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Catching Up With ... former Oriole Ron Hansen

From time to time 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 was tall and rangy, with soft, sure hands and a schnozz that earned him the nickname "The Horn."

At 6-foot-3, the Orioles’ Ron Hansen towered over most shortstops of the day. And Hansen’s success half a century ago gave the nod to bigger men who’d later fill his shoes, guys like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.

Has it been 50 years since Hansen broke in with a bang in Baltimore, earned a starting berth on the All-Star team and was named American League Rookie of the Year – the first Oriole so honored?

"I was blessed," said Hansen, 71. "People my size weren’t supposed to play shortstop, but I lasted 15 years.

"I was never a fast guy, as my records show (9 stolen bases lifetime), but my first couple of steps were good and my lateral movement was quick."

That Hansen played alongside Brooks Robinson surely helped his game. Manager Paul Richards called the two youngsters his "sliding doors" because few balls trickled through the left side of the Orioles’ infield in 1960, when the "Baby Birds" nearly won a pennant.

"What a year that was," said Hansen, who batted .255 with a team-high 22 home runs and 86 RBIs. He also got three hits in the All-Star games (there were two contests that season).

"Everything just seemed to fall into place that year," he said. "Brooks and I and (pitchers) Chuck Estrada and Skinny Brown lived in a rooming house on Chestnut Hill Ave., near Memorial Stadium. Every day we’d walk to the ballpark, signing autographs as we went."

In early September, the upstart Orioles swept three games from first-place New York to take the AL lead, but later that month dropped four straight to the Yankees to fall from grace.

"We probably could have won a couple of those games with timely base hits, but . . . the Yankees were the Yankees," Hansen said.

The season over, Hansen reported for National Guard duty at Fort Knox, Ky. It was there, during basic training, that he learned he’d won Rookie of the Year honors.

"I was called into the (base) office and told of the award," he said. No big deal.

"The army didn’t follow sports too well," said Hansen.

He spent two more years with Baltimore, then was dealt to Chicago in a multi-player deal that brought shortstop Luis Aparicio from the White Sox. Hansen retired in 1972, a pretty long run for a guy wracked with back problems all his life.

He settled in Baldwin, in northern Baltimore County, on a lot he’d bought during his rookie campaign. Hansen stayed in baseball for much of his life, as a major league coach and scout, until retiring last season.

Married 50 years, Hansen has two children, three grandchildren and a few keepsakes that are dear to his heart. Like the bat signed by every member of the 1960 AL All-Star team, from Mickey Mantle to Ted Williams.

"I was never much of a collector," he said. "But that’s something I’ll always cherish."

He’s still best friends with Robinson. They spent a day together last week at Laurel Park, watching the races and reliving old times.

While Robinson is a Hall of Famer, Hansen is proud that his glove, at least, is on display at Cooperstown. In 1968, while playing for the Washington Senators, Hansen turned an unassisted triple play, one of 15 in big league history.

"I wasn’t a Hall of Fame player, but I’m pleased that some part of me is up there," he said. "It’s a good thing to tell the grandkids."

Baltimore Sun photo credits: Top - Hansen is held up by outfielders Gene Woodling (left) and Jackie Brandt after a game-winning hit May 30, 1960 against the Boston Red Sox. Bottom - Hansen poses for a photo May 7, 1977.

Comments

These "Catching Up With" articles are great. Thank you! Please keep them coming.

Man does seeing that photo of Ronnie, Gene Woodling, and Jackie Brandt bring back great childhood memories for me. I'm glad to read that Ron is doing well. The last I'd heard about him was he was an advance scout for the Yankees. I wonder what's the news about Jackie Brandt? I know Woodling passed away, but is Jackie still alive?

Love these articles, can I take a guess at who is holding up Hansen in the picture ?

My guess is Gene Woodling and Jackie Brandt.

GREAT! Keep those catching ups coming! Ronnie Hansen, Brooks, Jerry Adair and Diamond Jim. The IF for my 1st ever O's game as a kid. I remember Marv Breeding playing both ss and 2nd that year too. Was sorry to see him traded, but w/o Lillte Looie we might have missed in 66.

These columns have brought back so many good memories of Memorial Stadium and the real O's. My Dad reads them and he laughs and always says that he remembers those days and games. It's brought him a lot of joy. Thanks.

Thanks for the update on Ron Hansen. The 1960 Oriole team was an exciting group of players and 1960 was one of the best to enjoy as a fan.

You refreshed my memory about how Hansen left the O's. I forgot completely that he had a long MLB career.

Keep writing an occasional column about retired O's players in the Toy Department.. When I saw your article about Ron Hansen, I read it before any other. I really wanted to discover what had happened to him since 1960.

I missed your articles. I'm glad they are back, Mike.

THANK YOU SO MUCH. YOU BRING BACK MY CHILDHOOD WHEN I LIVED WITH MY GRANDPARENTS. I WOULD STAY UP LATE TO LISTEN TO THE NEWS TO CATCH UP ON THE BIRDS AND THEM WALK 1/2 MILE TO GET THE SPOKSMAN REVIEW MORNING NEWSPAPER TO READ THE BIRDS BOX SCORE. 50 YEARS LATER I STILL READ THOSE BOX SCORES. LET TURN IT AROUND AND WIN THIS YEAR... YOU CAN BEAT THOSE DAMN YANKEES AND RED SOX I JUST KNOW WE CAN...

Thanks Mike, glad to catch up with Catching Up With. Ron was before my time, as were most of those Colts; but that's precisely why your column is so valuable. I remember all their names and basic info from books, but reading comments from the fans who do remember them, and hearing the players' own recollections and what they're doing now, that's a treasure. Esp since the current Angel-O's aren't making much history. Yet.

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