JOHN LOWENSTEIN Apathy Club
John Lowenstein will always remain one of my all-time baseball favorites. Not only was he the most entertaining announcer I ever listened to, he was also a key role player on some of the best Baltimore Orioles teams of my childhood.
In 1979, Brother Lo’ supplied some “Orioles Magic” with a pinch-hit, three-run, walk-off home run to win game one of the ALCS. Though the Birds lost the Fall Classic in seven games that year, Lowenstein helped them win it all four years later. Overall, he batted .308 in ten World Series games for Baltimore, and enjoyed his best regular season in 1982. That year, as part of an incredibly productive three-headed platoon with right-handed hitters Gary Roenicke and Benny Ayala, the lefty-hitting Lowenstein hit .320 with 24 homers in just 322 at bats. I write all this to let you know that he could play a little bit.
That’s not what made him so unforgettable, though. Steiner’s signature moment in an Orioles uniform took place on June 19, 1980 at Memorial Stadium. Baltimore trailed the A’s 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, but had two on with two outs against Oakland pitcher Rick Langford. Up stepped Lowenstein to pinch-hit, and he pulled a single to right-field to score Mark Corey with the tying run as Al Bumbry raced from first to third. Brother Lo’ tried to take second on the throw home, but A’s first baseman Jeff Newman cut the ball off and gunned it towards second base. The baseball bounced off Lowenstein, allowing Bumbry to score the go-ahead run! It proved to be the game-winner, as the Orioles went on to win 4-3.
But wait, Lowenstein stayed down, and replays indicated that the ball had hit him in the back of the neck. A stretcher came out to carry him off the field, and the concerned crowd of 15,491 murmured among themselves. Then, just before the stretcher descended into the Orioles dugout, Lowenstein sat up abruptly and raised both his fists. The fans went nuts! “I had it planned halfway to the dugout,” Steiner admitted later. “You have to acknowledge the cheers of the fans, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to come back out after the game.” He wasn’t hurt badly, and returned to the lineup exactly one week later with run-scoring singles in his first two at bats.
Lowenstein’s unusual way of showing love to his fans was nothing new. Once, as he exited the stadium to board the team bus, somebody asked if they could have his autograph. “I left it in the clubhouse,” he replied.
In the early years of his career with the Cleveland Indians, Brother Lo’ compromised with a fan who wanted to paint a bedsheet with a pro-Lowenstein message and hang it at Muncipal Stadium. Instead, Steiner suggested “It would be a huge white sign hung in the centerfield bleachers at the stadium where fans are not allowed to sit. There’d be no writing on the banner, and it would be displayed only when the Indians were on the road”.
A traditional fan club was out of the question, too. Lowenstein thought they were a waste of time, and said so. “Cheering is bad for a player because it gives him a false sense of importance,” he explained. “Booing indicates a fan really cares enough about him to get mad, which is negative, too. But a fan who really doesn’t care one way or another about him won’t boo or cheer. That is an ideal kind of club member.”
The Lowenstein Apathy Club is what Steiner was referring to, and hundreds of letters started showing up at the Indians offices from people determined to join. While his teammates were busy getting t-shirts with their faces on the front made up, Lowenstein’s featured the back of his head and one word: “APATHY”.
“There is a great solace in not caring,” he said in 1975. “People today are so uptight about everything -war, gasoline, unions- that having complete apathy about something would be welcomed. In a small way, I can bring a moment of peace to my fellow man.”
I wrote to Steiner at the P.O. Box listed for him in Las Vegas in my baseball address book to comment for this story, but I didn’t get a reply. Come to think of it, there couldn’t be a more fitting ending.
by MALCOLM ALLEN
DID YOU KNOW: When Lowenstein came up with the Indians, the organist at Muncipal Stadium used to play “Hava Nagila” when he came to bat, assuming that he was Jewish. Informed that he wasn’t, the organist began playing “Jesus Christ Superstar” before Lowenstein’s at bats instead.
ON BASEBALL: “Baseball is reality at its’ harshest. You have to introduce a fictional world to survive.”
ON THE SECRET TO WINNING: “The secret to keeping winning streaks going is to maxmize the victories while, at the same time, minimizing the defeats.”
ON HOME RUNS: “I have noticed that there are a lot of outfielders in the American League with great mobility, and the best way to immobilize them is to hit the ball over the fence.”
ON BIRTHPLACES: “You never know where you are born. You have to take your parents’ word for it.”
ON BEING A ROLE PLAYER: “I have endeavored to retain a low profile in baseball. The organization has been more than helpful in that direction.”
ON STATS: “Nuclear war would render all baseball statistics meaningless.”
ON FAILING TO GET THE BUNT DOWN: “Sure, I screwed up that sacrifice bunt, but look at it this way. I’m a better bunter than a billion Chinese. Those suckers can’t bunt at all.”
ON WHY BENCH PLAYERS SHOULD BE PAID MORE THAN STARTERS: “I firmly believe a player who is not playing regularly should be paid more for the inconvenience. Not everyone can play at the same time. This is a far greater emotional strain than hearing the cheers and boos every day. There is a tendency to become a more irritable person. You begin to lose friends. I have observed, too, that irregulars tend to drink more alcoholic beverages, figuring that they are not going to play anyway. This can create tension in a bar, having one more blast for the bench, like having one more for the road. Alcoholism is a threat, and your body -not knowing what to expect- can suffer a heart seizure when suddenly called upon to play.”
ON STAYING READY ON THE BENCH: “I flush the john between innings to keep my wrists strong.”