"Merv," says Powell, "will say things sometimes that are really weird." "He comes up with some great lines," says Oriole Third Baseman Brooks Robinson. "He is," says Shortstop Mark Belanger, "funny as a son of a gun."
But, from the available evidence, such testimony may be more useful as an indictment of locker-room wit than as a tribute to a neo- Lenny Bruce.
"When Bobby Grich came back to the dugout after striking out one day," said Oriole Coach Billy Hunter, recalling a Rettenmundian jape, "Merv called him over and said, 'Now, Bobby, when the pitcher turns his hands like this [and Hunter described with his own hands a twist of the wrist common to any high school pitcher] that means he's going to throw a breaking pitch.' Bobby just looked at him like he was getting great advice. I think he thought Merv was really serious."
Some of Rettenmund's bon mots vary according to the interpreter. "Merv always says two things in life are certain," says Belanger. "There'll be snow in the winter and I'll get my two hits." "Merv always says three things in life are certain," says Second Baseman Dave Johnson. "Death, taxes and my three hits."
Rettenmund is asked which National League team he would prefer to play against in the World Series, providing the Orioles survive the playoffs with Oakland. He answers without hesitation: "The Philadelphia Phillies."
Merv Rettenmund comes from Flint, Mich. His father, a General Motors superintendent and frustrated baseball player, began early to groom his son as the projection of his own thwarted ambition. The son dutifully applied himself, never rebelling against the paternal imperative. "I always enjoyed playing baseball," he says. "I enjoy it even more now."
Rettenmund went to Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he majored in physical education—he hopes to coach college baseball someday—starred in football and baseball and married a pretty coed whose first and middle names, Susan Kay, were the same as his sister's. He never considered himself a natural athlete, but he broke school rushing records in football and home-run records in baseball. He was good enough in football to be drafted as a possible wide receiver or defensive back by the Dallas Cowboys. He was—and still is—a heavily muscled, 5'10" 187-pounder with exceptional speed.
"Mervin had tremendous natural ability," says Ray Louthen, his college football and baseball coach. "He's probably the finest all-round athlete who ever played at Ball State. He is the kind of kid you have great affection for. And I think he had great respect for me. It's not like a normal coach-player relationship. I don't think I've ever felt this way about any other player. I just marvel at the kid. He's the same now as then."
Mervin is no kid now, but, at 28, he is just approaching his potential as a professional athlete. "He will be a consistent .300 hitter," says Oriole Manager Earl Weaver. "He always makes contact, and I think he'll learn to hit with power. Now he's just trying to hit the ball. But he has the strength to hit from 30 to 35 home runs a season."
Rettenmund spent four years in the minor leagues and another two trying to break into the Baltimore outfield, so he qualifies in terms of experience as a late bloomer. There were times during that long period when he felt he might never flower. He nearly quit the game in his first season, with Stockton in the California League. "I was really down," he recalls. "I was lonely. I wasn't hitting. It all seemed like a mistake."