#34 - John Lowenstein (1979-1985) and Gary Roenicke (1978-1985)
After counting down the first six players in Camden Chat's Top 40 Orioles of All Time, today we bring you the first curve ball of the exhibit: two players at one ranking. Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein brought different talents to the baseball field, but in the early eighties they both flourished when put in a platoon situation by then-manager Earl Weaver.
Both Roenicke and Lowenstein became Orioles in the late seventies. In December 1977, Roenicke came to the Orioles in a trade with the Expos along with Joe Kerrigan and Don Stanhouse. Lowenstein became an Oriole just about a year later when the Orioles claimed him off of waivers from the Texas Rangers. Both began playing regularly for the Orioles in 1979, though Roenicke had a cup of coffee in 1978.
Roenicke had a fantastic 1979 with the Orioles, hitting .261/.378/.508 with 25 home runs. But his numbers dropped considerably in 1980-81, due mostly to the fact that he couldn't hit right-handed pitching very well. While Roenicke was just a rookie when he came up with the Orioles, Lowenstein had been playing in the major for ten years before becoming an Oriole. His resume showed ten years worth of terrible hitting against lefties. As such he never even got a chance to hit against lefties as an Oriole. He was a platoon player even before Roenicke became his partner, and from 1979-1981, Lowenstein hit .271/.361/.426 with just 35 plate appearances against lefties.
Going into the 1982 season, Earl Weaver took a look at his roster and saw a young outfielder who had struggled against right-handed pitching for the last two seasons and an older outfielder who had always struggled against left-handed pitching. He made the decision to make them platoon partners, and between the two of them he got one outstanding outfielder.
Roenicke was better at hitting righties than Lowenstein was at hitting lefties, and he was known to have good glove on defense. So in 1982 the two alternated in left field depending on who was pitching, and sometimes when it was a right-handed pitcher, Lowenstein played left field and Roenicke gave Al Bumbry in center field or Dan Ford in right field a day off. The platoon experiment worked like a charm, leading to these hitting lines for the two:
Earl Weaver retired after 1982, but Roenicke and Lowenstein continued playing together with the Orioles into 1985. The platoon continued in 1983 and 1984, but in May 1985 the 38-year-old Lowenstein was released by the Orioles, ending his major-league career. Roenicke played the full 1985 season and in the off-season was traded to the Yankees.
After their playing days were over, both men spent time working for the Orioles. Lowenstein was one of my favorite Orioles TV announcers, partnering with Mel Proctor for eleven seasons in the late 1980s and through the mid 1990s on Home Team Sports. When he was fired before the 1996 season, Lowenstein was salty and commented that maybe he was fired because he criticized the team too much. It could have been true, knowing the Orioles, but given that he was replaced by Mike Flanagan and Jim Palmer, it's also possible the Orioles just had more famous ex-Orioles willing to work for them at the time. As for Roenicke, he has been a west-coast scout for the Orioles since 2003.
It may not be entirely fair to put two players in the same spot on the list, but I just couldn't do it any other way. As an Orioles fan you can't think of Roenicke without thinking of Lowenstein, and vice versa. They are forever linked in Orioles history and therefore just as linked on our countdown. Plus, I couldn't pass up the chance those fabulous heads of hair side by side at the top of the page.