If I hang around here Another 20 years Maybe I'll get my act together!
NOTE TO THE READER: While in San Francisco for a game with the Giants in April, Kurt Bevacqua, World Series hero of the San Diego Padres, named himself captain of the team. He said he'd thought about it a lot and felt "They can use a guy like me." It is not known how many Padres are aware of Mr. Bevacqua's selection, but he has been telling them as the opportunity arises.
ANOTHER NOTE TO THE READER: You will recall that the last time—the only time—Kurt Bevacqua's picture graced the pages of this magazine, he was dancing and pirouetting around the base paths, waving and blowing kisses like a bowl queen on the occasion of the three-run homer that beat the Tigers in Game 2 of the Series. Among the mementos Bevacqua received of the feat was a framed picture from the Hawaiian gay community, his image doctored to include a tutu and notes inked in to point out his "twinkling' toes and his hands "held ever so gracefully." Although not gay himself, but more or less in the twilight of a career that has never really known the noonday sun, Bevacqua says he appreciates fan support "no matter its race, creed or national origin," and has put the picture on his den wall.
Good morning. The air around Kurt Bevacqua today is in the good-to-never-better range. We come to you, therefore, directly from Bevacqua's 38th summer, wherein the winds of change have finally stopped blowing and he appears to have at last found a rented house he can call a home. This one, as you can see, snugs up to the lovely La Costa Hotel and Spa, just north of San Diego, and is worth about half a million dollars. This is in keeping with Bevacqua's new image as a man with a leg up on life, as opposed to his old image (of a year ago and a dozen years before that) of a man holding on by his fingertips. My "serious period," says Bevacqua, grinning furiously.
Please note that the town of Carlsbad offers many breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, and any number of residents equally as prominent as Mr. Bevacqua. The host of the soapy-spoofy San Diego at Large show on Channel 8, Mr. Larry Himmel, wants to feature Mr. Bevacqua in a segment to be called Dirty Kurt's Neighborhood, in which he will poke good-natured fun at his new neighbors. The show has featured Bevacqua's gorgeous wife, Carrie, the former Playboy Club bunny who once offered to get her nose bobbed in anticipation of being asked to appear in the bathing suit issue of a certain weekly sports magazine.
Director/star Himmel sees in Bevacqua a kindred spirit—"He thinks I'm as off the wall as he is," Kurt explains. Mr. Bevacqua, who would portray a kind of disreputable Mr. Rogers, is not altogether certain he should do the show. (His neighborhoods tend to come and go and he would like to hang onto this one awhile.) But the skit does appeal to Bevacqua in the fundamental, outlandish way other outlandish things have appealed to him in the past. There was the $2,000 bubble gum-blowing contest he won in 1975, for example, in which—as the Milwaukee Brewers' and the American League's representative—he edged out Johnny Oates of Philadelphia with an 18½-inch bubble on the last day.
Or the time he caught five balls thrown from the top of San Diego's Imperial Bank Tower—24 stories up, or 400 feet down—by teammate Terry Kennedy. ("I'll do anything for charity," he said. Short pause, furious grin. "Or to get my name in the paper.") He missed a sixth when Kennedy offered to donate $1,000 if he could catch it behind his back. The ball ticked off the edge of his glove.
On April 1 of this year, Bevacqua startled listeners of his morning radio phone-in show for KBZT with news that San Diego had traded Tim Flannery to Milwaukee for Rollie Fingers, and then traded Fingers, Steve Garvey and Jerry Davis to the Yankees for Don Mattingly and Willie Randolph. He said by the time he called back to say it was all in fun, he couldn't get through the switchboard. "The lines were jammed!" he says happily. "It was a couple hours before I finally got through."
But Bevacqua says a man inevitably grows too old for bubble gum-blowing contests—"Hell, I was too old in 1975"—and he now gets "a little bored" with "putting my hat on backwards when they want a picture of me with Garvey." He admits to being the one who put the snake in Garvey's shoe on Garvey's first day in San Diego, but it was no more than a future captain's way of helping a straight-backed Dodger become a laid-back Padre. But strike him dead if he ever asked Garvey what the "circulation" was of PM Magazine. "I'm flaky, but I'm not that flaky."
Indeed, it is easy to see that this is a serious new time for Mr. Bevacqua, with growing responsibilities and, at long last, emerging status. When a lifetime .235 hitter sees status emerging, he looks for the handles to grab hold of. For the first time in 18 years as a professional, he has an agent—a onetime minor league player named Dennis (Go-Go) Gilbert, who drives a brown Rolls-Royce and sells insurance "by the millions" to people like Joan Collins and Johnny Carson. Gilbert says Bevacqua is "a very hot property" now, and expects to have endorsements for him any minute. A big new contract with the Padres is hoped for. (Bevacqua is in his option year.)
Bevacqua is also the owner of the Padres' semiofficial monthly newspaper, Baseball Gold. "The first thing I did when I bought it," he says, "was look up the word 'publisher.' " He also put himself on the cover of the January 1985 issue. "Actually, my editor did it. He said, 'You're the only one from the Series we could honestly single out.' I said, 'I guess you're right.' " In April he put his wife Carrie on the cover, in a very brief Padres uniform. Circulation has soared to 40,000, "and we are almost in the black."
Bevacqua now drives a Corvette Stingray with California license plates that say KB HITS. He bought Carrie a Porsche 944 for Valentine's Day. He is also part-owner of a limo service, Valentino Limousine, and when the Padres are playing in Los Angeles he sometimes orders a car around to drive him up the freeway. He says he wants Dodger manager Tom Lasorda, an old nemesis, to see him being driven into Dodger Stadium. Bevacqua refers to Lasorda as "the fat little Italian." Lasorda refers to Bevacqua as "the kind of hitter I'd send a limousine for if I was pitching." Lasorda has rued the day.
Among some other image-enhancers, Bevacqua now gets his hair "done," instead of cut, in "body waves." ("I always hated my hair," he explains.) He takes acting lessons. Teammates say they have helped him do a terrific Dick Williams, in which he suddenly appears—fully costumed—so convincingly as the Padres manager, under game conditions, that he has fooled fans, umpires and Padres alike. He has also perfected that furious, slightly demented-looking Jack Nicholson grin. "Except with Nicholson, it's acting," says Garvey.
Bevacqua used to complain that he had "more bats than at bats" in the big leagues and that he had to have "my own zip code" as he ricocheted from club to club—from Cleveland to Kansas City to Pittsburgh back to Kansas City to Milwaukee to Texas to San Diego back to Pittsburgh and finally back to San Diego again, with water stops up and down the line in seven minor league towns. Look up the word "trade" in the dictionary and chances are Kurt's picture will be there, says Padres general manager Jack McKeon, who traded for him or traded him away three times himself.
But now Bevacqua is in his fourth straight year as a Padre, double the time spent anywhere else, and he is a familiar, beloved presence in San Diego. He writes a weekly column for The La Costan/Blade Tribune, explaining why he does the crazy things he does. Besides his radio show, he now sponsors his own charity golf tournament, the Kurt Bevacqua Celebrity Golf Classic, for San Diego's Children's Hospital. "I asked myself, 'How could a nobody like you be putting on a charity golf tournament like this?' Well, I'm not the kind of person who downgrades himself." He recently cut a twangy country and western record he calls "Twinkletoes," and it has made the local charts, apparently on sheer determination: "I love to dance around the bases.... Watch the looks on all the faces.... When I park one in the seats, I get a case of happy feet...."
It would be tempting to conclude that all of this has spun off Bevacqua's sensational World Series against the Tigers. As Williams' surprise designated hitter (he had hit .200 with only one home run in 80 times at bat in the regular season), Bevacqua led the Padres in the Series with a gaudy .412 average, an .882 slugging percentage, two home runs and four runs batted in. His second homer was off Cy Young-winner Willie Hernandez.
Instantly celebrated, he was hugged by the ubiquitous Mary Lou Retton and booked onto the Today Show. Asked what he was thinking about as he circled the bases with his winning home run, he said, "I was thinking about circling them again." When presented the ball afterward, he said, "Look, it's crushed on one side." For once in his life, he said, "I was in the right place at the right time." The day after his winning homer in Game 2, the Padres coaxed him to the batting cage with chants of "Kurt! Kurt! Kurt!" They cheered and performed a facsimile wave every time he hit a ball out of the infield. Much was made of the sign above his locker: IF I HANG AROUND HERE ANOTHER 20 YEARS, MAYBE I'LL GET MY ACT TOGETHER.
