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Running Into Walls Hasn’t Stopped Him

If there’s one thing Mickey (Himself) Hatcher could always do, it was hit a baseball. Hard. Somewhere. Often.

He isn’t all that good throwing it, catching it. But give him a bat and he is a star.

The other thing he can do is smile. If you walk into a locker room, the one with the big grin is Mickey. His attitude is infectious. One of the most dour creatures in the world is the ballplayer who has just gone zero for four or been knocked out of the box in the third inning.

Mickey just lets it roll off his back. He has always managed to look as if he has just hit the game-winning home run.

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Last October, he did. Twice.

The home run everyone remembers--and always will remember--from the 1988 season is the one Kirk Gibson hit with two out in the ninth inning of Game 1. It’s one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. It won the game, maybe the Series.

But Kirk Gibson might not even have been to bat if Mickey Hatcher hadn’t hit a less famous but equally effective home run in the first inning of that game. The Dodgers would never have been in position to pull that game--and series--out of the fire in the ninth if Mickey Hatcher hadn’t hit a two-run homer in the first.

Kirk Gibson is supposed to hit home runs. He was hitting his 28th home run of the season. Hatcher was hitting his second.

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In Game 5, Hatcher did it again--walloping another two-run homer in the first.

It wasn’t the first time a pitching staff had underestimated this Mick who wasn’t Mantle.

This Mickey manages to look in the batter’s box like a little kid playing stickball in the streets. He stands in there with this lopsided grin, his stockings kind of sag. So does he. The cap is at a rakish angle. He looks a little bit like Bugs Bunny at the plate. All he needs is the carrot.

When most people hit home runs, they go around the bases like a Pope. It’s not even a trot, it’s a procession. They stop and bow. Wave their caps. Jeffrey Leonard goes around the bases like Cleopatra’s barge.

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Mickey Hatcher goes around as if a posse is after him. He and Pete Rose hold the listed world records for circling the bases on home runs.

Hatcher is a throwback to the days when baseball was a game, not a business. He is actually a very considerable athlete--he was a wide receiver for Barry Switzer’s University of Oklahoma football team, for example. He has pretty good speed. He can hit anything that doesn’t hit him first. Mickey doesn’t require of a pitch that it be a strike. Just in the air, is all he wants.

He is a born hitter. Every time you see in a record book where Mickey Hatcher has played in 100 games or more a season, you can make book he has hit .300 or close to it. If you throw the ball outside, he hits it into right field. If you throw it inside, as the Oakland Athletics pitchers found, he hits it in the seats.

His problem has always been getting in a lineup. He came up with the Dodgers as a third baseman in the days when the team already had one--Ron Cey. Hatcher batted .371, hit 10 homers and drove in 93 runs in his only real full season with the minor league Albuquerque Dukes.

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On the Dodgers, he just became Ron Cey’s caddie--or Dusty Baker’s. The guy who goes in for the late innings to give the regular a rest. He got in only 33 games one year and 57 another. The year he played in 57, he got only 84 at-bats. He wasn’t even a utility man. He was an irregular.

Mickey remained cheerful. Many another player would have tossed helmets, busted up lockers, roared, “Play me or trade me!” Mickey just filled in the time playing practical jokes. When someone put lampblack on Kirk Gibson’s cap last year, nobody on the club suspected the real culprit, Jesse Orosco. Everybody would have bet on Hatcher as the jokester.

Hatcher figures his horseplay is just a way of cutting tension.

“I just try to keep everybody in a good frame of mind,” he says. “When I see a guy who has just struck out sitting in a corner of the dugout all by himself, biting his lip, I just try to get him so he isn’t down on himself. I mean, Babe Ruth struck out, right?”

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Babe Ruth might have struck out but Mickey Hatcher doesn’t very often--only seven times all last year. He usually strikes out only every other eclipse of the moon.

So, why did he never become a star?

Hatcher says it’s because he always played too hard.

“Every time I got a chance to play, I hit a wall,” he recalls.

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He got carried out of Fenway Park on a stretcher once with what was feared to be a broken neck. He collided with the famous Green Monster while chasing a line drive in the corner.

Another time, he got hit on the wrist with a pitch in mid-season--and found out after the season was over that he played since then with a broken hand.

He couldn’t crack the Dodger lineup while Cey and Baker were in it and, when he got traded to Minnesota, he found Gary Gaetti in his way. Still, the only year in his major league career he got over 500 at-bats, he hit better than .300--.302, in fact--drove in 69 runs and scored 61.

“I put the bat on the ball,” he admits. “I’m the kind of hitter the pitchers hate to see come up. I either have no weakness--or I’m all weakness. They make a good pitch and I flare it somewhere for a double. They try to waste a pitch and I hit it off a wall. I drive them nuts.”

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Most World Series heroes, when they star in a game, can tell you all about it--not only how many were on base but who. Also, who was pitching, what he threw, the direction of the wind, time of day, relative humidity, where the pitch was, what the count was, what the temperature was and whether the infield was playing in or back.

About all Mickey Hatcher can remember is who was President.

He can’t for the life of him remember the circumstances of the two homers and the five RBIs he had in the series. Hatcher has no memory for trivia.

For the record, Mickey’s first Series home run was hit off Dave Stewart. The Oakland pitcher had just hit leadoff batter Steve Sax, apparently in retaliation for Dodger pitcher Tim Belcher having hit the A’s Jose Canseco in Oakland’s half of the first inning.

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If so, Stewart hit the wrong batter. He should have saved the get-even pitch for Hatcher. Because Mickey Hatcher hit the first pitch into the left-field seats for a 2-0 Los Angeles lead.

The Dodgers hadn’t put Mickey in the lineup for his bat but for his attitude. It happened after the first game in the playoff series against the New York Mets. The Dodgers, leading, 2-0, going into the ninth, had blown the lead and the game. The team was down.

Manager Tommy Lasorda remembers looking over and seeing a crestfallen lot of ballplayers. All except Mickey Hatcher, who was going around with his hat on backward, making faces.

The Mets didn’t bother Mickey Hatcher. Nothing bothers Mickey Hatcher.

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World Series heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They’re often as unlikely as Pepper Martin in 1931 or as predictable as Babe Ruth in 1927.

But none ever took over a Series as a hitter any more thoroughly than Mickey (Himself) Hatcher and his two home runs and a double and four singles did in 1988. He has a hard job remembering them but the rest of baseball will never forget them.


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