Troy Glaus, better known for playing third base for the Anaheim Angels, is playing palm reader at the moment. It is his own palm, his left, to which his attention is fixed. He sees the deeply creased lines. He sees the ruddy, cracked and blistered skin. He sees...the past.
"Middle of March," he says, laughing at the memory in the Angels' clubhouse last Saturday, a few hours before Anaheim resumed its tepid rivalry with its old-money neighbors, the Los Angeles Dodgers. "The blisters are still here. I hit so much that day I thought my hands would fall off, but everything changed for me. I had to get back to a simple approach [at the plate]. I found it. It's working so far."
Angels first-year batting coach Mickey Hatcher took a confused Glaus to a back field at the Angels' spring training complex in Tempe, Ariz., that day. Glaus had hit .240 in 1999, his first full season in the big leagues, which was worse than every other player in the American League with more than 400 at bats but one, Brian L. Hunter of the Mariners (.232). Glaus never did click with Rod Carew, the team's hitting coach last year. At the plate his mind would race with thoughts about his hands, his feet, his stride, his hips, his weight shift—the whole darn syllabus of How to Hit a Baseball 101. "Everything," Glaus says, "except the ball and the pitcher."
"Let's keep it simple," Hatcher told him. Glaus had batted .344 in three years at UCLA. He had broken Mark McGwire's Pac-10 single-season home run record, with 34 in 1997. Why not go back to the batting style he had used in college? So Hatcher and Glaus agreed that he would drop his hands in his stance—closer to the plane of the hitting zone—and bring his feet closer together. Forget everything else. See the ball. Let your hands fly.
For 30 minutes Hatcher flipped balls to Glaus, who whacked them into a net. For another 30 minutes Hatcher threw batting practice. "Nobody else around," Glaus says. "Just Mickey, me and a kid with a golf cart picking up balls in the outfield."
In a sense, Glaus hasn't stopped hitting since that one-hour tutorial. At week's end his name was plastered all over the American League leader board: second in walks (43), on-base percentage (.450) and doubles (19); third in extra-base hits (35) and in runs (44); fifth in total bases (133); sixth in slugging (.668); seventh in batting average (.332); and ninth in home runs (16). The 6'5" 230-pounder is a big man on campus again.
Only 23, Glaus is showing why the Angels selected him with the third overall pick of the 1997 draft and why he served a minor league apprenticeship of only 109 games. Because of his reserved nature—"He's so shy," his mother, Karen Jensen, says, "that when he first started doing interviews over the telephone in high school he would nod his answers"—not to mention the low expectations for his team, Glaus is arriving at stardom like a train pulling into an empty station.
Despite his recent foray into palm reading, Glaus is reluctant to talk about his future in any detail. You might as well ask him to stare into the sun, for although his future is just as bright, focusing on it can do far more harm than good. Glaus—pronounced gloss, though everything else about him lacks any hint of it—modestly denies having any goals or milestones in mind other than to help turn the Angels into winners. Others in the Anaheim clubhouse are not nearly so restrained. "His ceiling is so high I'm not sure anyone knows just how good he can be," bench coach Joe Maddon says. "I do know that he's at least capable of hitting .300 with 40 home runs and a ton of walks and playing the best third base in the league, if not all of baseball."
"The guy," says first baseman Mo Vaughn, "is going to be Mike Schmidt. The guy has Hall of Fame potential written all over him."
In his brief career Glaus already has done a fair imitation of the Philadelphia Phillies' Hall of Famer. By the completion of his breakout 1974 season Schmidt had 969 career at bats with 239 hits, 55 home runs, 171 RBIs and a .247 average; at week's end Glaus had 915 career at bats with 234 hits, 46 homers, 140 RBIs and a .256 average. And like Schmidt and Matt Williams of the Arizona Diamondbacks, another power-hitting third baseman who endured a difficult big league initiation (.198 through his first three seasons), Glaus's ascension has been a trying one. That he endured it with a blue-collar work ethic is testament to one tough mother.