Every baseball team needs a tough, ornery veteran who doesn't have good sense, who will run through a wall, who thinks its fun to try to steal a base on a broken ankle. If he also happens to have a degree in anthropology, reads books without pictures, goes down rapids on a raft during the All-Star break, plays his best in the clutch and tries his best to look as a mob's hit man, that adds a bit of spice.
Thus, we see why the Baltimore Orioles are so fond of their resident cynic, madman, professional conscience, voice of wisdom and general gladfly: John Lowenstein, alias Brother Low.
This evening, the Orioles won their seventh straight game, handing the Oakland A's their sixth consecutive beating, 6-5, before 14,689 in Memorial Stadium. Lowenstein was a large part of the reason.
Most of those folks probably spewed out onto 33rd Street talking about Eddie Murray's game-winning RBI on a 440-foot solo homer that broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh and made a loser of super screwballer Mike Norris.
However, for those in the Oriole locker room, for baseball men of long years, there was special pleasure in Lowenstein's bizarre and gritty contributions.
The O's, who now have passed Oakland in percentage and, at 21-11, have the best record in the AL, entered the bottom of the sixth trailing, 4-2, and looked to be in dire straits.
Mike Flanagan, who collected his victory with late inning relief help from Tim Stoddard and Tippy Martinez, had allowed back-to-back ringing doubles to left by Tony Armas and Jeff Newman for a run in the second; then the lefty, now 5-3, made matters worse with a three-run gopher ball to Dwayne Murphy in the third on a 3-1 fast ball. The Birds, by contrast, had managed only a two-run, two-out hit by Jose Morales off Newman's glove at first base (and into short right field) in the first inning.
Lowenstein began the two-run sixth-inning rally that tied the game. An inning later, he began the rally, and scored the run, that proved to be the winner. Of course, Lowenstein did it his way; by getting blasted in the skull by Norris' best fast ball.
Lowenstein went down as though shot, the sound of his conking sounding to the upper deck. Orioles raced to his aid. Lowenstein's response was typical: he leaped to his feet, tore off his glasses in disgust, realizing they had been shattered by the impact, then flung them to the ground in a rage.
When manager, trainer and coaches surrouned him, he began cursing a blue streak and refused to be examined. To the normal foolishness about counting backward from 100, he had unprintable responses. Told to close his eyes, then open them, so it could be told if he had a concussion by the dilation of his pupils, he flatly refused. "Let's go. Get away from me," he said.
"I guess that's the way it's always going to be with John," Manager Earl Weaver said, grinning. "We almost had to get a rope to drag him out of left field one night with an ankle injury. Then he wouldn't use a crutch. He was walking around the airport with an ankle that was blue, black, yellow, chipped . . . he was out for the next 40 games, but he kept saying, 'I'm all right. Stop bothering me.' To tell the truth, it's good to see."
Lowenstein toured the bases with a vengence. After Doug DeCinces walked, Lowenstein roared for home on pinch hitter Terry Crowley's two-out single to center only to see Coach Cal Ripken had put up a stop sign. Lowenstein screeched to a halt. However, center fielder Murphy, having seen Lowenstein digging, and knowing his wild man reputation, rushed his play and kicked the ball. Lowenstein, seeing the error, did a 360-degree spin in the base path and scored. "I had trouble seeing all the way around the bases," he said.
His forced error allowed DeCinces to reach third, whence he scored to tie the game on Al Bumbry's scratch hit, this also off Newman's iron glove.
Back on the bench, Lowenstein refused treatment, refused to close his eyes and, as usual, just generally refused to act civilized. He wanted to bat against Mr. Norris again.
He got his wish next inning. After Murray's leadoff homer broke the tie, Lowenstein dug in. "I did not give him one inch," said Lowenstein, who singled to right. Before the next pitch, the O's played a little game as Morales stepped back in the box as though to call time just as Norris started to wind up. Norris stopped. "Balk." Take second, Brother Low.
That extra base allowed Lowenstein to advance to third on a long fly, then score the eventual winner on DeCinces' two-out liner through the box.
After the O's 12th win in 14 games and 16th in 19, Lowenstein, in his long, curly hair and sunglasses, acted as though he had never been knocked dizzy or found a way to be a hero.
"I'm all right," said the player other Birds look to to see if they are really playing their game with proper passion and intelligence. "Why wouldn't I be?" he added.