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That different drummer

A pitcher whose repertoire included smoke bombs, sneezing powder and live snakes.

A catcher who bought cattle during road trips and hauled livestock in his Cadillac.

An outfielder known to run the bases backward and spout maxims like, "This year I’m going to play with harder nonchalance."

What strange birds these Orioles can be.

Moe Drabowsky, Clint Courtney and Jackie Brandt were just three of the characters who have played for Baltimore through the years ...

Moe Drabowsky / Baltimore Sun file photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.

When the Orioles bought Moe Drabowsky for $25,000 in 1965, they got more than a bullpen savant. They got a master of comic relief.

Who put the garter snake in shortstop Luis Aparicio’s pocket? Gotta be Drabowsky. Who gave that hot foot to a howling Boog Powell? Just say Moe. The Prince of Pranks, they dubbed him.

In 1966, Drabowsky went 6-0 and emerged from the bullpen to win a World Series game. But it was his practical jokes, as much as his prowess, that drove the Orioles down the stretch.

"We had a pretty loose team, because Moe took the pressure off in the clubhouse," pitcher Eddie Fisher said.

He placed live mice in teammates’ shoes and lit firecrackers when the spirit moved.

"Rolling a cherry bomb under the door, while you’re in the bathroom, is real bad," said Powell, whose ears rang for days afterward.

Most stoppers are expected to put out fires. Drabowsky was a good bet to start them. He torched newspapers while players were reading them. A whiz at giving a hot foot, he delighted in igniting a match -- or a book of them -- that he had attached to someone’s shoe.

"It became his obsession," said Powell, the first baseman. "If there were 20 guys sitting on the bench, Moe would crawl on his belly under 19 of them to give the last guy a hot foot."

Everyone was fair game. Coaches. Reporters. baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Once, in Cleveland, Drabowsky lit the instep of an Indians fan.

He burned The Baltimore Sun’s Jim Elliott so often, the scribe took to staring at his shoes during interviews. Bemused, the pitcher struck a match to the notebook in Elliott’s hand.

Other Drabowsky shenanigans: He put goldfish in the visitors’ water coolers and sprayed their quarters with sneezing powder. In Kansas City, he telephoned the A’s bullpen, pretending to be the manager ordering a reliever to warm up.

Snakes were a regular prop. During a sports luncheon in Baltimore, Drabowsky snuck a small python into the bread basket at the head table. When Brooks Robinson reached for a roll, he nearly fell off the dais.

Drabowsky retired after 17 years, four of them in Baltimore. He died of cancer in 2006 at age 70.

 

Clint Courtney (left) and Bobby Thomson in 1960. (Baltimore Sun file photo)

Clint Courtney, a catcher who served two hitches with the Orioles (1954 and 1960-61) was a hoot - a tobacco-chewing, Louisiana farm boy who was strong as an ox and who smelled like one, too.

On Western swings, Courtney prowled the stockyards in Chicago and Kansas City, looking to beef up the herd on his 200-acre spread.

"Clint would stomp around in that cow manure, wearing his only suit, then come straight to the park," shortstop Ron Hansen said. "The stink didn’t bother him."

On the road, Courtney liked to lie in bed and spit at the ceiling, to the chagrin of his peers.

"I roomed with him -- once," first baseman Jim Gentile said. A dapper dresser himself, "Diamond Jim" watched in horror in a New York hotel room as Courtney unpacked a suitcase filled with dirty clothes.

"We’ll only be gone six days," the catcher said.

Courtney always drove Cadillacs, into which he squeezed everything from heifers to hound dogs.

"I rode with Clint once," pitcher Dick Hall said. "It was like being in a barn."

Courtney was bowlegged, balding and absurdly myopic. The first big-league catcher to wear glasses on the field, he struggled with pop-ups, circling the ball and squinting through Coke bottle lenses. The media likened the moves to those of a waiter serving pizza on roller skates.

Fiercely combative and quick to rile, the man whom teammates called "Scrap Iron" fought often but never won a brawl, they said.

"Guys would play tricks on him just to watch him get mad," catcher Joe Ginsberg said. "Once, during a game, they put Limburger cheese inside his glove. Every time he slapped [the mitt], the umpire would sniff and ask, `What is that?’

"Clint never did catch on."

If Courtney acted like he’d been conked once too often, well, maybe he had.

"I can still see him trying to catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleballs, with that oversized glove the Orioles gave him," outfielder Whitey Herzog once said. "Clint once bet me a fifth of booze that Wilhelm wouldn’t throw one past him.

"In the second inning, a pitch comes [fluttering] in, hits Clint on the button of his cap and bounces in front of the plate. Without rubbing his head, he turns to the dugout and hollers, `See? It didn’t get by.’"

