THE END OF THE STONE AGE
And then there was the home game last summer at Triple A Pawtucket ( R.I.) when Jeff Stone asked permission to miss batting practice.
"My girlfriend's plane gets into the airport at 5:30," he told Butch Hobson, his manager.
"O.K.," said Hobson. "But remember, the game starts at seven."
At seven, no Stone. At 7:15, no Stone. He didn't show until the end of the second inning.
"What happened?" asked Hobson. "Was traffic bad?"
"I made good time!" said Stone. "The airport was in New York City."
Endearing confusion is what Stone is all about. "Stonie is the nicest, sweetest, goofiest guy I've met in baseball," says Boston outfielder Phil Plantier, who played alongside Stone at Pawtucket. "And he's a heck of a player. He can hit, he can steal, he can run anything down. Every day I wondered, Why in the world isn't this guy in the big leagues?"
Not long ago Stone was touted as the next Rickey Henderson, a name not batted around lightly. In Stone's first three full seasons in the Phillies' minor league system, from 1981 to '83, he swiped 307 bases—123 in 1981 alone. After a soaring lift-oft' with the Phillies in 1984, his bat went south and his career took a rough dip. This past spring he tried out with the Cincinnati Reds at their camp in Plant City, Fla. He was a nonroster invitee, a longshot fighting for a seat at the end of the bench. The Reds thought he would make a fine leadoff man for their top farm club, the Nashville Sounds. "It won't bother me if I get sent down," Stone said. "It would have bothered me once, but not now. I just want to play baseball." When the last cuts were made, Stone was sent to Nashville.
Stone has started more anecdotes than big league games. Asked once if he wanted a shrimp cocktail before dinner, Stone replied, "No thanks, I don't drink."