Dodger Notebook : They Have a Reggie They Would Like to Keep
Blue suede shoes?
Nobe Kawano, the Dodger equipment manager, doesn’t have any in stock, not even for a Memphis-born singer who grew up in the shadow of Graceland mansion.
Elvis Presley might have balked, but that’s OK with Reggie Williams. He ain’t nothin’ but a center fielder, and as long as the Dodgers got the color right, any leather is fine with him.
Truth be told, Williams never was much of a fan of Elvis’ music, anyway, though gospel played a role in both of their lives.
While Williams did his singing in church--he was a baritone in the choir--he did his playing on the baseball field. Maybe that’s why he never bothered to tour Graceland.
“I liked his movies, though,” Williams said.
And the Dodgers like Williams’ moves, which is why the 25-year-old son of a grocery store manager will be making the pilgrimage to Dodger Stadium, a shrine much closer to his heart.
Williams, who played in double-A San Antonio a year ago, has been to Chavez Ravine before--last September, after Gary LaRocque, his manager in San Antonio, had him return a phone call to Dodger Vice President Al Campanis.
“Total shock,” said Williams, describing his reaction to the summons to Los Angeles. “I was wearing my shades, but underneath I had tears in my eyes.”
For Dodger fans, the arrival of the unheralded Williams was cause more for a rendition of “Suspicious Minds” than “Love Me Tender.” But when Williams, used frequently as a late-inning defensive replacement by Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, made several outstanding plays, the crowds came up with their own chorus, admittedly not an original: “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!”
That was a sweet sound for Williams, whose rise through the organization had come to a crashing halt on a December day in Colombia in 1983, when he collided with Mariano Duncan and suffered a severely broken shoulder.
Originally, the injury was diagnosed as a bad bruise. It wasn’t until Williams saw his own doctor, said Bill Schweppe, minor league director, that the gravity of the injury was detected. Eventually, Dr. Frank Jobe operated, inserting pins in Williams’ shoulder. He missed spring training and batted just .239 at Class A Vero Beach, 44 points under his average of the previous season.
The injury, however, had one compensation. Williams showed up in church one Sunday with his arm in a cast and caught the attention of Allyson Lane, a registered nurse. A year later, the two were married.
“She helped to nurse me back,” Williams said. “Not just physically but emotionally.”
Williams started slowly last season in San Antonio, but hit .411 in June and eventually finished at .295, with 10 home runs and 33 stolen bases, despite a wrist injury that sidelined him for three weeks.
“Very few guys could have started off the year hitting .200 and end up the way he did,” LaRocque said. “He experienced tough times on the way up, but he was able to overcome them. He’s that much tougher because of it. He showed a lot of persistence to go along with his ability.”
In terms of ability, Dodger officials project Jose Gonzalez ahead of Williams. But when Gonzalez, only 21, showed this spring that he wasn’t ready yet to challenge Ken Landreaux, Williams figured once more in the Dodgers’ plans, platooning with the left-handed hitting Landreaux throughout the exhibition schedule.
“Gonzalez is the guy down the line . . . there isn’t any question that he has all the tools to be that,” Schweppe said. “The jury is still out on whether Reggie can hit big league pitching real well. But he can make a very definite contribution to the ballclub.”
Schweppe said that Williams compares favorably to R.J. Reynolds, a Dodger outfield reserve until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates last August in the Bill Madlock deal. Reynolds is expected to be the Pirates’ starting left fielder this season.
“R.J. switch-hits, which Reggie doesn’t do, but Reggie can outrun R.J.,” Schweppe said. “I think R.J. has a little more power than Reggie, but Reggie’s the better fielder. It depends on what your needs are.”
One place the Dodgers don’t figure to have a need is in their world-class marketing department, although Williams probably would have no trouble stepping right in. He graduated cum laude with a B.S. degree in marketing from Southern University, where he received the President’s award for outstanding scholastic achievement.
Williams said he was supposed to have a job interview with Xerox corporation but missed it because Southern was playing Jackson State for the conference championship. Southern lost the game, and although he lost the job, Williams may have gained a career.
“I don’t think you could find a better quality person in the organization,” Schweppe said.
LaRocque also managed Williams in his first year out of college, at Lethbridge, Alberta, in the Rookie League.
“When you’re a minor league manager and see what some players go through, you end up having a special place in your heart for a guy like Reggie Williams,” LaRocque said.
Has Jerry Reuss slipped from being the No. 4 man in the Dodger rotation to No. 5, with Rick Honeycutt jumping ahead? Judging by the rotation for the first week of the season, that would appear to be the case. Honeycutt is scheduled to pitch next Thursday against San Diego, with Reuss going against San Francisco a week from Friday.
Manager Tom Lasorda insists, however, that such is not the case, and also dismisses rumors that Reuss is headed elsewhere--Toronto is the latest team reported to have interest in the left-hander.
“It’s not a change,” Lasorda said. “The fact is Jerry’s a little behind the rest of the guys because of injuries. We’re not putting them in order of who are the best, we’re getting them in the order of their condition.
“Jerry’s a hell of a pitcher as far as I’m concerned. If we give him up, who’s going to pitch?”
Fernando Valenzuela is scheduled to pitch Monday’s opener against the Padres. Lasorda said he hasn’t decided yet in what order he’ll pitch Orel Hershiser and Bob Welch. Hershiser will pitch against Atlanta here Thursday and Welch is scheduled Friday against the Angels, so they figure to go next Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Reuss pitched six innings of the Dodgers’ 5-2 win over the Minnesota Twins in Orlando Monday, matching Honeycutt’s longest outing of the spring. Reuss said he could have gone another inning and would have liked to.