But the Series did more than just highlight Bevacqua; it revealed him as a man who could articulate getting his act together. He said luck had nothing to do with it. "You don't last as long as I have by being lucky." He said he was "the little guy on the assembly line who's always getting laid off. I've put all my guts and perseverance into this game, and it has always tried to get rid of me. I'm not the guy who makes a million, I'm the guy fighting to support his family. Guys like me, we owe the company nothing."
Closer scrutiny made it clearer, too, why he had been able to hang on all that time. He had developed an extraordinary hitting skill, fully appreciated if not totally understood by Dick Williams himself. For despite those mediocre lifetime statistics, Bevacqua was dynamite under pressure. Sent to the plate at the most crucial times, against the toughest pitching, he had over the last three seasons averaged .333 as a pinch hitter. He says, "I get the feeling when I come up that the pitcher has to think, 'Uh-oh, it's Kurt Bevacqua, one of the greatest pinch hitters of all time.' I get the feeling nobody can beat me in the clutch."
Practically nobody had. He had been particularly rough on some of the best—Bruce Sutter, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Carlton, for example. In 1982 he was .346 as a pinch hitter. In 1983 his .412 led National League pinch hitters, and he hit the first grand-slam pinch homer in San Diego history.
He slumped most of 1984, when he and Carrie were estranged, but that problem was resolved before the Series, and he has since regained orbit. In his first six pinch hit appearances this season, he reached base every time—two walks and four hits—and once more was considering himself a candidate for the cover of Baseball Gold. Two of his hits were game-winners against the hated Dodgers—a 10th-inning single to beat Ken Howell on April 20 and a two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning to beat Tom Brennan before 49,801 at Dodger Stadium a week later. On June 7 against the Reds, in a rare start at third, Bevacqua went 2 for 4 and hit a grand-slam homer. On Sunday, he hit yet another grand slam in a 6-1 win over the Giants.
And, lo, Bevacqua resides now in the pantheon of pinch hitters. His 78th pinch hit recently put him ahead of Enos Slaughter, Bob Fothergill and George Crowe, into 22nd place on the alltime list. There are only four active players ahead of him: Steve Braun, Jay Johnstone, Rusty Staub and Greg Gross. Dr. Demie Mainieri, who numbers Bevacqua among the 20 major-leaguers he has coached and sent on from Miami Dade-North Community College, says it is "just too bad it took 18 years for pro baseball to realize what a hell of a hitter Kurt is."
Bevacqua calls Mainieri "Doc" and, at tender moments, "my father," although Mainieri is not. Bevacqua keeps him posted on his progress with calls in the night. "Early in his career he called from Savannah to tell me he'd put two out and just missed getting a third by a foot. He said, 'Whatta you think, Doc?' I said, 'Kurt, I think it's two o'clock in the morning!' " Last year Kurt called from the Padres' locker room during a game. "Aren't you playing?" Mainieri asked. "It's only the sixth inning," said Bevacqua. "He won't use me until it's crucial." Bevacqua said he sneaked back there for a snack one afternoon and Jerry Coleman, then the San Diego manager, walked in. "What did you say?" Mainieri asked. "I said, 'Want a nacho, Jerry?' "
One of the things Bevacqua was called in the afterglow of the Series was a "throwback." By today's loose standards, a throwback could be almost anyone who enjoys playing baseball enough to get his uniform dirty, and Bevacqua certainly does that, sliding and diving and tumbling into things. In the minors he was known as "Dirt." Pete Rose, of course, is the ultimate throwback, and manager Williams says Bevacqua, like Rose, is the "kinda guy who woulda fit right in with some of the old ball clubs." Williams especially enjoys Bevacqua's throwback bench-jockeying. "When he calls Tony Pena a dope, Pena listens. He gets to Ron Cey like that all the time."
But Bevacqua is not a throwback. He is an original. Every team should have a Pete Rose. Not every team wants a Kurt Bevacqua, as has been made painfully clear. Perhaps, then, the most poignant Bevacqua revelation of the after-Series was that he had at last found a team that could appreciate him, and vice versa.
