This is the third and final entry of my three-part series where I tell stories from the times I’ve met three different Orioles legends.
Last Friday, I told the story of when I was yelled at by Earl Weaver in Cooperstown back in 2003.
And on Sunday, I told the story of the time I got into an argument with the great Brooks Robinson.
Today’s entry is about the time I waited over an hour in an incredibly short line to meet Chuck Thompson…
Meeting Chuck Thompson
As was the case in my other two stories – with both Brooks Robinson and Earl Weaver – I had previously met Chuck Thompson before the encounter that is the subject of this story.
On a warm summer night in 1984 or 1985, before heading into Memorial Stadium for a game, a friend and I were walking around outside the ballpark near the home plate entrance.
This was also the press entrance for the stadium, although most of the working media had already been inside for quite a while as it was roughly 90 minutes before first pitch. (Which, at the time, was when the gates would open.)
Almost out of nowhere, an older gentleman emerged from around a corner, walking quickly.
We both recognized him immediately: It was Chuck Thompson.
Mr. Thompson was very polite and stopped to chat with fans and sign a few autographs before heading inside. What I remember most about the brief meeting was how Chuck generally seemed appreciative that people wanted to talk with him or get his autograph.
Just as was the case with Brooks Robinson, Chuck was sure to thank each person who he signed for – which seemed unusual to me at the time but makes more sense now that I’m older.
At that point in his career, Chuck was only doing television for the Orioles and the game we were about to watch was not one he would be broadcasting…so I’ve always wondered if he was just dropping by to watch the game as a fan or if he was there on some other business.
I was happy to have had that chance meeting with Chuck Thompson, as I grew up listening to him on both TV and radio.
And not only baseball, as many Colts home games were blacked out on television when I was a kid. So many Sunday afternoons were spent with an out-of-town NFL game on television – with the sound turned down – while listening to Chuck and Vince Bagli describe the latest disappointing Colts loss from Memorial Stadium on radio.
Given Chuck’s semi-retirement I didn’t expect to have another chance to meet him.
But that changed in 1996 when Chuck – together with longtime friend and writer Gordon Beard – wrote his autobiography, appropriately titled Ain’t the Beer Cold.
Naturally, I purchased a copy of the book as soon as it was available – and then I was happy to hear that Chuck would be doing a series of book-signing events around the Baltimore area.
I was working downtown at the time, so I decided to attend a book signing that was being held in the early evening one night in November of 1996.
The signing was to be held at Alonso’s, a bar and grill on Cold Spring Lane just a couple of miles from the site of Memorial Stadium.
What was interesting about this book signing was that when I arrived, there was a very short line – with just a half-dozen or so people ahead of me. But I noticed that once I got in the line it just wasn’t moving quickly – if at all.
Naturally, I started to get a little upset and thought it was very selfish of the people at the front of the line to take so long getting their books signed. After all, what does it take – maybe 30 seconds – for someone to sign a book? And maybe another minute or two for a quick photo and brief chat?
From my position in line, I couldn’t see where Chuck and his co-author, Gordon Beard, were sitting. All I knew was that we just weren’t moving.
Finally, after 15 minutes or so, I was able to move up one position in line. But then the process came to a halt once again.
After a 40 minutes or so of this, I began to realize – this wasn’t the fault of the people waiting in line. This was Gordon and Chuck…insisting on having a conversation with everyone.
And sure enough, when I finally reached the front of the line and it was my turn, I was not allowed to simply hand my book over to Chuck for a signature.
Instead, he insisted that I sit down with he and Gordon in their corner booth at Alonso’s and talk for a while. At first I protested and said there were a lot of people waiting behind me, but Chuck insisted that I sit down and join them “just for a minute.”
At first our conversation was mostly small talk – a little bit about the previous Orioles’ season, including their playoff victory over Cleveland, and then a bit about the new-to-town Baltimore Ravens.
But then Chuck began asking me questions – wanting to get to know me rather than the other way around.
He asked if the book was a Christmas gift for someone. He asked if I had been an Orioles fan all my life. He asked what I did for a living…and where I had gone to school. He asked if I made it to many games. He asked if I mostly went to games with family or friends. He asked if I remembered going to my very first game.
He probably asked me 15 or 20 questions while I can only remember asking him a single one. And I know that he did this with everyone that night, but he made it seem like he genuinely wanted to know you and that he was interested in your history as a fan.
I recall saying something to him about how I probably listened to his voice more than I had listened to either of my parents and he replied with a line he had used many times about how it was his privilege to have been invited to so many backyard barbecues, beach vacations and car rides…all through the radio.
As for the only question I asked him…this was just a little more than a year after Cal Ripken, Jr. had broken Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record, so I asked a question about whether or not Chuck knew early on that Cal would become such a great player.
He told me a story about seeing a very young Cal Jr. take batting practice at Memorial Stadium…and he told me that what really convinced him that Cal Jr. would become successful was when he saw that he had his father’s work ethic. And he spoke very highly of Cal Ripken Sr. that night.
Finally – after 10 or 15 minutes of conversation…and after it felt like he had gotten to know me – Chuck took my copy of the book from Gordon, who had signed it several minutes earlier while we were chatting. Chuck signed it carefully, making sure to personalize it and sign it neatly – before handing it over.
(I also asked him to sign a copy of an Orioles game program that he was on the cover of, and he happily obliged that as well.)
Then he reached out his hand, and in that famous voice said, “Well Jody, I want you to know it was a pleasure meeting you and I thank you for stopping by tonight.”
I walked out of Alonso’s – much later than I expected to – feeling like the guy I grew up listening to all those years was just as nice and fun to be around as I had hoped he would be.
And while I felt a bit sorry for those people still standing in line as I headed to my car – knowing they still had a long wait ahead of them – I also knew that they were going to have just as good of an experience as I did meeting someone so genuinely nice.