John Lowenstein stood in the Baltimore clubhouse Monday in his jeans of many pockets, his moccasins and T-shirt with the tail casually out.
As the Orioles trickled in from batting practice, there was Lowenstein with a devilish grin on his face, except it was even more open than usual. After the worst has happened, you don't need to keep up the facade any more.
When you're released after 18 years of pro baseball, it's usually too much for a strong man to bear. Mark Belanger and Mike Cuellar cursed the manager. Jim Palmer ran off a podium in tears. Al Bumbry swore he could still play and switched leagues. Benny Ayala even went back to the minors.
What almost nobody does is what Lowenstein did. Take it in stride. Call it quits with good grace. Lead the laughter at your own wake.
"Gone," said Tippy Martinez, the way you'd say, "Going, going, gone."
"Still right here, pal," said Lowenstein, grabbing Martinez' hand.
"Who'm I going to dinner with now?" asked Martinez plaintively.
"I'm not going to rush off," said Lowenstein, throwing an arm around huge Larry Sheets, the rookie whose emergence made him expendable. "Thanks for all the help," murmured Sheets.
"Pleasure," said Mike Boddicker, leaving it at one word.
"Gonna live here all year or move back to Las Vegas?" Rick Dempsey asked.
"Home's here," said Lowenstein.
"Good," said Dempsey. "You got my number."
"He's about the only guy I ever saw that the game didn't get to," mused Martinez. "I wish I had his attitude. Once I gave up a home run and said to him, 'Jeez, what should I do?'
"Lo said, 'Ask for another ball.' "
"I've known him since Reno in '68. We were teammates," said coach Ray Miller. "It was real nice of him to let me share some of his world. And lemme tell you, he's got a great world."
What's so great about it?
"Brother Lo's world is spontaneous, intelligent, humorous . . . . He can just sit and amuse himself by thinking . . . . He's taken good care of his money and his life. He'll go on to better things."
Usually, managers don't mourn too long about releasing players who are batting .077 and the previous season hit .114 with men in scoring position.
Yet Joe Altobelli was almost beside himself talking about Lowenstein. "Nothing but man. He understood everything . . . . A manager's player. He'd give you 100 percent when he wasn't 100 percent (healthy) . . . . Don't know if he had a brilliant mind, but it's close . . . .
"When (Fred) Lynn hit that home run Saturday, he was the first guy off the bench to home plate . . . . He's as much an Oriole as anyone who's ever been an Oriole. We all read the writing on the wall, but with somebody like that, you don't wanna read it till the last day."
Altobelli looked out at the field, punched his knee angrily and growled hoarsely, "It's too bad these bodies have to wear out."
At 38, Lowenstein wore out from hard and honorable use.
Before he came to Baltimore for the $20,000 waiver price in 1979, he'd been a .238 journeyman with no power. Earl Weaver made Lowenstein a project. "The man's a genius at finding situations where an average player -- like me -- can look like a star because a lot of subtle factors are working in your favor," Lowenstein once said.
For five years, Lowenstein was perfect for the Orioles. From '79 through '81, he batted 582 times with 21 homers and 81 RBI, 30 steals and 84 walks. The next two years, he was better -- a part-time superstar. In 632 at bats, he had 121 runs, 39 homers, 126 RBI and a .301 average with 103 walks.
In 38 postseason at bats, he slugged .500 with nine RBI. In the '83 World Series, he jumped above the fence to steal a Phillies home run. And, in the '83 pennant race, he hit game-winning grand slams off Goose Gossage and Aurelio Lopez within 11 days.
"The only time I ever said, 'No comment,' was after the homer off Goose,' " Lowenstein said. "He can throw a ball through you if he doesn't like what he reads in the papers."
Lowenstein's gift was that he knew how to care a lot and yet be devil-may-care. "Baseball's a serious, difficult craft," he said. "It's also a lotta fun sometimes."
One thing he never mastered was bunting. After bollixing a sacrifice, he snarled, "Evaluate my bunting? Well, I bunt better than a billion Chinese. Those guys can't bunt at all."
Once, he got knocked cold by a throw that let the winning run score. As he was being carried off the field on a stretcher, he woke up, listened to the sympathetic applause, played possum, then, just before reaching the dugout, sat up suddenly and threw both arms above his head in a "Rocky" salute.
This man who ran rapids, shot the white water and backpacked in the mountains in the offseason once was a Marine. He played like it between the white lines.
However, off the field, he is a reader and a lazy meanderer, an amusing talker and a man with a college degree in anthropology.
Normally, baseball breaks out in hives when it sees a player with long, permed hair and a mustache, a man who speaks in an enigmatic, clipped deadpan or is sardonic and tart. If that fellow hails from Wolf Point, Mont., spends the offseason in Las Vegas with his former-dancer wife and wears sunglasses indoors, he might get shunned.
However, in Baltimore, he was, in General Manager Hank Peters' words, "a key to our chemistry. We don't want a team with everybody cut from the same bolt of cloth."
When cakes came into the locker room, the Orioles would chant, "Lo . . . Lo . . . " until Lowenstein took a bat and, samurai style, demolished the gift. When a black cat once entered the dugout during a vital game, Lowenstein reversed the hex by slamming a bat near the cat's tail, sending it, like a voodoo rocket, across the infield in front of the other team's startled pitcher.
In a game that often asks, as its price of admission, a large chunk of a man's dignity, Lowenstein managed to leave the game with his still whole.
He was cut from a different cloth, yet never hid his colors.