BALTIMORE -- Longtime Oriole Elrod Hendricks died of a heart attack on Wednesday, one day before his 65th birthday.
With the exception of stints with the Cubs in 1972 and the Yankees in 1976 and 1977, Hendricks had been with the Orioles in some form since 1968. He played for the team in a few stints from 1968 to 1979. He was named the team's bullpen coach after the 1977 season and stayed there until the Orioles announced after this season that he would be reassigned.
Hendricks spent a total of 37 years with the Orioles as a player and coach. He missed 18 games this past season after suffering a mild stroke in April when the Orioles were in Tampa. But he returned and coached for the rest of the season.
The Orioles were reportedly concerned about the effects of another full season of travel on Hendricks and decided to reassign him. As he had done for several years, Hendricks served as Santa Claus at the team's annual Christmas party for underprivileged children on Monday. At the event, he said he wasn't sure what his role was going to be next year.
"I don't know; I have not been told," Hendricks said. "I did speak to [executive vice president of baseball operations] Mike [Flanagan] about a month ago about what I would like to do. But nothing so far. It's still in review."
Hendricks was well-known for how generous he was with his time in the community -- especially when it came to children. He ran one of the Baltimore area's most popular and well-respected baseball camps every summer, always getting big names to pop in and talk to and work with children. And the kids just loved it.
He was one of the organization's most recognizable faces and loved being with kids and making them smile. He sat for a long time on Monday at the party, letting children perch themselves on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. There were about 100 children and they all got pictures of sitting with Santa and smiling.
"It's a joy to watch the faces, the smiles, watching them open the gifts," Hendricks said. "It's a warm feeling."
Baltimore legend Brooks Robinson talked of Hendricks' passing and his felings for his former teammate.
"We lost the most beloved Oriole of all time," Robinson said. "Not only was Elrod loved here in the Baltimore area but all over the country. Every ballpark that we would go into he'd be the first one on the field signing autographs and saying hello. It goes beyond the game of baseball. He was just a people person. Certainly, he was a big part of the success of the Orioles organization. My heart and thoughts go out to Merle and his children.
"He has touched more lives in this town than anyone else. From 1968 to 2005, he was the Orioles' goodwill ambassador. Even though it's a sad day for all of us, I do have a big smile on my face when I think of Elrod."
Washington manager Frank Robinson was saddened by the news of Hendricks' passing. The two had been longtime friends and played and worked together.
"Elrod was a friend to a lot of people," Robinson said. "He was a great ambassador for baseball in the Baltimore-Washington area and a great ambassador for the Orioles. He was a smart individual. He helped a lot of baseball players."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.