Obscure outfielders make great catches, and disappear into oblivion. Obscure pitchers throw no-hitters (or near no-hitters), and disappear into oblivion. Obscure batters hit dramatic home runs, and disappear into oblivion.
The World Series does that to people.
How many big league games did Al Gionfriddo play after making that classic catch against Joe DiMaggio in 1947? Not one.
How many 20-win seasons did Don Larsen have after pitching his perfect game in 1956? None. He had one 10-win season after that one memorable afternoon, and he ultimately retired with a career record of 81-91.
And what did Dusty Rhodes do for an encore after hitting two pinch-hit homers in the Giants’ series sweep in 1954? He batted .305 in 94 games the next year, but slipped to .217, .205 and .188 over his last three big league years.
In that compact week to 10 days when the series is played, players’ abilities often come to be perceived differently than what they really are. It happens most commonly, of course, to obscure players, because they do little else to etch their names in anyone’s memory.
A Babe Ruth, for example, can have a stinker of a series, and what difference would it make? In the 1922 World Series, he hit .118 with no homers. That season, he’d hit .315 with 35 home runs, and he followed with a .393 average and 41 home runs the next year.
The Padres have in residence a young man who would probably like people to forget his World Series performance, not because it was bad but rather because it was good. Actually, it was better than good. It was outstanding.
Including the National League Championship Series, Andy Hawkins had the kind of postseason little boys dream about when they are throwing rubber balls against garage doors. None of the imaginary superstars standing at those doormat home plates can hit those rubber balls.
When I was a kid, I could throw the ball past Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Willie Mays and Duke Snider. You name the batter, and he couldn’t hit me. I was always surprised the rubber ball didn’t go through the garage door. I was that fast, at least in my mind. In reality, I probably couldn’t throw a brick through a window or throw a ball past my sister.
But I’m talking about dreams, and that gets me back to Andy Hawkins’ 1984 postseason.
Going into the postseason, I probably figured to pitch as many innings as Hawkins. He had been banished to the role of long reliever, which meant his own team didn’t particularly want him to pitch. The long reliever gets the call when the starter gets bombed before he works up a sweat. The long reliever is the last player chosen in a pickup game.
And Hawkins had earned his obscure position on the Padres’ pitching staff. He earned it by being battered and bruised as a starter. His first 14 appearances were starts, and his earned-run average was 5.20. He finished the regular season with an 8-9 record and a 4.68 earned-run average.
Andy Hawkins was frustrating, both to the Padres and to himself. Here was this big kid from Texas, strong as a longhorn steer but mild as a yellow rose. He was soft on both confidence and aggressiveness.
A couple of years ago, before spring training, Manager Dick Williams observed: “He’s the first timid Texan I’ve ever seen.”
I don’t know what happened to that timid Texan against the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers, but he had a postseason befitting Walter Johnson or Whitey Ford or Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson.
Hawkins got his chance, of course, because the Padre starters usually did not last as long as a beer in the bleachers.
And along came Hawkins. He pitched in six of the 10 postseason games, three times each against the Cubs and Tigers. He pitched 15 innings and allowed only one run and four hits. His earned-run average was 0.57.
In the World Series, the Padres’ starting pitchers lasted a total of 10 innings. The workhorse was Hawkins, who pitched 12 innings in relief. How many times in World Series history do you suppose a reliever has pitched more innings than all of the starters combined? I’d bet never.
Had the Padres won that World Series, Hawkins would have taken his place among the legends of baseball who have emerged from obscurity to make names for themselves in October. As it was, his effort merely ranks him among the most proficient postseason performers.
However, Andy Hawkins wants much more than that. At 25, he is not quite ready to retire to a park bench back home in Bruceville, Tex., and tell the pigeons how he got Gary Matthews to hit into a double play or struck out Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker back to back.
At Hawkins’ age, you come out of a postseason like that and you want to prove that the career record (15-21 with a 3.94 ERA) is the fluke. You want to be remembered for 10 years rather than 10 days.
You want to prove that the postseason was the real thing, rather than the only thing. When his career is over, Hawkins would like the 1984 postseason to be a footnote rather than the high note.
In other words, he came to the 1985 season more interested in what he was going to do rather than what he had done.
Anyone who has paid much attention to the first five weeks of the 1985 season is aware that Hawkins has not returned to the sedentary life of the long reliever. The Padres gave him the ball and put him into the starting rotation. Maybe they lied and told him it was October, figuring a Texan may not know the difference.
When Andy Hawkins took the mound against the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night, he was 6-0 with an ERA of 2.63. At that rate, no one will remember his surprising performance in the 1984 postseason.
It won’t be surprising anymore.