Typically, he persevered. He hit a mere .244 that first year, but .307 the next season at Stockton. In 1968 he hit .331 with Rochester in the International League and was named Minor League Player of the Year by
The Sporting News
. In 1969, at 26, he was a big-leaguer. But faced with the solid Baltimore outfield of Don Buford, Paul Blair and Frank Robinson, he was also a bench-warmer.
"I put on 10 pounds sitting on the bench," he says. "The only problem I had was deciding where I was going to eat after the game. Finally, I got to the point where I would say to myself, 'Gee, I'm glad I'm not playing, because I would watch the pitcher and think, I can't hit that guy.' "
Merv Rettenmund was down again. And again, he persevered. Last year he got his chance to play, if only irregularly. He was the noble substitute, able to handle any of three outfield positions whenever illness, injury or slumps afflicted the regulars. He was the center-fielder for three weeks when Blair was hurt, and in that time hit hit five home runs and drove in 16 runs. He was the rightfielder when the aging Robinson required rest and the leftfielder when Buford suffered an occasional cold spell at the plate. He hit safely in 16 pf 17 games between July 26 and Aug. 15 and batted .444. He finished the 1970 season with an average of .322 for 106 games. But he was not a starter in the World Series with Cincinnati until the fifth game.
"I told him," said Weaver, "that I felt rotten about not getting him into the Series earlier. You know what he said? He said, 'Don't play me as a favor, Earl. Do what you think you should.' He's that kind of guy." Of course he is.
When Weaver finally played him in that fifth game, Rettenmund responded to the generosity with two hits, two RBIs and a home run off Cincinnati Pitcher Tony Cloninger that he still considers to be the longest he has ever hit.
He is also that kind of guy.
Then came the 1971 season, and Weaver actually needed his four outfielders. Powell first slumped, then got hurt, calamities that necessitated the shift of Robinson to first base for some of the schedule. Then Buford, enjoying a fine season along with everyone else in the outfield, pulled a groin muscle. And even the seemingly indefatigable Blair grew weary on occasion. So through accident, injury and fatigue, Rettenmund became a regular. Somehow, Weaver contrived to get more than 100 games out of each of his outfielders, but Rettenmund was the busiest among them. Playing a full season for once, he quite naturally led the Orioles in hitting and as the season ended he ranked third among all American League batters.
"He is our most consistent hitter," says the grateful Weaver. "His enthusiasm alone will eventually make him a great hitter. He is not afraid to work at his job."
Of course he isn't. He is that kind of guy.
Rettenmund is a player who is best appreciated by those who play with him and by those who must oppose him. "He does everything well," says New York Yankee Manager Ralph Houk. "To me, he is one of the better ballplayers in our league."