When Elrod Hendricks reported in Miami for spring training this year, he analyzed the Orioles’ catching and figured he would be “at least third string”. It was a safe assumption, inasmuch as the club had been saying all winter that the three catchers would be Andy Etchebarren, Clay Dalrymple and Hendricks. “I figured I would be behind Clay, and Clay would be behind Andy,” said Hendricks.
True, the plan to carry three catchers was followed, but Manager Earl Weaver had strongly suggested that Etchebarren would be the No. 1 catcher if he recovered fully from surgery to repair a knuckle broken last August. Etchebarren recovered fully, but he is not the first string. “I don’t have a No. 1 catcher,” insisted Weaver. That is partly true. Hendricks, who bats lefthanded, starts against righthanded pitching, while Etchebarren, who swings righty, starts against lefties. But that means Hendricks starts most of the time, and it was not Hendricks’ catching that impressed Weaver. Etchebarren is probably a better receiver, and Dalrymple is better than both of them.
But Hendricks was swinging a dangerous bat. Going into May, his average was .309 with 12 RBI. Until this season, no one really knew much about the 28-year-old native of the Virgin Islands. Last year, his first in the majors, people discovered he swung a pretty good bat and had flat feet, but that was about it. Now that he is playing a lot, Oriole announcers Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell are referring to him on the radio as “Mighty Wheels”. “I was in the bullpen the other night,” chuckled Hendricks, “and a bunch of kids in the left field bleachers shouted, ‘Hey, Mighty Wheels!’.
Before the Orioles drafted him in 1967, Hendricks also had been owned by the Braves, Cardinals and Angels. What he didn’t know was that Frank Lane, an Oriole scout, was keeping his eye on him. “Lane was the first scout who paid any attention to me,” said Hendricks. “I had given up on playing in the majors. I would have kept on playing though – at least, until my wheels gave out.” Another baseball man was also paying attention to Hendricks. Ellie played in Puerto Rico in 1966 under Weaver and Earl liked what he saw, figuring the Orioles certainly could find a spot for the catcher on their Rochester (International) club. It was at the urging of Lane and Weaver, then, that the Orioles acquired Hendricks.