Friday, January 18, 2013

#488 - Andy Etchebarren

Speaking of unibrows – it came up on the former post – here is Andy Etchebarren, owner of perhaps the best eyebrow(s) ever in baseball. Andy is crouching in what I believe is the spring training facility and I have been struggling with who that might be behind him. My initial read is that the guy’s a lefty but no Oriole on the roster fills that bill except perhaps Dave McNally but he wasn’t that lean or slope-shouldered. I suppose the guy could be hitting some infield and is just waiting for the ball which opens it up to a righty. If that’s the case then my bet is it’s Jim Fuller, a rookie outfielder who was lean and carried the big muttonchops this guy’s sporting. Also this card sports what I believe is only the second photographer’s shadow of the set, hich means Andy’s staring directly into the sun. Good thing he had those eyebrows.

Andy Etchebarren was of Basque decent which goes a long way explaining his look and grew up in La Puente California. A fine multi-sport athlete he was hotly pursued by a bunch of teams in high school when the Orioles nabbed him with a six-figure bonus in ’61. He finished out the summer with a few games in C ball where he hit .224 and showed good work behind the plate. In ’62 he hit .249 in A ball which was awfully good back then for an O’s catcher and he made his Baltimore debut in a couple games late that September. He then spent the next three years moving up the ladder from Single to Triple A, putting up good defensive numbers along the way but frustrating offensive ones since in an interview back then he indicated he hit above .300 the final couple months each year but only managed a .255 best during that time. In ’64 he peaked OBA-wise at Double A with a .355 and at the end of ’65 he got into a couple more games for Baltimore.

The Orioles had an excellent season in ’65, winning 94 games and that year they had a “catcher by committee” situation at that position. Pretty much equal time was put in by Dick Brown, Charlie Lau, and John Orsino. Orsino was traded right after the season to DC and the O’s went to spring training with the other two expected to switch duty. But Lau, who’d hit .295 the year before, was hurt during the spring and poor Dick Brown, not much of a hitter but pretty adept behind the plate, showed up to camp with what was shortly after diagnosed as a brain tumor that would kill him five years later when he was only 35. So Etchebarren, who was expected to return to Triple A when camp broke, was suddenly the starting O’s catcher. His rookie year was something else as he came out of the box hitting a – relative – ton and was still above .300 in early May. He was beaned, knocked out, and had his hand run over by Tommie Agee and still didn’t miss a game until it was discovered in July that his metacarpal had been separated probably since April. He did an excellent job managing the young pitching staff and saved Frank Robinson’s life when the to-be triple crown winner nearly drowned in a swimming pool. So while his .213 average didn’t look so great, the 106 strikeouts were a tad high, and the 15 passed balls led the league, more than a few teammates thought he was the key to their championship season. He was named an All-Star which he would also incur his second season. But ’67 was a bummer, both for Andy and the team, as his average fell enough that he was benched in May for Larry Haney, a .215 hitter, and the O’s put up a losing record while trying to defend their title. In ’68 Elrod Hendricks was added to the catching mix and he and Andy would form a lefty-righty duo the next few seasons.

In 1969 the Orioles added former Phillie starter Clay Dalrymple as a back-up catcher. Dalrymple wouldn’t be much of a threat to Etchebarren’s playing time but his acquisition was propitious for Andy since Clay advised him how to better hold his mitt to reduce nagging hand injuries he’d received throughout his career. That year the O’s began a nice run of three straight Series appearances with Andy and Hendricks splitting catching duties. In ’71 Andy topped out with a .270 average in 222 at bats. In ’72 Hendricks went to the Cubs for a year and Andy played behind rookie Johnnie Oates. From ’69 to ’72 he also picked off half the runners that tried to steal on him. In ’73 Hendricks returned but the next two seasons they both played behind new acquisition Earl Williams, though Andy’s at bats increased in ’74 as Williams put a bunch more time in at first base.  In ’75 the Orioles acquired Dave Duncan from Cleveland and after not playing too much Andy was sold to California that June. With the Angels he played behind Ellie Rodriguez the rest of the year, posting a .280 average in 100 at bats. In ’76 Rodriguez went to the Dodgers and Andy took over the top spot, hitting .227. In ’77 he returned to a reserve role behind Terry Humphrey and in ’78 he finished things up with a couple games for the Brewers. Andy had a .235 average with 49 homers and 309 RBI’s and hit .154 in 21 post-season games. He caught a bunch of 20-game winners and his lifetime caught stealing ratio was better than average in that run-happy time.

Etchebarren remained on the Brewers roster through ’78 though he spent most of the season on the DL because of bone chips in his elbow. He officially retired the next year and returned to California where he ran some local businesses, including a liquor store, for a couple years. He returned to Milwaukee and baseball in ’82 when he signed on as the team’s minor league catching instructor which he did through ’84 when in mid-season he took over managing their Stockton A team. From ’85 to ’91 he coached for the Brewers and then in ’92 moved to the Baltimore system where he coached in the minors (’92, 2003-‘04) and in Baltimore (’96-’97), but mostly managed in the minors (’93-’95, ’98-2002, and ’05-’07). He was a pretty colorful manager and seems to have learned a bunch from Earl Weaver given some of his YouTube moments. In 2008 he became hitting coach for the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs before leaving in mid-’09 to manage the rival York River Dogs. With York Andy won three league titles before retiring at the end of the 2012 season. His managerial record is 755-755.

Wow, a 19-inning game. That one bears investigating. Andy did not start the game – that’s a bit much to expect from any catcher – but he pinch hit for starter Vic Roznovsky in the fifth and stayed in the game thereafter and 14-plus innings behind the plate is pretty impressive. His two-run shot won the game 7-5. The interesting thing about the game is that both starters were bombed and were both out of the game by the third inning. The relievers then did some amazing work: on the DC side Dave Baldwin and Bob Humphreys combined for nearly six innings of perfect ball and Joe Coleman gave up a hit in five innings; on the Baltimore side Wally Bunker, Eddie Watt, and Eddie Fisher combined for nearly 12 innings of shutout ball before Stu Miller won it after giving up one hit with six K’s in his five innings. Andy went two for five and two guys had nine at bats in the game. It ran for five hours and 18 minutes. The cartoon is interesting because it’s based more on perception than reality. When Andy got off to his hot start in ’66 a bunch of his big hits were against Detroit who was a contender most of the year so Andy’s feats against them were magnified. But if you do the baseball-reference thing against individual pitchers nothing against the Detroit guys stands out long-term.

A lot of those Baltimore guys stayed put so let’s go the California route:

1. Etchebarren and Nolan Ryan ’75 to ’77 Angels;
2. Ryan and Ted Martinez ’70 to ’71 Mets.


  1. I submit Wally Moon to the unibrow hall of fame along with Etchebarren. Even my daughter noticed this on a cover of a old Baseball Digest I had lying around.

  2. More unibrows, right here: