April 27, 1987
One off-season, when he was an outfielder for the San Diego Padres, Rob Deer ignored the clause in his contract that prohibited him from riding a motorcycle. He drove his Harley Heritage Softtail all over the place in the fall and winter of 1995-96, usually extremely fast. Then, about three weeks before spring training, he crashed. Deer had to have stitches in his forehead. His arms were bruised and swollen. Worst of all, he could barely toss a baseball. Bruce Bochy, the Padres' manager, demanded to know what had happened. "I told him I crashed on an ATV," says Deer. "I tried to be honest and go by the rules, but sometimes I just had to cheat a little. Speed was my thrill."
The 37-year-old Deer has built a second career around that passion. After retiring from baseball two years ago, he and his father, Bob, formed Deer Racing. With the backing of eight sponsors, they drive their two drag racers in some 75 events a year, mostly on the National Hot Rod Association circuit. "When I was growing up, my dad was always racing things," says Rob, who lives in Mesa, Ariz. "I was there with him, waterskiing behind a speedboat at 100 mph or in a fast car. I took off a lot of years to play baseball, but I never got that rush out of my system."
Not that he didn't enjoy his 11-year, five-team run in the big leagues. Deer, who took one of the biggest cuts ever seen, batted only .220 for his career and whiffed a whopping 1,409 times, including an American League single-season record 186 with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987 No matter. When he hit the ball, it traveled. Deer's 230 home runs—including a career-high 33 in '86—made him one of the best pure power hitters of the 1980s: a poor man's Dave Kingman. In '87 he was part of a Milwaukee club that started 13-0, a streak highlighted by an Easter Sunday win against the Texas Rangers. The Brewers trailed 4-1 with two men on in the bottom of the ninth when Deer smacked a Greg Harris fastball 445 feet. Right fist raised, Deer graced SI's cover. "I have that homer on video," he says. "Every time I watch it, I get goose bumps."
One day Deer—whose daughters, Brenna, 8, and twins Ellery and Karly, 6, live with his ex-wife in San Diego—hopes to run one of the country's top racing outfits. If that doesn't happen, he has another sport to fall back on. "I've started enjoying softball," he says, "because even with my swing, it's really hard to miss the ball."