David Eckstein was about to receive the beating of his life. The
Angels' shortstop was on first base when Tim Salmon clubbed the
most dramatic home run of his career, a two-run shot in the
eighth inning of Game 2 of the World Series. Suddenly Anaheim had
an 11-9 lead over the Giants, and the diminutive Eckstein braced
for what was coming next. "Take a look at the tape, you'll see me
edging away from him," says Eckstein, who greeted Salmon at home
plate with his customary exuberance. "I was scared. You don't
want to be the one he lets out his aggression on."
Salmon, the rightfielder teammates call Kingfish, is known to
celebrate his home runs with high fives and fist bumps so
forceful that they would draw assault charges if delivered
outside the stadium. "The football player in me comes out," he
Eckstein had good reason to quake. Salmon, who had singled twice,
walked and hit another two-run homer in his earlier Game 2 plate
appearances, had waited 10 years to celebrate a moment like this.
After making his major league debut as a late-season call-up in
1992, he won the American League Rookie of the Year award the
following season. The club's longest-tenured player, Salmon is
the franchise leader in home runs (269) and RBIs (894). Entering
October he had played the most games (1,388) of any active major
leaguer who hadn't appeared in the postseason. "I've been
watching things like this from my couch for a long time," said
Salmon, still beaming nearly two hours after his game-winning
homer. "You wonder, if you were at bat in that situation, whether
you could do something like that."
A year ago he probably couldn't have. Salmon had surgery on his
left shoulder before last season and spent most of 2001 trying to
recover the muscle mass (about 30 pounds) and bat speed he had
lost during his layoff. The result: a .227 average, 17 homers, a
career-low 49 RBIs and a huge loss of confidence at the plate.
"He was a mess," says hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. "It was a
frustrating year for him."
Last spring Salmon arrived healthy and at his normal playing
weight of 240 pounds, but he was still struggling early in the
season. (He hit .192 in April.) That's when his wife, Marci, told
him that when he used to hit well, his butt stuck out more in his
stance. Salmon and Hatcher fished out video from 1997, when
Salmon drove in a career-high 129 runs; sure enough, they saw, he
had gotten away from the exaggerated, posterior-protruding crouch
he had used then. Salmon adjusted his stance and honed his timing
by taking hundreds of swings against a pitching machine that
threw nothing but curveballs.
The adjustments worked. He hit .286 with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs
in 2002 and was noticeably more animated on the field and in the
clubhouse. "After last year I decided I was going to enjoy this
and let my emotions out," Salmon says. "Some guys in here were
And, no doubt, sore. "You have to watch your hands after he hits
a home run," says third baseman Scott Spiezio. "He'll break your
fingers if you're not careful."
He may help put a world championship ring on one of those
fingers, too. --Stephen Cannella
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER SPOUSAL SUPPORTA tip from his wife helped Salmon rebound from a disastrous 2001.