. In that series, the Dodgers were held to two runs in Game 1 and blanked for the last three games and 33 innings of the series. He would later split time catching with Elrod Hendricks on the great clubs from 1969-1971 and was a member of the 1970 world champion Orioles.

Here is a nice story recapping Etchebarren’s baseball career.

He is fondly remembered with the Orioles, of course, but I’ll truly remember him as the manager of those Aberdeen teams. I got to know a wonderful man who truly cared about his players and loved working for the Orioles. I could have stayed there all day and night hearing his stories and learning about the game.

He is not in the Orioles Hall of Fame and I’ll never quite understand that.

RIP, Etch, and thanks for being so kind, warm, genuine and amazing.

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