Bevacqua says he realized he was home when he went to the Padres' team party after their victory over the Cubs in the 1984 playoffs and Mrs. Joan Kroc, the team owner, "pushed Steve Garvey into the pool." ("Garvey's hair is messed up! Garvey's hair!" shouted Bevacqua.) Mrs. Kroc herself went in and, of course, so did Bevacqua.
Such is the attitude that "makes Kurt good for the club," says Williams. "He makes it easier to come to the park," says outfielder Tony Gwynn. Williams and shortstop Garry Templeton say that Bevacqua's freely imparted knowledge of pitchers and his exceptional ability to perform what is essentially a thankless job have been critical to the Padres' recent success. "He's really the most valuable player," says Templeton, "because he gets it done when it has to be done." Publicist Bill Beck says that the loosey-goosey Padres are now more a reflection of Bevacqua than they realize. He credits Kurt with accelerating the blending of Garvey into "one of the guys."
When Garvey arrived in 1983, it was to Bevacqua's announcement that he, Kurt the Dirt, "wasn't giving up first base without a fight." Garvey is an All-Star first baseman; Bevacqua plays the field so infrequently that he says it takes him four years to break in a glove.
Bevacqua says that Garvey came to him shortly after that and "asked me if I wanted to dine with him that night. I said, 'Dine? Dine? Why don't we just go get something to eat.' " Soon enough, Garvey and Bevacqua were San Diego's most quotable odd coupling. According to Bevacqua, "A winning baseball team is more than just good players, it's a chemistry, a combination of factors. I supply the flakiness."
There is, for example, the hotfoot, which he feels he raised to an art form in Pittsburgh with the use of aerosol sprays and other devices. ("You know that stuff they put on bruises to ease the pain? It can actually shoot fire.") One night on the road with the Pirates he ignited a ring of lighter fluid around the hotel bed of a sleeping Richie Zisk. "Scared the hell out of him, and never even singed the rug."
Ah, Pittsburgh, he says. For a young zany, there was no team like the '74-75 Pirates. "You're talking about a team of giants" he says. "The Lumber Company. Everybody had a 37-ounce bat. If you couldn't put nine out of 15 balls in the stands every day in batting practice, they didn't talk to you. I got so bad trying to imitate 'em I was swinging before I got out of the dugout. I learned absolutely nothing about hitting in Pittsburgh."
But, my, what wonderful crazy guys, he says. One afternoon in Pittsburgh half a dozen playful Pirates—including Willie Stargell and Dave Parker, "two of the largest specimens in America that do not have carburetors"—got him down eight minutes before a game, stripped him and lathered him up with a variety of edible spreads, hot sauces and toilet creams. Released barely in time to shower, a still-stinging Bevacqua played first that evening smelling of peanut butter and jelly.
He admits to being the one who subsequently sent Parker and Stargell to an empty warehouse in New Jersey on the pretense of a free dinner, and would do it again if he had the chance. But becoming a sophisticated Californian, he says, requires more creativity. As might be the case, say, in San Francisco, where the team bus regularly passes a place where derelicts lounge on the sidewalk, drinking from bottles in brown paper bags. One afternoon the bus turned down the street and there, in scrounged clothes and an old hat, waving a bagged bottle of Thunderbird wine was—Kurt? Could that be Kurt?
The Williams impersonation, he says, emerged one night in Montreal "when Dick had gone to Tampa to attend the graduation of one of his children. I was in the locker room after the game started, and I had this can of baby talc, and I just kinda dabbed some on my mustache, then on the temples of my hair below the cap line. And there he was! I stuffed a couple of towels around my waist under my shirt, put on a pair of those little reading glasses Dick wears down on his nose and walked out. Norm Sherry [then the pitching coach] was sitting on the bench. He turned and said, 'Oh, hi, Dick.' Then he did a double take.
"Terry Kennedy was catching, and he was so surprised he had to call time out. I did it again last year in San Diego when Dick was suspended for 10 days and we needed something to stop a losing streak. When I came up to the plate to give the umps the lineup card, they were stunned. Dick was up in the press box. I gave him a big wave. We won."
Bevacqua laughs whenever he retells the story. (He says he wanted to do Lasorda "but I couldn't find enough towels.") Here he is retelling it on his patio in Carlsbad as the gorgeous Carrie serves midmorning coffee. As you can see, the patio is an ideal place for Kurt and Carrie to sit drinking coffee and laughing at the golfers hacking by on the 4th hole.
