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Friday, November 26, 2010

Floyd Rayford, Known For, Then and Then

Floyd Rayford had waited more than nine years to get a shot at starting regularly in the majors and he came through in 1985, hitting over .300 for the Orioles, and 18 home runs.

"I always knew I could play in the big leagues," Rayford told reporters in spring 1986. "I don't know if I would have waited in the minors for 10 years, that's a long time in the minors. But I've been up to the big leagues every year since 1980. I always thought things would turn out my way."

Rayford played parts of seven seasons in the majors, six of those seasons with the Orioles. It was a career where Rayford was known for playing multiple positions, including third base, catcher and, the last two decades, as a coach.

Rayford, given the nickname "Sugar Bear," was also a player known for his weight, as much as his bat. At one point topping 240 pounds and was sometimes described as "rotund" and having "dough-boy legs." Speaking to those reporters in spring 1986, Rayford even mistook a question about his "wait" to become a starter, as a question about his "weight."

Then there was the day Rayford didn't play at all.

Rayford's playing days began in 1975, taken by the Angels in the fourth round of the draft. He landed in the Orioles system in a mid-year trade in 1979 and made his major league debut for Baltimore in April 1980.

Rayford played eight games for the Orioles that year, spending the next year back at AAA Rochester, returning for 34 more games in 1982.

He hit just .132 in 53 at bats in 1982. Four of those at bats, and none of the hits, came in the second game of a double-header on May 29, 1982. Rayford manned third base that game. Taking third base duties in the next game was another player, who had that last game off, Cal Ripken Jr. It was the first of 2,362 straight games played for Ripken.

Rayford saw time with Baltimore in each of the next six seasons, playing in 86 games in 1984 and 105 in 1985 and becoming a fan-favorite. He hit a two-run, pinch-hit home run in 1983 helping the Cardinals to a July 1983 win, his one year not playing with the Orioles.

In 1984, the Orioles began looking at Rayford as a starter. He rewarded them with two hits in a June game, including hitting in the game-winning run.

"When I first came up here, I said I just wanted to try and do good," Rayford told reporters later. "I'm doing alright."

Rayford had his career-year in 1985, but failed to follow that up in 1986, hitting just .176 in 81 games. He was described as struggling by August, leaving the bases loaded early in one game. But he came up again with loaded bases later in the game, doubling in two runs. "It was just nice to get something in there," Rayford told The Associated Press after the game.

That season his weight became more of an issue. By October, the 5-foot, 10-inch Rayford weighed in at 244 pounds, The Washington Post wrote.

Rayford spent two weeks that off-season at a diet center, learning how to eat better, according to The Post. By spring 1987, Rayford had dropped that weight to 214. He played in 20 games for the Orioles that year, hitting .220, ending his major league playing days.

Rayford played through 1991, the last three years at AAA Scranton with the Phillies organization, the final two of those years as a player-coach. He's served since as a minor league coach and manager.

Rayford played mainly third base and catcher, but he could also play elsewhere. Years later, Rayford recalled to The Baltimore Sun having some nerves on the field, something that was helped when he was catching.

"I never had a great body, but it was suitable to play everywhere," Rayford recalled to The Sun in 2009. "I liked catching best. I was too busy back there to be nervous. It wasn’t like playing third base. There’s no time to get butterflies when you're catching."

Go to the feature on Rayford's coaching career: Floyd Rayford, Opposite Field

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