In the annals of famous Womacks, he ranks a distant third to
Bobby Womack, the guitarist-songwriter who wrote Lookin' for a
Love, and Tommy Womack, the Nashville rocker with the new album
Positively Na Na. Tony Womack, the Pirates second baseman who
led the National League in stolen bases last year with 60 and
who at week's end was second to the Dodgers' Eric Young this
season, with 32, has somehow fallen between the cracks. This is
unfair because Womack is not only a pesky leadoff hitter and a
hard worker, but he's also smart.
Name an athlete who, after being drafted, swore he'd finish his
education and then actually completed his undergraduate work.
Now name one who then went on to get his master's. Womack might
not relish the spotlight--"I wish I got no attention," he says
bluntly--but in a sport whose players often lack accomplishment
off the diamond, he is an anomaly. Selected by the Pirates in
the seventh round of the 1991 draft, Womack returned to Guilford
(N.C.) College in the off-season and earned his bachelor's
degree in sports management a year later. Sticking to that
regimen, he got his master's in the same field, from UNC
Greensboro, in '96.
"You never know whether you'll make it in baseball," says the
28-year-old Womack, who aspires to manage sports arenas down the
road. "I didn't want to settle for an okeydokey job. I didn't
want to be a good high school jock who goes on to work at
McDonald's. I wanted something better. That's why I kept going
[with my education]."
Growing up in Chatham, Va., Womack was a small, skinny kid--a
talented athlete, yes, but hardly the next Rennie Stennett. He
was a standout in baseball and basketball at Gretna High and
drew the national attention that most 5'9", 155-pounders
receive. That would be none. "There was no reason to think I'd
make it here," says Womack about his chances of making the big
leagues. "I wasn't drafted out of high school. Nobody knew who I
was. Nobody cared who I was."
Somewhere along the way, folks started caring. He batted .337
and set the career stolen-base record at Guilford, then spent
six years in Pittsburgh's minor league system. The low point
came in '95, when he was dropped from Triple A Calgary to Double
A Carolina after having been a late-season call-up to the
Pirates two seasons before. Such a demotion is often the kiss of
death for a prospect. For Womack, it was just another obstacle
to overcome. "You have to figure out why it's happening and work
it out," he says. "Baseball is as tough as you make it. As long
as I stay mentally strong, nothing gets to me."
A little speed doesn't hurt, either. "He's frightening," says
Pirates catcher Jason Kendall. "He's the fastest guy on the
team, but he also knows how to read pitchers extremely well.
There's not a battery around that can stop him."
A thinking man on the fly? Pity the opposition. --Jeff Pearlman
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/ALLSPORT [Tony Womack in game]