Bevacqua knows about golf. He says he once shot a 69 in a round with Jack Nicklaus at Doral in Miami, beating the Bear by two strokes. He says that in 1973 there was a lawyer in Boston who offered to sponsor him as a pro, but he refused because he figured he could make more money hitting larger balls and still win a bet or two on the side playing golf. He says he's now listed as an "eight handicap, but I'm actually a five."
Note, please, that the gorgeous Carrie's nose isn't large at all. "Saved me $3,000 when she realized it," says Kurt. She has, however, broadened out in places to indicate the coming of their second child. Her loose-fitting jersey shift is pulled into a knot on one side, and obviously neither the dress nor her pregnancy detracts from her figure. Before being a bunny, Carrie was a model, and after that an airline stewardess and drama teacher. She was singing in a lounge in Honolulu "just for fun—I have a kind of husky voice that they liked, and the tips were great"—when Bevacqua met her. She says he was an immediate hit. "On our first date, he borrowed a team van and knocked out the overhead sprinklers going into the garage of the hotel."
Carrie has a reputation among the San Diego writers of being one of the sweetest of the players' wives. Phil Collier of the San Diego Union says she was the only one who visited him when he was hospitalized for a recent operation. She is Bevacqua's second wife and now, in their renewed state of grace, his "biggest fan" as well as an active Tee Ball mom for their son, Tony, 7. Bevacqua also has a 14-year-old daughter, Natalie, from his first marriage. Carrie says the sentimental side of Bevacqua is usually missed in depictions of her husband. For their anniversary he bought her, among other things, an I LOVE YOU, CARRIE ad on the San Diego scoreboard. When they were separated for four months, he sent her bubble-gum cards.
The separation put Kurt in a deep blue funk "for months," he says, and led directly to a confrontation with police at an apartment where Carrie was visiting a male friend. "I went through a window," Bevacqua explains.
Bevacqua knows about police. When he was a Brewer living with his first wife in Milwaukee, they were right across the street from the Berlin precinct, and in a month and a half he accumulated three speeding tickets, "all for going about nine miles over in a 35-mile zone." Facing a jail sentence, he got a lawyer to fight it, claiming harassment, and a wig to wear so that he could pose as his wife driving out of the garage every day.
Eventually he was traded to Texas, but on a return to Milwaukee he was arrested and held for sentencing until he produced a $350 bail check. The next day he stopped payment on the check and fled, deciding he was a marked man who wasn't going to take it anymore. But on a subsequent trip to Milwaukee, he gave himself up, paid the fine and spent six days in jail. "I don't recommend it," he says. "Jail's scary. For six days in there I didn't say a word to anybody."
The incident over Carrie made the San Diego papers, but only in passing. Bevacqua enjoys an agreeable press, being eminently quotable. But there are "times." He says one writer "always hangs around the batting cage picking up stuff without checking it out," and "on my reputation alone he wrote that I was doing 90 when my Corvette blew a tire and went off the road in Arizona this spring. There was a lot of damage, but no one was hurt. I told him the accident report said 65. I told him I was gonna sue his fat ass."
"Did he print a regression?" says Carrie, innocently.
"You mean a retraction," says Kurt.
"Oh, yes," says Carrie, unfazed. "I'm always doing that with words."
Clearly, the Bevacquas are now one with California. Carrie, who was born in Santa Monica, says her own family came west "in covered wagons." Kurt is always being sent west. The Indians sent him to Portland during his sixth year as a pro. Four years later the Brewers shipped him to Spokane, and in 1979 the Texas Rangers traded him to San Diego. Obviously he was being told something.
Bevacqua actually was raised in Miami. His stepfather, Mario Bevacqua, was chief bellhop of the Fontainebleau Hotel for 23 years. He not only loved baseball but also could teach a boy the value of a well-bet two-iron shot. Kurt's father, Larry DeFreitas, is a New Jersey district manager for Adidas athletic shoes. Adidas used to provide him with his shoes, "but this year I thought I ought to get some money for wearing 'em, and they wouldn't give it to me, so I went with Tiger. It's amazing how much better a shoe feels when you're getting paid to wear it."