For a spell in his 11-year career, Courtney forgot how to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Really.

"He had this mental block where he couldn’t get the ball to the mound," pitcher Jack Fisher said. "So Clint would either throw to third base, or walk halfway to the mound and lob it back."

In 1960, Orioles infielders complained that they couldn’t hold onto the catcher’s pegs. Unbeknownst to Courtney, he’d been trying to cut down base runners by throwing sliders.

Courtney retired a .268 hitter. He was managing Richmond, Atlanta’s Triple-A club, when he died in 1975 at age 48. It happened while he was playing ping-pong.

Jackie Brandt / Baltimore Sun file photo by Richard Stacks

Jackie Brandt was just as loopy, in a laid-back sort of way.

"My friends call me Flakey," the blue-eyed, crew-cut outfielder told his new teammates, following a trade in 1960. What Baltimore got was a player with a knack for doing and saying things that came out of left field.

Having homered, Brandt might slide into every bag -- or decide to run them clockwise.

Once, caught in a rundown between third and home, he did a back flip in an effort to avoid the tag. Brandt was out, but scored a "10" with the crowd.

"Everybody in the stands just roared," Ginsberg said. "Who but Jackie would have thought of that?"

His antics kept Brandt from a breakout career, teammates said. For every basket catch and barehanded pickup, there was a fielding gaffe or base-running blunder.

Asked about his erratic play, Brandt explained that the faster he ran, the more his "eyeballs jumped up and down."

Brandt had an excuse for every occasion.

"One time, he struck out on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to end the game," Hansen said. "[Manager] Paul Richards asked, `What pitch were you guessing? Fastball or curve?’

"Jackie said, `Neither. I was guessing ball.’"

A regular for six seasons in Baltimore, Brandt drove four Orioles managers batty.

"I once asked him how he’d managed to misplay a fly," Hank Bauer, who ran the Orioles in the mid-’60s, once said. "Jackie said, `I lost it in the jet stream.’"

He even had an excuse for making nutty excuses.

"I said that?" Brandt would tell reporters, shaking his head. "My lips must have been sunburned."

Some called him lackadaisical, a .262 lifetime hitter with boundless potential.

"He was as loosey-goosey as they come," outfielder Al Pilarcik said. "Jackie was so carefree, I’m surprised he didn’t fall asleep out there."

"I’m trying to make myself think I’m trying harder," Brandt told The Evening Sun in 1962. "When you bust a gut and make things look easy, it’s hard to do the same things and make them look hard."

Off the field, Brandt was much the same. He once played 36 holes of golf before a doubleheader. Nuts over ice hockey, he talked the Baltimore Clippers into letting him drop the puck for faceoffs during practice.

Brandt played his last game in 1967. Now 75, he is reportedly living in Nebraska, where he is retired from a job with UPS.

Comments

Once while playing in Chicago, Brandt raved about a Baskin Robins that had just opened 30 miles outside of town. Brandt drove a car load of players there after a game. He ordered vanilla.

Thank you, Mike Klingamen. I just turned 60, and remember almost all the antics of these three guys. Thanks for refreshing my recollection. Wasn't Brandt also the guy who would see flying insects, real or imagined, while he was at the plate and start walking around pinching them out of the air? Where have all the screwballs gone?

Thanks Mike for bringing alive some really fond memories.

I believe Clint Courtney is on the left in the photo.

Courtney is indeed on the left, showing off the oversized mitt used by Orioles' catchers to handle pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm's knuckleballs. Thomson -- the same guy whose home run gave the NY Giants the NL flag in 1951 -- is on the right.

Courtney is indeed on the left, showing off the oversized mitt used by Orioles' catchers to handle pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm's knuckleballs. Thomson -- the same guy whose home run gave the NY Giants the NL flag in 1951 -- is on the right.

Jackie Brandt is living in Leesburg, Florida.

the ice cream story happened when brandt was in philly. the rest is true about the vanilla. he also designed the o's uniform for i think 1964. sorta looked liked the giants uniform. block letters kind of dull. he had power great speed and was too flakey.

Love these stories. Keep em' coming/

Hey, don't forget, Jackie Brandt helped bring Frank Robinson to Baltimore. The Orioles sent Brandt to the Phillies for Jack Baldschun, and Norm Siebern to the Angels for Dick Simpson, then packaged those guys with Milt Pappas for F-Robby.

Couldn't have done it without you, Flakey!

These are great! Keep 'em coming!
Funny how Brandt and Moe both wore 25. Must have been in the number.
If you are taking suggestions, how bout Randy Milligan, Kiko Garcia, John Lowenstein and Storm Davis to name but a few. Heck you do enough of these you could put them in a book.

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