The Japanese are especially curious about Bass's life before Japan. They sent TV people over to Lawton two years ago, and before long Bass had them out riding junior four-wheelers with the kids. "We took them up to the Wichita Mountains," says Bass. "They loved it. They thought it was like Mount Fuji."
Lawton, located 70 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, has a population of 90,000. Another 22,000 military personnel work at adjacent Fort Sill. It is a city of pawn shops and strip development that lives to the rhythm of artillery fire.
Bass grew up on F Avenue, just a softball toss from the railroad tracks. "If we did something wrong, Dad would make us go out at night and sit on the tracks," recalls Freddie Bass, 40, who owns the Orig-Equip vinyl-roofing shop and also manages his brother's 800 acres. 'There were hoboes out. It was pretty scary."
Randy knew about scary. At age five he walked out from behind an ice cream truck and was struck by a car. He was pinned beneath it, yet suffered only a broken nose. Several years later, as a sixth grader. Randy was riding in an old boat that some of his brother's friends were dragging along a dirt levee with their truck. The boat skidded into a pole and both of Randy's legs were shattered. His right femur jutted through the back of his thigh, causing extensive bleeding. The boy might have died if a station wagon hadn't happened by. Its driver used an old ironing board as a stretcher and got Randy to the hospital, where he lay for two months with the bones of his legs pinned together. He was in a body cast for six months after that. "Nobody ever thought I'd play baseball again," Bass says.
"Hell, nobody ever thought you'd walk" says his brother.
But Randy went on to become an all-state first baseman and tight end at Lawton High. He signed a letter of intent to play football at Kansas State and another to play baseball at Tulsa. When the Twins picked him in the seventh round of the 1972 draft, however, he accepted their offer of a $15,000 bonus and headed off to Melbourne, Fla., for rookie ball. Earning a salary of $500 a month, Bass worked as hard as any player in the league. He hit .307 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 59 games, and was the league's top player, better even than the likes of Gary Carter and Ellis Valentine. He continued to hit with power at Wisconsin Rapids, Lynchburg and Tacoma.
His winters were spent in Mexico, where he learned that life outside the United States can be considerably different. On the field he was pelted with cups of urine and ears of corn. Off the field it was worse. One night Bass and Rickey Henderson, who was then playing for Navojoa, went out to a local nightspot. "It was back in the days when it was in to wear big heels," says Bass. "Rickey had a pair of heels on that were about four inches high. Everything was fine until these people came in yelling that they had guns. Then they started shooting." Bass and Henderson ducked under a table as gunfire strafed the room. When the shooting ended, Henderson looked down and saw a bullet hole had gone all the way through the heel of his shoe. "If tall heels hadn't been popular, Rickey Henderson might have had his career ruined," says Bass.
Bass finally got called up to the Twins in September of 1977. In nine games he hit .105. He thought his chance might come the following spring, but Minnesota manager Gene Mauch didn't think much of him. He was sent down to Triple A for the fourth straight year. This time he refused to go. After trying to teach him a lesson by demoting him, step to step, to Class A, the Twins informed Bass he had been traded to Kansas City.
Bass agreed to go to Omaha, the Royals' Triple A club. In July 1978. Kansas City, racked by injuries to its infielders, called him up. Bass thought this might be his chance. "We went to Boston and Cleveland," he says. "I pinch-hit twice and went oh for 2. Then they traded for Jamie Quirk, and that was it. They sent me back down."
The next spring Bass was sent to Montreal. Dick Williams was managing there, and he didn't have a place for Bass, either. Bass spent the year with the Expos' Triple A club, Denver, and tore up the league, hitting .333 with 36 homers and 105 RBIs. He hoped those numbers might impress Williams. They didn't. The next spring he got another ticket to Denver. Williams didn't even bother to say goodbye. "Dick was working on a Lite beer commercial, so he had somebody else tell me," says Bass.