Catching Up With ... former Oriole Mickey Tettleton
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No player personified the 1989 Orioles more than Mickey Tettleton, the poster boy for the "Why Not?" crew that nearly won a pennant. Spurned by other clubs, Tettleton joined Baltimore and blossomed in that magical summer as the no-name Orioles gave fans the ride of their lives.
That the Birds battled Toronto to the wire before losing the American League flag was due greatly to Tettleton, the Popeye-armed journeyman catcher who batted with a chaw in his cheek and a stance all his own.
So what if he stood soldier-straight at the plate, abandoning the hitter’s crouch? Tettleton hit a club-high 26 home runs in 1989, made the All-Star team and carried the Orioles for half a season.
His appetite was legend. Froot Loops were his fancy and when word got out, boxes of the kids’ cereal flew off local supermarket shelves.
"I literally ate Froot Loops every day," said Tettleton, 48. "I was superstitious about stuff like that."
Crowds played along, shouting "Loops" when he batted and celebrating Tettleton’s homers by throwing handfuls of cereal around like confetti. A stuffed toucan – a gift from a fan – sat atop his locker at Memorial Stadium.
"People started sending little boxes of Froot Loops in the mail for me to sign," he said. Tettleton did and returned the boxes. Unopened, of course.
Twenty years later, he still gets letters from fans that refer to his love for the cereal – though he concedes that middle age has brought changes to his diet.
"I’m more of a ‘Special K’ guy now," he said.
His three seasons in Baltimore ran the gamut. Deemed a washout at 27, he signed here in 1988, when the Orioles lost their first 21 games and landed in last place. A year later, they bounced back to finish two games off the pace.
"We went from being a team that couldn’t hit water if we fell out of a boat, to being a team that couldn’t do anything wrong," said Tettleton. "The difference? Chemistry. Except for Cal (Ripken), we were guys that nobody had ever heard of, and we bonded really well."
Given a chance to play every day in 1989, Tettleton thrived.
"Playing in Baltimore relaunched my career. I got to live out a dream," he said. "It was a memorable year, right from Opening Day when we beat (Boston’s) Roger Clemens. In my mind, I still play the tapes of those games."
Dealt to Detroit in 1991, Tettleton played seven more years, 14 in all, finishing his career with 245 home runs and the big-league record for most strikeouts in a season by a switch hitter (160, with the Orioles in 1990).
"That’s probably not the best record to hold," he said.
Married and the father of four, Tettleton lives in Norman, Okla. where his wife, Shannon, owns a hair salon. An avid golfer, he competes in both celebrity events and on a mini-seniors tour.
Friday night, he’ll return to Baltimore to participate in a 20th anniversary celebration of the "Why Not?" Orioles. Tettleton, outfielder Mike Devereaux and pitchers Dave Schmidt and Dave Johnson will sign autographs. Then Tettleton and Devereaux will each throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Orioles’ game against the Los Angeles Angels.
"Hopefully, I can get the ball all the way to home plate in the air," Tettleton said.
He’ll have had Froot Loops beforehand. Just in case.