Catching Up With ... former Oriole Angelo Dagres
Who is the only Orioles rookie ever to be signed off the street and suit up for the big league team on the same day?
Angelo Dagres, 21, hadn’t played an inning of pro baseball when he trotted out to left field in Memorial Stadium that warm September night in 1955. Fans glanced at their programs, puzzled. Reporters scratched their heads.
“My name wasn’t even in the scorecard,” said Dagres, who’d signed with the Orioles after an impressive, if hasty, tryout. “Nobody knew who I was.”
By season’s end, they knew. In eight games, Dagres hit .267, had one game-winning RBI and made several circus catches for the woebegone Orioles (57-97-2). For two weeks, he was the talk of the town.
“There’s a kid I wouldn’t take $150,000 for,” coach Luman Harris said, watching the kid take batting practice.
“He’s really a tiger, isn’t he?” Orioles manager Paul Richards said of Dagres. “He hustles from the time he steps on the field. Just how far he can go from here, you can’t tell — but he’s got an awful lot of ability.”
Dagres never again played in the majors. Booze and a brash attitude did him in, he says. Miffed at being sent to the minors, he began drinking heavily. For six years, he kicked around in the bushes until sidelined by a freak injury. In 1961, during a road trip to Columbus, Ohio, Dagres hurt his shoulder when the ceiling collapsed in his hotel room. He retired thereafter, his abbreviated big league career forgotten.
Fifty-five years later, he wishes he’d focused on baseball.
“I had it all — speed and a good arm — and I threw it away,” said Dagres, 76, of Newburyport, Mass. “When the Orioles didn’t call me up, I started carousing and staying out late. If I’d been a man, I’d have busted my butt to get back to the big leagues instead of moping and crying in my beer, so to speak.”
Back then, Dagres said, he ignored advice from the game’s best minds.
“Once, Richards suggested I stop dropping my elbow at the plate,” he said. “I told him, ‘Please, sir, don’t tell me how to hit. I’ve never batted under .400, and you never hit over .250.’”
The only time Dagres was nervous was before his first Orioles game on Sept. 11, 1955. In the Birds’ clubhouse, Dagres — of Greek descent — was welcomed by two other Greeks, pitcher Billy Loes and catcher Gus Triandos. But the jitters arose as he stood at his post during the National Anthem.
“I couldn’t stop my knees from shaking,” Dagres said. “I trembled so bad that I thought the fans could actually see it.”
He survived the game, a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City A’s, plating one run on a fielder’s choice and saving another with a running catch of Hector Lopez’ fly that send Dagres crashing into the outfield wall. Not that he remembers the impact.
“I was so scared that day, I didn’t feel anything,” he said.
Nine days later, in Boston, Dagres knocked in the winning run in the 10th inning in the Orioles’ 3-2 victory over the Red Sox. The win lifted Baltimore out of last place in the American League for the first time all season.
It was there, at Fenway Park, that Dagres met his cheeky match.
“Richards talked [Boston’s] Ted Williams into giving a few of us young guys hitting tips before the game,” he said. “There we were, Wayne Causey, Tommy Gastall and myself, standing under the center-field stands with Williams, who had a golf club in his hands.”
During the lesson, Dagres said, Williams told the trio that “Jesus Christ himself couldn’t throw a fastball by me.”
“I’ll tell you this — nobody laughed,” Dagres said.
Photo of Angelo Dagres courtesy of Angie Dagres / 1955