They were power hitters in the truest sense, all-or-nothing sluggers who missed out on the current homer-happy era of small ballparks and diluted pitching. The careers of five of the biggest boppers—Cecil Fielder, Rob Deer, Dave Kingman, Mickey Tettleton and Gorman Thomas—shared a striking similarity: When they didn't bash the bejesus out of the ball, they missed spectacularly. Collectively they belted 1,504 dingers and struck out 7,187 times.
With Kingman, SI also swung and missed. After several phone calls and faxes to Kingman went unreturned, SI dispatched photographer Jeffery Salter to Glenbrook, Nev., where Kingman, 53 and retired, lives with his family on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Salter arrived to find the man once known as Kong, still slender but gray-haired, working in his garage. Kingman, a media-loathing player who once sent a rat to a sportswriter and poured a bucket of ice water on another, insisted that he was "too busy" to be included in the issue. "Considering that a stranger was pulling into his driveway in a van," says Salter, "he was very cordial."
With 442 career dingers, Kingman, who played with seven teams over 16 seasons (1971 through '86), is the most prolific home run hitter eligible for the Hall of Fame who's not in it, thanks to a career .236 batting average and 1,816 K's. But none of these sluggers are ashamed of their frequent failure to connect. "As a kid I didn't remember the guy who had five hits," says Deer. "Even if he went 1 for 5 with four strikeouts, I remembered the guy who homered to win the game."
He moved nothing like a deer, lumbering around the bases, stumbling in the outfield and, most notably, whiffing inelegantly—an AL-record 186 times in 1987. "I swung as hard as I could, just in case I made contact," says Deer, 41, who had 230 home runs while hitting .220 in II seasons. After retiring in '96, Deer was a full-time drag racer for five years. Last year he returned to baseball as a minor league hitting coach with the Class A Lake Elsinore ( Calif.) Storm. His mission: "Teach young players how not to be the kind of hitter I was."
Stormin' Gorman gazes out onto miller park from his usual game-day perch—in front of the Gorman's Corner concession stand, which sells his signature BBQ—and licks his chops. "In these times," Thomas, 51, says, "I might have hit 70 or 75 home runs." The most he did hit in his day was 45 in 1979, when he batted .244 and fanned 175 times. He spent 10 of his 13 seasons as a Brewers outfielder and now lives a short drive from Milwaukee. "I miss everything about the game," he says, "the aches and pains, the hits and misses."
The slugger who Ate Froot Loops and thanked Toucan Sam for his power finally grew up. After retiring in 1997, Tettleton moved to a 160-acre ranch in Pauls Valley, Okla., where horses, his wife and the youngest two of his four children roam. An avid golfer, he's a regular on the Celebrity Players Tour. "It would have been nice to hit for a good average," says Tettleton, a catcher-DH who batted .241 with 245 homers for four AL teams over 14 seasons, "but that wasn't important to me. I considered myself simply a pure power hitter."