Rick Dempsey walks into the steamy warehouse on Aliceanna Street looking like he just stepped off the MASN set where he does Orioles pre- and post-game shows.
Check him out. Deep summer tan. Hair perfectly combed. World Series ring glittering on one finger. Dark suit pants, purple striped shirt, purple tie and —
"It's a purple and mauve tie," he corrects you.
Mauve? You wonder if you heard that right. Did he really say mauve?
"It's a mauve striped shirt, too," he adds.
Now you wonder if some alien hasn't snatched the real Rick Dempsey and taken over his earthly form.
Can this really be the tough-guy former Orioles catcher who played 24 years in the big leagues at the game's most demanding position?
The blue-collar MVP of the '83 Series? The man who used to entertain the crowds at old Memorial Stadium with rain-delay impersonations of Babe Ruth pigeon-toeing around the bases, complete with ample gut padding and head-first slides on the slick, soaked tarpaulin?
Because that Rick Dempsey wouldn't know mauve from Goofy Grape or Loudmouth Lime.
But it is the same Dempsey and he's here on a sweltering July afternoon to talk about his newest business venture, Rick Dempsey Ties, sold exclusively on his website rickdempseyties.com.
The idea for a line of neckties, many characterized by vibrant colors and sheens, came directly from his work with MASN, where the on-air talent is expected to dress up and look sharp.
"I got tired of wearing the same ties," he says. "I wanted to have colors that popped, especially on HD television. I wanted blood reds. Blood oranges."
So he teamed up with Baltimore clothier Christopher Schafer and photographer Aaron Haslinger to acquire quality fabrics and design and manufacture the ties arrayed in the warehouse before him.
"I think Rick is a super-creative guy," Schafer says. "He's very hands on" with the business.
The ties aren't cheap. They sell for $79 and come with a free pocket square. Dempsey is big on pocket squares. He got this from his MASN on-air partner Tom Davis, the longtime Baltimore sportscaster and legendary snappy dresser.
But it's the look of the tie that most consumes Dempsey. Which makes sense in his line of work.
"The tie," Schafer says, "is really the focal point of the outfit for TV guys. Because you mainly see them from the waist up."
Dempsey says that in the six months he's been in the business, he's sold around 3,000 of his signature ties. Baking mogul John Paterakis ordered 1,000 to give to his clients and friends. An Atlanta charity also ordered 1,000 for its giveaways.
Dempsey has also designed ties for area private golf courses and car dealerships. And he expects to sell a large number of pink ties during October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"Look at this," he says, picking up an "ice pink" striped number from a work shelf. "You put a dark suit to this ... oh, man. It just pops!"
The new tie biz, Dempsey says, "is just for fun. It's not to make a ton of money." In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests he might give away almost as many ties as he sells.
He's given ties to Davis and Jim Hunter, his other on-air MASN partner. He gave Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette over a dozen orange ties to wear at the Warehouse. And one day in June, he surprised Adam Vorce, a young intern at radio station 105.7 The Fan, with 10 ties in the middle of the Orioles clubhouse.
"I like the kid," Dempsey says with a laugh. "He's always dressed with a suit on. (But) he was wearing some really crappy ties."
Then there was the time he walked into Cinghiale restaurant in Harbor East and a diner swooned over the tie he was wearing.
"It was one of the most beautiful ties you've ever seen," Dempsey remembers wistfully. "Magenta."
Magenta? Here we go again ...
"And a lady says, 'I love that tie. I want to give one to my husband.' So I just took it off and gave it to her. With a matching pocket square."
As an added touch, he autographed the back of the tie for her husband.
Dempsey shrugs as he finishes the story.
"The guy was ecstatic," he says.
Meaning: mission accomplished. He made the guy's day.
Still, you wonder how Dempsey finds time for yet another business. In addition to his MASN work, he's a partner in Dempsey's Brew Pub and Restaurant at Camden Yards and has a piece of the Kettle Hill restaurant at Power Plant Live downtown.
He's also an investor in a business, Down Payment Options, that provides bonds for property purchases. And he's still working on one of his favorite projects: trying to interest a Hollywood studio in making a movie based on a bizarre crime wave from his childhood that became known as the "Mutt and Jeff" robberies.
This was back in 1963, when Dempsey was 14 and playing on a California Pony League team, the Canoga Park/Woodland Hills All-Stars.
The manager of the team, a tall man named John Jennings — nicknamed Mutt after the popular comic strip of the day — turned out to be leading a double life. As the All-Stars traveled from town to town, he robbed several banks that summer, aided by short, squat-looking accomplice, Paul Rosenbluth, who became known as Jeff.
Not until the All-Stars made it to the Pony League World Series in Washington, Pa., did the FBI catch up to "Mutt and Jeff," a day after they robbed yet another bank in a nearby town.
"They robbed 13 banks!" Dempsey marvels. "And we players never knew a thing! We were shocked when we found out."
The story has been put on paper, and Dempsey says Columbia Pictures now has the film rights.