Stunt Men on the Dodger Bench Stay Happily Disgruntled
According to the code of behavior of the Dodgers’ self-proclaimed Stunt Men, outlined and enforced by Mickey Hatcher, each member of this group of non-starters is required to go through life disgruntled.
“The thing about the Stunt Men is that we’re never happy,” Hatcher said. “We want to make that clear. You show me a guy happy to be on the bench, and I’ll show you a loser.”
So far this season, the Stunt Men have been downright irascible.
Because most Dodger regulars have avoided injuries and most desire to play every inning of every game, there have been few stunts for the corps of utility player to pull.
That is a good sign for the Dodgers, who are 21-12 and in first place in the National League West going into tonight’s 3-game series against the Montreal Expos at Dodger Stadium. But it also means little playing time for the non-starters.
“We have a really good bench, but nobody’s really seen it yet,” Hatcher said. “But, as long as we’re winning, this is great. Our goal, as stunt men, is to push the (starters). Being a stunt man takes a certain kind of attitude and patience.”
Most of the Stunt Men, so dubbed by Hatcher and Danny Heep because they pretty much are nameless and faceless but necessary if the show is to go on, are familiar, because they logged considerable playing time last season, when injuries contributed to the club’s last-place finish.
This season, though, you haven’t heard much from Hatcher, Franklin Stubbs, Rick Dempsey, Jeff Hamilton and Dave Anderson.
That’s because first baseman Mike Marshall and shortstop Alfredo Griffin have played in all 33 games, third baseman Pedro Guerrero and right fielder Mike Davis have missed just one game each, and left fielder Kirk Gibson has missed two games.
But Heep’s work in the outfield during John Shelby’s 3-week term on the disabled list is proof that a stunt man can survive and thrive when a starring role presents itself.
Heep hit .406 and drove in 5 runs from April 19 to May 11, when Shelby was sidelined with a strained abdominal muscle. But now that Shelby is almost ready to play every day, Heep soon will rejoin the Stunt Men.
“That’s why you’ve got guys like us,” Heep said. “We can fill in when somebody’s hurt.”
Dodger reserves, however, believe they shouldn’t have to wait for an injury to play. They feel that, to keep the Stunt Men from crashing when they are called upon, they need an occasional start.
“There are going to be times when we’re struggling, we’re behind and we need the guys on the bench,” Heep said. “You can’t just have a guy get one start every two or three weeks and expect them to come in in the pressure pinch-hit situation and be totally ready for it. We’ve got to keep sharp, too.”
Except for Heep and Dempsey, who has spelled Mike Scioscia at catcher primarily against left-handed starters, the Stunt Men have been limited strictly to pinch-hitting, pinch-running and defensive replacement duties.
Hatcher was essentially a regular last season because of injuries to starters and hit better than .300 before getting hurt late in the season. He has appeared in only 15 games this season but is hitting .346 and has 3 RBIs.
Dempsey has hit .316 and driven in 5 runs in the 6 games he has started in place of Scioscia. Overall, Dempsey is hitting .292 in 13 games.
Stubbs, who hit only .233 but had 16 home runs as the starting first baseman last season, has a .313 average in 17 games. In his first at-bat this season, Stubbs hit a pinch-home run against San Diego April 13, but he has started only twice this season.
Anderson has appeared in 18 games, mostly as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, and is hitting .231. Two games that he probably would have started, after Steve Sax jammed a finger sliding into third base, were rained out.
And Hamilton has been used almost exclusively as a late-inning defensive replacement for Guerrero. Until Friday night, when he had a pinch-single, Hamilton was one of only four major league players yet to get his first hit of the season.
“One of the big things when you’re an extra guy, it’s easier when you’re winning,” Anderson said. “That’s the only satisfaction we’re getting now. Our job is to be patient. Because the key to winning for us is staying healthy.
Hatcher, self-designated spokesmen for the Stunt Men and Lasorda’s top right-handed pinch-hitter, admitted that his patience sometimes wears thin.
During one recent Sunday home game, Hatcher was incensed because he, once again, was not in the lineup. The next night, Hatcher still was on the bench but had worked through his anger.
“That happens sometimes,” he said. “I thought I should have been in the lineup that day. But you have to accept this role. You can’t stop working because you aren’t playing. We’ve got a great lineup, and I guess I can’t blame Tommy for wanting to play them every day. But, hey, don’t forget us.”
Heep, the New York Mets’ most productive pinch-hitter in 1986, hit only .143 as a pinch-hitter for the Dodgers last season and is 0 for 5 in that role this season.
Heep said it is essential for oft-used pinch-hitters to start occasionally--i.e. once a week--to stay sharp. But the Dodgers basically have stayed with their set lineup. “Tommy’s had set lineups for, what, 10 years,” Heep said. “A lot of managers do that, and that’s fine. The guys who start love it, but the reserves have trouble keeping sharp when they never get to see pitching and then are thrown in there and expected to hit.”
Like Heep, most of the Stunt Men have made careers of performing well off the bench, but this is a new situation for Hamilton and Stubbs. Both said they have had problems adapting.
“You don’t ever adapt to this spot,” Stubbs said. “You just try to do your best. I try to keep a good frame of mind, take extra hitting and stay in shape.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, said that his role as Guerrero’s understudy basically has turned out as he expected.
“You’d like to be playing more, sure, but I know this might not happen and I’m not complaining,” Hamilton said. “I see this as a positive thing. I’d rather do this on a winning team than play every day on a loser. I’d be stupid if I said this isn’t fun.”
But then, abiding by the Stunt Men’s policy of staying happily disgruntled, Hamilton added that he hopes his situation will not be permanent.
“Next year, I hope to have a starting job--somewhere,” he said.