At 7-for-7, Hatcher finds Reds home, sweet home


October 19, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

OAKLAND,CALIF. — OAKLAND, Calif. -- Billy Hatcher, a regulation major-leaguer after all, is just barely good enough to believe that what he is doing is somehow possible. You know, in the realm. You get in a groove, and pop, pop, the doubles and triples fly off the bat, and the ball looks like a grapefruit, and, heck, it happens, if just never before in the entire history of the World Series.

He doesn't -- couldn't really -- understand that he is an instant legend, who now can look forward to a lifetime of guest appearances at card shows across America, not to mention a shot at Letterman, or at least Arsenio Hall.

"It's weird," said teammate Joe Oliver, "but now no one is ever going to forget his name."

Hatcher, in his 463rd interview of a night that he never particularly wanted to see end, puzzled over that one. He hadn't thought of it in those terms. People such as Billy Hatcher, a 30-year-old journeyman, don't wonder about immortality. They're team players. They're the guys who, after going 7-for-7 in the World Series, are happy to hit behind the runner the next time up. Isn't that Hatcher's job?

"The only person who needs to remember my name," he says, finally, "is my wife."

Don't get the wrong idea. Hatcher loves what has happened to him. He just can't quite grasp it.

For perspective, we go to Billy Bates. The Oakland A's -- remember them? -- know they're in trouble, and, boy, are they ever, when the players who beat them are Hatcher and Oliver and Glenn Braggs and Ron Oester and Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy.

And Bates. My gosh, Billy Bates, who, if he were a lot more famous, could be considered obscure. At 5 feet 6, Bates is considered, if he's considered at all, as the team mascot. Last month, he was playing in the Class AAA American Association playoffs. Bates' most famous moment in uniform before Wednesday night came when he raced -- I swear this is true -- a cheetah. Seems the Reds came up with a promotion in which a player would, with a five-second head start, race a cheetah over 100 yards. Bates is very fast, but that isn't why he got the call. "It was more because of his position on the roster," said a club official.

Bates was expendable. If the cheetah thought Bates closely resembled a 165-pound appetizer, well, he was replaceable. Until he came up to pinch hit in the 10th inning of Game 2, he was the bullpen catcher. Sure, expendable. He wasn't even supposed to be here. When Bill Doran injured his back, Bates was a last-minute, postseason replacement.

And, so, for his first hit as a Red, he beats out a high, infield chopper against Dennis Eckersley, running as if some large cat were chasing him, and eventually comes around to score the winning run.

"I could never have expected this," said Bates, who, by the way, beat the cheetah. "I never even figured I'd get to bat. This is pretty unbelievable."

That's pretty much how the A's might assess the proceedings to this point. They were crushed in Game 1 and then were shocked in Game 2. The A's had that game won. They had a lead, and they had Eckersley, who didn't get into the game, however, until it was tied. That was just one of about 200 controversial managing moves by Tony La Russa, who, when asked to defend himself after the game, chose to criticize Jose Canseco's fielding instead. Canseco, of course, was eager to snipe back, and so maybe the A's really are in a self-destruct mode.

If anyone figured to save the situation, it was Eckersley. And then he gave up the run anyway. He gave it up on an Oliver single that just barely caught chalk after it bounced over the third-base bag.

"I didn't aim it there," Oliver said. "If I could call where it goes, I'd be in another league. Babe Ruth is the last guy who called one, isn't he?"

Ruth or Billy Hatcher, one.

For Eckersley, the moment had to evoke the drama of another World Series lost, the one when Kirk Gibson took him deep and reserved his spot on the all-time highlight film. Eckersley, for all his success, has never quite gotten over that one. And now he has another failure to ponder as the A's must try to find themselves at home.

That's nothing to Hatcher. He has found himself; he just doesn't know what he's got. As the season was about to begin, Hatcher was looking for a place to be. He was in Pittsburgh, where Bobby Bonilla had been moved to the outfield, meaning there was no place for Hatcher. He understood.

"I just wanted a place where I could play," Hatcher explained.


"Sure," he said. "Cleveland would have been great. Anywhere would have been fine."

Hatcher stood in his locker, cameras rolling, tape recorders taping, history being recorded. And it was great, but Cleveland would have been good, too. You see, other guys think they might be World Series heroes some day. Hatcher's goals were a little more prosaic. He just wanted to be someplace, anyplace, where they'd write his name in the lineup.

"I asked to be traded," said Hatcher. "A player like me doesn't ask to go to a particular team. I just wanted to go. So now I get the cake and the icing, too."

You've watched it. You don't believe it, and why should you? Neither does anyone else.

Nine ups, nine times on base. Seven consecutive hits. Doubles, triples.

"It's like I'm pulling a rabbit out of the hat," Hatcher said.

On the bench, nobody kids him. They just keep pounding him on the back, wondering how long it can last.

"It's like a no-hitter," Oliver said. "We just whisper to ourselves, 'Five in a row, six in a row.' You don't want to put any more pressure on him, so you don't say anything."

So, Hatcher's got an all-hitter going?

"Sh-h-h," said Oliver, smiling. "We don't want to jinx him now."

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