Stanhouse Place is the most agreeable location in the Oriole clubhouse -- and to get there from the real world simply drift toward the music and hang a right at the batting coach. The large sign is partially hidden these days by a New Yorker cartoon that speaks volumes about the intriguing resident and his employers.
The cartoon shows a creature -- Muppetish, with har flowing from every part of his face and head -- sitting in a barber chair and saying: "take it off."
"it came from the front office," said Don Stanhouse, "those folks known where I came from; they just don't know where I'm going."
There is more to that final comment than one might imagine, Indeed, much of Baltimore management, much of Baltimore fandom, in fact much of major-league baseball, is perplexed by the loudest and cockiest Bird, the one with the most plummage and arguably the luckiest and best at the moment.
Conventional thinkers are as stymied as the hitters who must wait an eternity between Stanhouse pitches. What do we make of this fellow who seems to have leftover spaghetti spewing from his cap, who drives his manager daffy and who, when asked if he would like to say anything special to anyone earing to read this far, said:
Tell them a cordial hello -- and to take it personally."
Stanhouse seems to work at keeping the world off balance. On the field and off, he wants everyone to swing at his pitch, and only when he is ready to throw it. Too many assume this blustery flake has no solid, serious core.
"he enjoys his image," said pitching coach Ray Miller of the fellow known as Stan the Man Unusual. "But he and [Jim] Palmer know the hitters in the American League better than any other pitchers.
"He growls like everything when I make the pitchers run, so everbody can hear. What everyone doesn't realize is that he comes out and runs 10 laps on his own before anyone else. So the 10 he does for me means he's actually done twice as many as the others.
"I don't by this off-the-wall image. I know the guy.Sure, he might be fooling around out there [in the bullpen] the first few innings, But in the fifth he's right there in the same spot, by the water cooler on the left corner of the bench, deep into exactly what's going on in the game."
Most of his life, Stanhouse believes, has prepared him for short relief.
"That fits me perfectly," he said, "because I have real short highs and real quick lows, so many tangents in my life, so much good and a little bad to deal with real quick. I like to get it over fast.
"Sometimes everything's going great on that mound; sometimes it ought to be a tombstone, because that's where you of it eat at me. I keep it in till I can deal with it -- boom.
"i don't anything in life to pass by without me taking a look."
It is not true Stanhous once drove a hearse to the ballpark. That black Rolls merely looked as though it belonged in a funeral procession. And he does not regularly pour beer into the stuffed animals the frequently populate Stanhouse Place.
"I happened to bring my favorite frog in one night," he explained, "and I won. I figured if I win, the frog wins, so I fed it a beer. And word got around."
Also, it is not true Oriole Manager Earl Weaver never has seen Stanhouse pitch. Legend has it Weaver, unable to cope with Stanhouse's walks and stalls, his flair for making a bad situation worse before escaping, flees for the dugout tunnel as his ace reliever toes the mound.
"Spring training he sees me," Stanhouse said. "But we figured it out that he's never seen me pitch [during the season] the last two years. I throw ball one and ball two, and then I look for Earl running out of the dugout and saying: What's happening?'
"He sees me in spring training.That's it."
"Earl does kinda disappear," Miller said.
"I do have a favorite spot [somewhere in the tunnel]," Weaver admitted. "This is only half a put-on."
Most of the Orioles can mark time by Stanhouse. When he nears the clubhouse from the field entrance after batting and fielding practice and gives off a yell that curls paint, it is time to snap on the game face and head for the field.
"I lood forward to it," Doug DeCinces said.
Of course, while everyone else moves toward the dugout on his cue, Stanhouse stays in the clubhouse.
"I don't leave until the second inning," he said. "That might be superstition, or maybe Elrod [Hendricks, the bullpen coach] won't let me out there till then. Anyway, I'll go out about the top of the third and have a cup of coffee. "I like to watch our offense -- and I also like to watch for humorous things -- a broken bat, a hanging curve that ends up in orbit. I like to watch the other team's lineup at least once around, so by the sixth I'm dead into the game."
By the eight, Stanhouse often literally is in the game. And by his third pitch, Weaver has escaped the budgout, the fans also are beside themselves with tension and the Oriole infielders are beginning to nod.
"The Sleeper," Miller says. "That's what we call it. You know, the routine he goes through. Count 3 and 2, he takes his hat off and rubs one side of his head against his shoulder three times, then hitches his belt, then scuffs the mound.
"Your's supposed to take only 20 seconds, but he gets more. Lots of times about when the 20 seconds are up, the batter'll step out -- and that gives Stanley even more time. The second-base ump sometimes keeps a stopwatch of Stanley. And just when he thinks he's got him [for the time limit] the batter steps back and he's got to flick the thing off and on again."
Stanhouse had a 6-1 record and eight saves his first 25 appearances. He also walked 29 batters in 38 2/3 innings.
Earl says I can't pitch with a five-run lead," Stanhouse said, "and he says I can't pitch five runs behind. I'll settle for that. He's the boss. It's true that the times I a little lead [with another pitcher's runners on base] I put myself in a jam real soon.
"But I'm better with pressure."
His margin for error, both in terms of runs in a game and inches in the strike zone, is uncommonly thin. He came to the Orioles, with Gary Roenicke, in December 1977, and the Orioles' scouting report give him a number that translates into mediocre.
The number is five -- or average -- and that was his rating with each pitch, although the report added: "an occasional six for fast ball."
Still, the numbers that means most in his 11/2 years in Baltimore are: 32 saves, two homers allowed in nearly 115 innings and a 12-10 record.
"He simply will not give in to a hitter," Miller said. "He'll take a walk rather than give up the big hit. He makes them hit his pitch. He outlasts them. I don't think I've ever seen a pitcher do that.
"The bases are loaded, we got a one-run lead, he's behind in the count and somebody on the bench, probably Pat Kelly, will say: 'Stanley has them right where he wants them.'"
Stanley does have his vulnerable moments.
"Sometimes you're concerned over your physical condition. Is it going well? Am I losing the edge? Am I too old? Am I that good? When will the control run out? There are lots of concerns, but you deal with them and don't dwell on them.
"You dwell on them and you waste time that should be given to something else."
Whatever is on Stanhouse's mind usually charges out his mouth rather quickly. Frequently, not entirely in jest, he will walk through the small corridor that separates Weaver and Miller and mutter, loud enough for both to hear: "Ain't no sense getting me up if you're not gonna use me. I might not be here tomorrow."
He always returns. But what about next year? Stanhouse will be a free agent at the end of the season. With that in mind, no one who knows Stanhouse knows what to make of what he told a fan who wanted a baseball autographed the other night: "mail it to me in Los Angeles." CAPTION: Picture, Don Stanhouse