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Catching up with ... former Oriole Eddie Watt

eddie-watt-1.jpg Eddie Watt lives in peaceful anonymity, in a speck of a town in Nebraska, where the talk is of crops and cows and Cornhusker football. The Orioles? Not a word.

Many in North Bend (pop. 1,200) don't know there's a celebrant in their midst. Mention that Watt, 70, a longtime resident, owns two World Series rings and they'd scratch their heads and say, "Eddie What?"

Watt likes it there. After 42 years in baseball — including eight with the Orioles (1966-73) as a bullpen ace — he retired in 2003 and left the game behind. Nowadays, the man with the third-best career ERA in Orioles history (2.73) spends his time bass fishing in the Platte River, golfing and playing cards with the local elders.

Mornings find Watt at the senior center near his home, seated with a roomful of grey-haired women and playing a mean game of bridge.

"My partner [Marcella Pallett] is 96 and sharp as a tack," Watt said.

eddie-watt-3.jpg Has it been half a century since Watt signed with the Orioles, and 45 years since he helped the club win a championship in 1966? A rookie that season, Watt won nine games and saved four more as the Birds ran off with the American League flag and then swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

Watt had set the tone on Opening Day, earning a save in a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox. There was the pudgy, fastballing right-hander, making his first big-league appearance and nursing a one-run lead in the 13th inning. He retired the side easily, getting slugger George Scott, Tony Horton and Rico Petrocelli in order.

"That [game] fulfilled my childhood fantasy," Watt said.

During his time here, he won 37 games and saved 74 as Baltimore won four AL pennants. He shined in 1969, going 5-2 with a career-high 16 saves and an eye-popping 1.65 ERA.

Watt fit nicely in the Orioles' relief corps, an eclectic bunch that included the likes of Stu Miller, Dick (Turkey Neck) Hall, Pete Richert, knuckleballer Eddie Fisher and prankster Moe Drabowsky.

eddie-watt-2.jpg "I was there when Moe put goldfish in the bullpen's drinking water, and when he called Peking on the bullpen phone to order Chinese takeout food," Watt said. "Moe was forever bringing snakes around, and I was one of the few guys who didn't mind draping the boas and rat snakes around my neck. It freaked the others out."

The low point of his career? The catcalls Watt received after surrendering a game-winning home run in the 1970 World Series. The Birds won the Series, four games to one, but fans wanted a sweep and felt Watt had blown it.

For three years, until he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1973, Watt said he was booed routinely whenever he walked to the mound at Memorial Stadium. Crowds were unforgiving.

"It [sniping] didn't bother me as much as it did my kids," he said. "They were small; they didn't understand."

Ironically, Watt allowed only 37 home runs in his 10-year career — an average of one homer for every 18 innings pitched. He was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2000.

"That," he said, "was a pleasant surprise."

Watt spent three decades as a minor league coach with the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Phillies and San Diego Padres. Married 38 years, he has three children, five grandkids and a wife who doesn't mind him hanging out mornings with the Golden Girls.

He is 85 pounds heavier than his playing weight (180) but "in moderately good health" despite having had both knees and a shoulder replaced. Arthritis in his hands keeps Watt from wearing his World Series rings.

"If I had it to do over, I'd make a conscious effort to take better care of myself," said Watt, who declared himself an alcoholic 23 years ago. He vowed to quit drinking and said he hasn't had a drop since.

"I drank a lot as a player, though I never missed a day's work. I just stopped [boozing] on my own," he said. "But I'll still go into a bar here in town and have a Pepsi."

Credit 1: Baltimore Sun photo of Eddie Watt. Credit 2: Baltimore Sun photo of Eddie Watt. Credit 3: Baltimore Sun photo of Eddie Watt and Brooks Robinson.

Comments

Maybe it's my imagination, but isn't the picture in the Sun this morning Dick Hall? I know someone is holding an Eddie Watt card, but that looks like Hall in the background.

You are correct. That was a mistake on our part. Thanks for the correction. -- Sun editor

Eddie Watt was a favorite of ours while he was pitching. We had season tickets on front row 3rd base side and Eddie would walk past us on his way to the bullpen. Great guy who always stopped and chatted - always in a good mood.

He once got us tickets (I believe '73) for a doubleheader (he probably remembers) in Detroit at the old park. We lost both games that day, but enjoyed the heck out of the experience.

Eddie was a heck of a reliever. Seems like he was doing accounting in the offseason, but I might be mistaken.

So I tip my hat to Eddie Watt, and thanks to messenger Klingaman for sharing this story with us.

Thanks for the memories, Mike. Watt was a rookie the same year I was a rookie copy-reader on the Sun ('66). We sort of grew up together. It is worth pointing out to the younger generation that Watt's great year (16 saves!!! -- woo-hoo!) came before baseball became statball. Yeah, sure, Mariano saves 40-50 games a year, so how good could Watt have been with 16? It was a different time. Earl Weaver one year (1981, maybe?) went with an eight-man pitching staff -- four starters and four relievers. For Earl, "deep depth" meant that he always had a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement on the bench. He relied on eight pitchers because they all were good. Starters would give you 9 innings, or pretty near. And that was with a four-man rotation. His four-man bullpen featured two lefties and two righties. Watt (R) and Pete Richert (L) were the closers, and -- oh, memory fails me now -- Dick Hall (R) and Tom Underwood (L) were the long relievers. I am probably overlapping pitchers who were never on the same team, but the point is that in an era when starters tried to complete games and sportswriters were not mesmerized by stats, 16 saves was a job well done. Now starters pitch only every five days, and are expected to last only five or six innings. So you need more relievers, which means a blend of superstars like Mariano and shaky middle relievers who might (or might not) give you one solid inning. I often wish that Jim Palmer on his TV gig would talk about why he was able to pitch every four days and log 300-plus innings year after year, and have a longer career than most of the current aces. Palmer, as I recall, would not lift weights -- thought it would mess up the musculature that made him an ace. Now that everyone is in top shape, we have 30-day disabled stints for "oblique" strains, and the like. The flabby stars of yesteryear never heard of "oblique" muscles. Is there a story here? Anyway, thanks for the update on Eddie Watt.

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