They have been trademarks for Bert Blyleven for years--the home run pitch and the bright red beard--and as of Wednesday afternoon, both remained intact.
Blyleven holds the major league record for home runs allowed in a single season--50 in 1986--and it didn’t take long for his reputation to catch up with him at Gene Autry Park. In the first inning of his first intra-squad game, Blyleven hung a 0-and-2 breaking ball to the first batter he faced and Dante Bichette hit it into a ditch well beyond the 365-foot sign in left field.
“It was windy out there,” Blyleven deadpanned. “Windy as hell. In a normal ballpark, that would have held--except, maybe, Minnesota.”
Blyleven immediately burst out laughing. Few parks this side of Yellowstone would have held Bichette’s blast.
“A little hanging sidearm breaking ball,” Blyleven said. “I’m going to put that away for a while. It’s not ready to come out yet.”
So Blyleven can still give up the long ball. Some things simply transcend trades and uniform changes.
But he came close to losing the beard he has worn for more than a decade, requiring the vote of his teammates to preserve it.
“I was informed by Mrs. Autry that Mr. Autry didn’t like facial hair,” Blyleven said. “I offered to sit down with them and explain the reasons why I had it. Like I told the players, I’m not here to buck the system--I just feel comfortable with it. And, I keep it clean-shaven.”
But the issue proved more hairy than that. Blyleven eventually had to take his case to Angel Manager Doug Rader and Angel Vice President Mike Port, where a compromise was struck.
“They told me that if I held a team meeting . . . and if the players did not object . . . and if other players would promise not to grow beards of their own, then I could keep it,” Blyleven said.
The players voted to keep Bert and the beard a tandem.
“It’s not what you look like, it’s what you do between the lines that counts,” Blyleven said.
And, he added, his beard is there to improve the team’s appearance.
“What’s behind this beard, nobody wants to see,” Blyleven joked. “There’s just an ugly man under this beard.”
Mark McLemore figures to open the exhibition season as the Angels’ leadoff hitter, almost by default.
Brian Downing, Rader’s No. 1 choice as leadoff man, has been bothered by the rib-cage injury that plagued him through much of the 1988 season and will miss this weekend’s trip to Yuma, where the Angels will play three games against the San Diego Padres.
Johnny Ray, McLemore’s rival in the team’s second base derby, strained his right hamstring during running drills Wednesday and has also been scratched from the Yuma trip. Ray’s injury is not considered serious, but Rader is beginning to worry about Downing’s.
“If Brian is healthy, the general consensus of the (coaching) staff is that we’d be best with him leading off,” Rader said. “But he’s had a problem with his side, the same thing he had last year, and he hasn’t made that much progress.”
Six Angels remain unsigned and, with Mike Port’s Friday deadline at hand, center fielder Devon White believes he’s headed for an automatic contract renewal. “That’s what happened last year--and the year before that,” White said. “This is pretty much the same thing. It’s been a source of aggravation.”
Port renewed White’s contract in both 1987 and 1988, but kept negotiating with White beyond the deadline last spring and reached a one-year, $185,000 agreement.
This spring, after winning a Gold Glove in 1988, White is seeking a salary in the range of fellow third-year veteran Kevin Seitzer of Kansas City. Seitzer recently signed a one-year contract for $340,000.