Gaetti trying to find new life as Angel

May 04, 1991|By Dave Cunningham | Dave Cunningham,Knight-Ridder News Service

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA — ANAHEIM, Calif. -- California Angels third baseman Gary Gaetti says a myth about him has been told and re-told so many times that it has taken on a life of its own, and he wants it stopped.

The story is that Gaetti stood up in the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse one day and suddenly began speaking in tongues.

"I never did that. I've heard the story so much, I even asked a lot of the guys [his former Minnesota teammates] if they ever saw me do it, that maybe I'd done it without knowing it. No. It never happened."

Gaetti does speak in tongues. He said the spirit can move him at any time, even when standing in the on-deck circle. But he rejects the notion that his religious conversion frightened or alienated his teammates.

"Allan Anderson [a Twins pitcher] speaks in tongues. A lot of those guys speak in tongues," Gaetti said. "And I'm able, through the grace of God, to do that. It's a beautiful thing. Everybody has their own gifts, and one of mine is he gift of prophecy. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm talking in spiritual terms."

Banner hung by a fan in the Metrodome last weekend: "Gary Gaetti found Jesus, and now he's an Angel."

Not all Minnesota fans were so understanding. His first return to the city he called home for nine years was punctuated by vicious boos and catcalls.

"They'll probably have a 'Boo Gary Gaetti Night' here," he said, trying to make light of it. But it was obvious Gaetti was stung by the cold reaction he received.

In fact, hostility seems to have followed Gaetti ever since he underwent the born-again experience and embraced the Pentecostal faith.

The 1987 Twins were a hard-driving, hard-drinking bunch that won a World Series, and Gaetti fit comfortably into the eye of the storm.

After Gaetti changed his life, the Twins stopped winning and Gaetti's production dropped markedly.

In '88, Gaetti hit .301 with 28 homers and 88 runs batted in. In the next two seasons, Gaetti's average dropped to .251, then .229. His home run total dipped to 19, then 16.

Some suggested the old fire was gone. Kent Hrbek, Gaetti's best friend and former drinking buddy, said the change in Gaetti was "like a death in the family."

"I think he'd like to take that statement back," Gaetti said. "I think he was just reacting out of some pain and maybe some sorrow about something that was very important in his life that we used to do together.

"I don't hold it against him for saying that, and neither should anybody else. Everybody made a big deal out of that statement. I praise God for it, because it shows that I changed. It's proof that I changed my life, that God was able to change my life. I want him to be able to experience the same thing."

Part of the reason Gaetti decided to leave the Twins and sign with the Angels as a free agent in January was a desire for a fresh start, with teammates who never knew him before.

"All those guys in Minnesota knew me as Gary Gaetti, party dude, party animal, alcoholic in reality, but hard-nosed baseball player, our leader," Gaetti said. "I'm sorry, guys, I don't do that any more."

Angel coach Bob Clear, hitting grounders during spring training, is angered by a mistake and shouts, "Jesus Christ!" Gaetti reprimands him firmly, "Don't blaspheme!"

Gaetti doesn't accept the criticism that his religious beliefs hurt the Twins or his own performance.

"I have my own theory about why they stay that stuff," he said. "I read all the dumb articles and statistics, and they all stick it right up my rear end. And they're all wrong.

"They don't try to understand that I had a knee operation. They count that year as a dropoff in production. And then last year was just a bomb for the whole organization. But my numbers dropped off more than anybody's -- even though I led the team in RBIs and games played -- but I batted .229, so I'm done. It's over. I'm done as a player

"People don't really know what was going on. We had a championship team, then you lose some key players and you finish second, and you panic. Now your two best pitchers [Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola] are gone, and four years later, there are only three guys left off that World Series team who are still there.

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