There aren’t many big leaguers who would build their careers around being able to lay down a good bunt, but San Francisco’s Brett Butler has done just that.
One of the smallest players in the majors at 5 feet 9, Butler lacks the power to send outfielders to the fences or to strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. However, by dropping an occasional bunt--137 safely during the past six seasons--Butler can make everyone antsy.
“The bunt is part of my repertoire,” Butler said. “Just as Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark hit home runs, Brett Butler lays down bunts.
“They know I’m going to bunt; they just don’t know when. That’s the difference. If I didn’t have my bunting, I wouldn’t be in the big leagues--that’s a big part of my game.”
With power hitters such as Mitchell, Clark and Matt Williams in the lineup, the Giants’ leadoff hitter doesn’t get the kind of headlines he might on another team. But Butler, who recently signed a three-year contract extension reportedly worth $3 million, isn’t worried about playing in anyone else’s shadow.
He came to San Francisco via the free-agent market in December, 1987. He had spent five years in Atlanta and another four seasons in Cleveland as a steady .288 hitter.
During his first season in San Francisco, Butler’s .287 average led the Giants and his 109 runs scored led the National League. In 1989, he led the Giants in stolen bases for the second consecutive season with 31 and was ranked second among National League outfielders with 407 putouts.
This season, he is hitting .283 through Monday with 56 runs scored. And he has been especially effective bunting lately, making good on six of his last eight attempts. He has 13 bunt singles in 28 attempts.
“He makes this club tick,” Giant Manager Roger Craig said. “I keep telling him, it’s just as important to score a hundred runs as it is for Will Clark and those guys to drive in a hundred runs.
“Brett simply comes to the ballpark every day to beat you, and that’s all that you have to have to win.”
Butler is a threat even when he isn’t hitting well. From the pitcher’s mound, his hunched-over frame makes the strike zone look small, indeed.
And his bunting ability makes opposing pitchers even more wary.
Said Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela: “With the infield pulled up, 80% to 85% of the time he makes contact with the ball, it will get out of the infield. Little guys don’t have a lot of power, so they have to try everything to get on base.”
Being a little guy hasn’t stopped Butler.
“I’ve always heard, ‘You’re too small; you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ ” Butler said. “But there are two things that were told to me when I was a kid that I’ve always remembered.
“My father said, ‘Son, don’t let anybody ever tell you you can’t do anything. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to believe in you?’
“The other thing was from my Little League coach. He said, ‘I always hope there’s one person better than you are, because I know then you’ll strive to always be better than that one person.’ ”
Butler said he wants to win a Gold Glove and make the All-Star team before his career ends. But even if he fails to accomplish either goal, Butler said his achievements have already eclipsed his childhood dreams.
“The fact of the matter is, my goal was to make $50,000 a year and play one year in the big leagues, and God’s blessed me with more than that,” he said.