BALTIMORE, Dec. 21 -- Elrod Hendricks, who spent a team-record 37 years with the Baltimore Orioles as a player and coach, died Wednesday of a heart attack at a local hospital, a source with the team confirmed. Hendricks would have turned 65 on Thursday.
Hendricks was attending a dinner at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum when he fell unconscious. He was taken to the Baltimore-Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, where he died shortly after arriving. He is survived by his wife, Merle, and six children, four from a previous marriage.
"I'm shocked," Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo said when reached late Wednesday night. Hendricks had left a message on Perlozzo's phone earlier on Wednesday.
"He sounded just as peachy and perky as ever," Perlozzo said. "You wouldn't believe how good he sounded."
Perlozzo said he saved the message because it had not come in clearly and he wanted to replay it later. "I'm probably now going to keep it on my phone," he said.
The popular Hendricks, who had been the longest tenured on-field member of the organization, suffered through various health problems the past two years, including a stroke on April 14 of this year and testicular cancer in 2003. Though he appeared to be fully recovered from the stroke, the Orioles, citing health concerns, decided at the end of this season not to renew his contract as bullpen coach.
"Everybody was worried after the stroke, but he seemed fine and was his normal self," Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons said on Wednesday night.
Hendricks, who had been the bullpen coach for the past 28 seasons, was disappointed with the decision. At the time, he said he would not accept a position with the team in community relations.
But Hendricks, who had spent much of his time in Baltimore promoting the Orioles in the community, eventually relented and accepted the position. On Monday, Hendricks, dressed as Santa Claus, appeared in downtown Baltimore with several players at an Orioles Christmas party for 100 children from the Harriet Tubman Elementary School and the City Springs Elementary School.
"He played Santa and was yelling 'Ho ho ho' and was as happy as can be giving out presents," said Gibbons, who attended the event. "Obviously this comes as a shock and out of nowhere. My respects go out to his family and his children."
Hendricks began his playing career with the Orioles in 1968, hitting .202 in 79 games. Perhaps his best moments on the field came in 1970, when he hit .364 against Cincinnati in the World Series, which Baltimore won in five games. Hendricks hit .273 in 24 postseason games with the Orioles and New York Yankees.
He played in the majors for 12 years, accumulating a .222 batting average in 658 games. For all but one of those seasons, Hendricks wore an Orioles uniform.
"I shed some tears over it," Perlozzo said in October about the decision not to renew Hendricks's contract. "He's a great man, no question about it. He represents everything the Orioles represent."
Hendricks became Earl Weaver's bullpen coach in 1977. He was inducted into the Orioles' Hall of Fame in 2001, becoming the first person still active with the team to be enshrined.
"Elrod was always a smiling face," Gibbons said. "I remember he yelled at me if I walked by him and didn't say hello."