Lopez sounds less impressed than appalled by some people's antebellum ideas about women's work. "Women in Georgia are like servants to their men, and it took me awhile to get Ray over expecting that," she says. "I told him I take care of him because I want to, not because I'm supposed to." While she was in Georgia recently, waiting to have her baby, her husband phoned one night after a Mets game to get some help making his dinner. "He called me up long distance to ask me how to make tuna salad," Lopez says, laughing softly. "So I gave him all the ingredients, and when I told him he would need a hard-boiled egg, he asked me how to boil an egg. After that, I explained the concept behind mayonnaise to him."
Knight's family was almost inseparable when he was growing up, which may account for his clannish feelings about family now. His fiercest devotion was to his father, who started playing baseball with him when he was two years old. Charlie Knight supervised the recreational facilities in Albany for the parks department, but he had once played semipro ball in the South and had even been given a tryout with the St. Louis Browns. "I used to look down the road every afternoon, watching for my daddy to come home," Knight says. "And he would hit ground balls and pitch to me every day of my life. He always called me his little man because he never wanted to see me cry, and to this day I never have cried over anything physical."
Not that he hasn't had plenty of opportunities. Charlie's dream was that one day his son would play in the major leagues, but Ray was determined that first he would play high school football. And so for the only time in his life, he opposed his father, and he wound up breaking his ankle so badly that he had to have four metal screws implanted to hold the bone together. He limped all summer, but he continued to play baseball for his American Legion team.
In the minor leagues Knight twice suffered beaning incidents. The first broke his right cheekbone and the orbit of his right eye, impairing his vision enough that his batting average collapsed. And in the second his left temple was struck, leaving him in intensive care for four days. "Every year I didn't get hit in the face," he points out, "I hit around .280."
In his past four seasons, Knight has had surgery five times; has suffered kidney stones; has pulled groin, quadriceps, hamstring and pectoral muscles. He had 12 cortisone shots in different parts of his body last year; has had bone chips in his throwing arm; has had elevated triglycerides and sunken spirits; and as if all of that were not enough, he has been stricken with recurring bouts of vertigo. The vertigo first appeared on the same night he pulled a leg muscle while playing for the Astros in 1984. He woke up that night in the dark with the room swirling around him and by morning felt "like I'd been run over by a truck," he says.
Knight played through the vertigo, but his siege of injuries continued, finally reducing his effectiveness to the point that Houston manager Bob Lillis felt compelled to bench him. When Lopez was asked at a golf tournament why her husband had been benched, she said she believed the manager bore a grudge against him. Lillis read the remark in the papers and touched off an angry confrontation with Knight, who stuck up not only for himself but also for his wife. None of this got Knight his job back, but it did help bring about the trade that sent him to the Mets late in '84.
"I thought I was the solution to their third-base problem," Knight says. "Then they acquired Howard Johnson from Detroit in the off-season, and I had never even heard of him. I figured he was a utility infielder, but then when I got to spring training everybody was buzzing about HoJo." Knight developed a sore arm three weeks into the spring, underwent surgery to clean the bone chips out of his elbow and began the season on the disabled list. Even after he came back, Knight had to platoon with Johnson. "The hardest part was sitting in Shea Stadium and hearing people boo him," says Lopez. "But fans don't care if your mother died yesterday. Ray felt everything was against him, and he was really, really down. People were being so rotten, yelling obscenities at him, that I finally told him that when he did play he should put cotton in his ears."
Knight considered retirement for a while last season, particularly after it was decided that he would platoon at third base with Johnson for the rest of the year. "It crushed me," he says. "I felt as if I was never going to produce for the Mets because I was never going to play every day in New York. I'm the type of player that if you watch me one time, you won't be impressed with me—I don't have the big swing, and I don't run particularly well—but if you see me play a lot, I'll do some things you like. My strength is playing every day and that was taken away from me. I was just so hurt and embarrassed. They say the measure of the man isn't how low you sink, but how far you bounce back. For a while there I wasn't bouncing too high."
Lopez was afraid that within a year he would be bouncing off the walls, and she was able to talk him out of retiring. "I didn't feel like Ray was a quitter," she says, "and I was pretty sure he would be a miserable person to live with if he just dropped out." After another bout of vertigo, Knight went through a 15-day stretch in which he hit .327. Then he pulled a leg muscle in Atlanta and was out of the lineup for three more weeks. He finished the season batting .218, which was also the highest his average reached all year. "If you were smart, you could see that whenever I got the chance, I produced," Knight says. "But Frank Cashen didn't see it. A lot of people didn't see it."
Cashen is the Mets' general manager, and he spent a good deal of his time this spring trying to find a team that wanted an injury-prone 33-year-old third baseman given to dizzy spells and encumbered with a $600,000 salary. "Obviously he hadn't shown us that much," Cashen says. "We thought about releasing him and biting the bullet." Knight was so clearly out of the Mets' plans that he was barely mentioned in the team's promotional material. "When you see a commercial for the Mets or hear one of our jingles on the radio, you see everybody on our team but me," Knight says. "And it's not like this is something I all of a sudden noticed one day. For two years it was as if Ray Knight did not exist."