He says he's now earning $140,000 in his option year of a three-year contract as a Padre, but "the major league average is $337,000 and the better pinch hitters like Staub and Gross make a lot more than I do, so I'm looking. I think I'm average. I've worked hard to achieve this degree of mediocrity. But I have to say when I started I never really thought of making money. I just wanted to play. Baseball was my home."
Bevacqua played high school ball two classes behind Steve Carlton at North Miami Senior High, then joined Mainieri at Miami Dade-North, where he led the nation's junior colleges in home runs and RBIs in 1966 and endeared himself to his coach with his outrageous hustle and ridiculous cockiness. "He'd run to the plate to hit," says Mainieri. "Nothing intimidated him. We'd be playing the best teams, against the best pitchers, and he'd be yelling, 'Give us your ace! We wanta see your ace!' "
Mainieri says he tried to talk Bevacqua out of playing the infield because it was a treacherous place for a man with iron hands. "I figured if I could get him to play outfield, I could hide him." The prospect did not interest Bevacqua, and the reputation did not bother him. Even after he was drafted, before his second year at Dade, by the Mets (offering "a bonus of $30,000"), he wrote to Joe McDonald of the Mets' front office to ask for game tickets and signed the letter "Iron Hands."
He eventually went with the Reds for a meager $500 bonus in 1967—"another astute financial move on my part"—but he says his fielding was undervalued. "I'm awkward looking. I don't do anything with style or grace, like a Templeton, I just do it. But I'm not a stumbler."
To the young Bevacqua, life in the minor leagues was "like having 18 or 19 brothers and never growing up. It's fine when you're starting out. You don't mind the 5 a.m. wake-up calls and the all-night bus rides, because you've got the allnight card games, and the setting off of fire extinguishers, and the giving of hotfoots. But then you begin to realize you can't do that forever."
During his perilous ascent and tenuous hold on the big leagues, he was traded six times, sold twice, released twice. He has been traded for the likes of Cal Meier, Fernando Gonzales and Mike Hedlund, But he long ago concluded that getting traded is a bummer only if it's down, and then you have to decide if it might at last be a permanent ride. He thought of quitting only once, when Pittsburgh sent him to Portland in 1981 (for, as it turned out, his last 14 games in the minors). He was 34 years old. He announced he wouldn't go. Then he had a long talk with his friend Stargell. "Willie said, 'Keep the uniform on your back.' "
But of all the unkind cuts, he says, the worst was in 1977, "when I really felt I had everything turned around. I'd hit .337 in Spokane the year before, with 12 home runs, a lot for me. In the spring I had a shot with Seattle, an expansion club. I figured I'd be starting. That spring, whenever we needed a base hit, I got it. A three-run homer, I got it. Three or four days in a row, I got the game-winning hits. I hit .467 and I never went to bed later than nine o'clock.
"But as I understand it, Danny Kaye [then a Seattle owner] heard me cussing on the bench one day, and there were some kids around. And I had Carrie there, living with me before we were married. When they cut me, they said I was a 'bad influence' on younger players. Hell, I was a monk compared to some of them. But instead of starting, I was in the street. I wound up with Texas, which traded me to San Diego in 1978, so it worked out O.K., but at the time I wasn't too happy about it."
His last "negative trade" was in 1980, when McKeon came in as general manager of the Padres. Bevacqua had had words with Bob Fontaine, McKeon's predecessor. Pictures on Fontaine's office wall had crashed down when Bevacqua slammed the door on his way out. "I told McKeon, 'Forget what you've heard. Don't believe what you've heard about me.' Two weeks later I went none for four in a game in Cincinnati. The next day, in St. Louis, I got a call at 2:30 a.m. I knew it wasn't to congratulate me. McKeon said, 'You're traded to Pittsburgh. You play in Chicago today.'
"History tells me there are no lights in Chicago. That meant no sleep for me. I made a 6 a.m. flight and was in the lineup that afternoon. The closest we got to San Diego for the next two months was Houston. I had clothes for nine days. But I got even. When Dick Williams took over as Padre manager, I kept calling him up, telling him to tell McKeon he wanted me."
