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Catching Up With ... former Oriole Gary Roenicke

Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With  ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... "

He still has the wild, shaggy locks that once swept beneath his Orioles cap, except the hair is now streaked with gray. And he hasn’t gained a pound in 30 years, though age has caused some seismic shifts.

"My weight is proportionately different from when I played," said Gary Roenicke, 54. "Gravity takes over."

Has it been three decades since Roenicke’s bat and glove helped the Orioles to an American League flag in 1979 and, four years later, to a World Series title? The man known as "Rhino" hit 106 home runs for Baltimore, played stellar defense and accepted his position as a role player – though he sure didn’t like it.

Roenicke still works for the club, as a full-time scout. And, no, he doesn’t share the job with John Lowenstein, the left fielder with whom Roenicke platooned for much of his eight years in Baltimore.

That two-headed monster, the brainstorm of Orioles manager Earl Weaver, blossomed in 1982 when the right-handed Roenicke and Lowenstein, a lefty, combined for 45 homers and 140 RBI, while batting .292.

Publicly, Roenicke shrugged off his part-time role.

"How can you argue when you’re winning?" he said. "But if I could change anything, I probably would have asked why I didn’t play a little more."   

Steady afield, he saved scores of runs with sliding catches and shoestring grabs. His backhanded stab of Harold Baines’ line drive was a highlight of the Orioles’ 1983 American League Championship Series victory over Chicago.

"Even now, when I see (former shortstop) Bobby Valentine, he says, ‘You robbed me of my only would-be grand slam home run in 1979 when I was with Seattle,’ " Roenicke said.

"Once, I leaped for a fly ball at the wall in Milwaukee when a fan hit my glove. Coming down, I thought, ‘That should have been interference.’ Then I looked in my glove and the ball was there."

In 1979, his first full year in Baltimore, Roenicke was struck in the mouth by a fastball. It took 25 stitches to close the cut on his lip. He returned a week later wearing an odd contraption – a batting helmet outfitted with a football face mask for protection.

"The Orioles had gone to the Colts’ locker room, unscrewed the two bars off the front of (quarterback) Bert Jones’ helmet and put them on mine," he said. "I wore that thing for two years."

Nowadays, Roenicke lives on 4-1/2 acres in the town of Rough And Ready, Calif. (pop. 500). Married 30 years, he has three grown sons, one of whom, Josh, pitches for the Cincinnati Reds.

An Orioles scout since 2003, he sees nearly 200 games a year, coast to coast.

"I play a lot of golf when I’m on the road," he said. "I’m good around the green but I can’t hit a driver. I try to hook the ball, like when I was batting, and it winds up in the woods – or on the next fairway over."

His best memory of Baltimore? The unity of the ’79 team that lost the World Series to Pittsburgh, 4 games to 3.

"We really were family," he said. "That should have been our song, not the Pirates’. There were no fights, no shouting matches. On off days, our families went out together.

"As players, we all knew our roles. We might not have liked it, but we respected it. Talk about chemistry, well, we had it. You don’t have to have chemistry to win – the Yankees have proven that – but we had it."


Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke throws the ball as pitchers Jim Palmer (standing) and Tippy Martinez (sitting) get ready to play catch in 1981. (J. Pat Carter / Baltimore Sun)

Top photo: J. Pat Carter / Baltimore Sun


Thanks, Mike. Reading about Rhino reminds me why I'm a fan and always will be, God help me.

God, those were the good ole days!! Look at the picture and how they're dressed. Look at the grass! Long and shaggy, hardly manicured. Nothing special for sure yet these guys outshine the prima donnas of today who have it all. Gotta love palmer's shorts. Yikes!

I saw the Roenicke name in the Reds' box score the other day and it started me wondering if there was a relation....thanks for the answer.

Thank you so much for revisiting the lives of these guys, who are still a part of our lives. And thank you especially for touching base with Gary Roenicke again. I remember the grand slammie that Rhino hit at Yankee stadium to win some blessed woman $1 million. He was a great hitter with a great attitude and persona for me growing up listening to and watching my beloved O's.

I remember when he won that fan a million bucks by hitting that grand slam. That was sweet.

Looks like spring training, not Memorial Stadium.

looks like a beer league softball game is about to break out. Where in the world was this picture taken?

the orioles 79', 82 and 83
teams were special in their
own right.

rick dempsey the heart of the
orioles, wild bill up in 34, stanhouse
putting you on the edge of your
chair if he would blow the save....

earl, chain smoking and barking
at the umps... tippy coming in
and shutting the lights down...

roenicke and dr. low, yes tonight
let it be lowenstein...

the orioles weren't the best money
could buy.. but they competed and
fought hard during those years..

1982 needed four to win the pennant,
and almost pulled it off against
a very solid milwaukee team...

yes the beer was cold, and those
were some fine orioles' years.....

I remember that contraption on his helmet. You would never see anything like that today. First of all it would take a month or more for somebody to come back from that fastball to the face and then they would have some fancy face cage like the catchers wear for protection. Probably would never be the same hitter. Rhino was a real gamer.

I was a New England transplant and Red Sox fan my whole life until moving to Baltimore in 1979. What a fun year that was, " Oriole magic feel it happen", section 34 and Wild Bill, just wish it could still be like that.

The play that necessitated Roenicke to have the football face mask attached to his batting helmet occurred on Sa. Apr. 7, 1979, the second game of the regular season which was played in the afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Trailing the White Sox 3-2 with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the 6th, Roenicke was hit by a Lerrin LaGrow pitch and credited with driving in the game-tying run. The Orioles scored three more times in that inning and won 6-3.

Considering that the second picture above was taken in 1981, it was probably during the players' strike that summer. Where it was, I have no idea.

Roeniche hit a grand slam that won someone $1,000,000 in a Equitable Trust sweepstakes. I believe it was against the Yanks. He was a solid ball player and a valued piece of our puzzle.

Thomas Wolfe was right.

roenicke lowenstein murray dauer demper billy smith pat kelly mora(Andres), palmer tippy flanny, scotty, the bee, decinces(fd), belanger(?)---that's wut Earl called ...deep depth! golden times baby..

Roenicke was one of my favorite players. It is great to get udates on players from the past.

Nice story. Gary was a favorite of mine.

where is the players photos of what they look like today? Everyone remembers what they look like then.

Great article...lots of memories, great players, fun times.......thanks

Here's how much I followed the Orioles (and still do): Rhino hit a grand slam against the Yankees during the Home Run Inning and won Ann Sumner a million dollars. I think that was the last time Equitable Trust ran that promotion.

I still recall the Oriole Bird jumping up and down on a pile of cartoon money with the hilarious "You won! You won! You won!" soundtrack playing in the background......with Brooks shouting "Yes Sirreee!" at the same time.

That moment is legendary with my family.

Roenicke was always one of my favorites. I remember going to a double-header at Memorial stadium; the second game was tied in extra innings; it was 1 A.M. and I refused to leave until the game ended. Gary Roenicke hit a line drive into the foul pole in right field and we went home very happy. Great player.

Those interested in reading about the grand slam that won $1M should check out this link ... This is an SI story that ran at the time.

I remember listening to that grand slam on the radio. Every time I hear a sweepstakes inning for some lo-ball amount where I live now (Bay Area) I think back to that day...

Plus I remember meeting the lovely Mrs. Roenicke on the way to her seat during the 79 World Series, the night of the snowed out Game 1. Seems like she was quite a catch for him too, to still be there 30 years later.

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