He says he is not sure if it's his innate enthusiasm or his natural wackiness that's responsible for his ability to survive. Sometimes, he says, he does feel like the Lone Ranger. When Dodger pitcher Tom Niedenfuer hit Joe Lefebvre in the head with a pitch in 1982, Bevacqua, ever alert to confrontation, was the first one out of the San Diego dugout, and when the umpire tackled him short of Niedenfuer, he discovered he was the only one out of the dugout. That was the rhubarb Kurt blamed on "the fat little Italian," Lasorda, for "sanctioning" the pitch. Lasorda responded by saying that he doesn't throw at hitters like Lefebvre or Bevacqua because he (Bevacqua) "couldn't hit the water if he fell out of a boat." They have been feuding, more or less seriously, ever since.
It could be, says Bevacqua, that the Dirty Kurts of the world act as they do as a hedge against hidden fears. But it's not such a bad way to live, he says, when you realize that "if I wasn't doing this, I'd be parking cars in Florida." His ship may never completely stop shaking, but life is more tolerable "when you've accepted what you are. I am now the Lloyd's of London of baseball for a couple months a year—in case somebody gets hurt, in case the team needs a clutch hit." He is confident that he will continue to drive in runs and astound managers indefinitely.
He says the whole business of pinch-hitting is crazy, of course, because it is "basically impossible for a manager to send a .235 lifetime hitter to win a game with two on and two out in the ninth."
It develops quite naturally, then, that the "ideal personality for a pinch hitter is to be a little crazy, too." The pinch-hitter's secret, he says, "is to think—but not too much." To "keep your head in the game," learn pitchers, be ready. And getting ready sometimes includes "going back into the clubhouse to swing a bat, or to put on some special shoes I have and hang upside down from one of those gyros in the John—not too long, just enough for my face to get really red. Somebody said, 'It'll retard your brain.' I said, 'It's too late. It already has.'
"By the time I finally get to the plate, I'm in a positive frame of mind. I go up there thinking this pitcher's not about to take the bread off my family's plate."
"Or the diamonds off your wife's neck," says Carrie, smiling sweetly.
"Yeah, or the diamonds off my wife's neck. I believe then that the pressure really is on him. I've got the advantage. If he fails, he gets the Big L—the loss. If I fail, it's only none for one."
Sometimes, he says, he still has dreams of playing every day, "but I doubt it's ever in the manager's mind anymore." He says he might even consider being a manager someday. "Players who sit and watch as much as I do make the best managers—guys like Walt Alston and Dick Williams. If I managed, I wouldn't be a 'star' manager, either. To keep morale high, you have to take the guys who don't play under your wing. Make them feel appreciated. The stars already know they're appreciated. It's in their paycheck."
It usually comes down to that, doesn't it, he says. Being measured by how much you make. And by those standards, and those alone and "not because I deserve it," there is certainly some pride to be found in where Bevacqua is today.
"My lifestyle has changed. I can afford things. I'm probably going to buy this house." Pause, grin. "Although the last time I bought a house, I got traded."
Take note, he says, how good life is for the self-proclaimed captain of the Padres. He is a well-known player now, even a star. He can legitimately put his picture on the cover of his own newspaper. He can editorialize in his own column. His radio show has rising ratings. He has an agent who's going to do big things for him. He can take his kids to Fashion Valley to shop. He can take them to Disneyland in a limo.
Life is so good that it is obviously time to consider consolidating a little—to be cool and to be conservative. Thus, Mr. Bevacqua says he will probably not accept the starring role in Dirty Kurt's Neighborhood. He's been thinking a lot about it and he has decided enough might be enough. There are practical considerations.
"Hey, man," he says, "we're not talking about the Dodgers here. Some of the people I might poke fun at could poke back."
But, ah, if you look closely, you'll notice that he's smiling when he says it.
Carrie suited up, more or less, for an issue of Bevacqua's "Baseball Gold."
Hanging around clubhouses is just part of the topsy-turvy world of the pinch hitter.
Dick Williams and his alter ego discuss one possible lineup for the Padres' postseason.
COURTESY TOPPS CHEWING GUM INC.
The young Kurt burst onto the scene in 1975, when he blew away rivals in a bubble gum contest.
Bevacqua is a wizard at kidding Garvey, shown here grooming his backup at first.
Kurt had a ball the night he kissed years of obscurity goodby with one swing, then danced around the bases.
[See caption above.]
Bevacqua stands upon the threshold of fame and fortune.