Has he tried
sleeping pills? Yes, he answered, but they kept him awake all night.
have performed Parsifal in scarcely more time than it takes Roberto to get
ready for bed. When the Pirates are on the road he memorizes every aspect of
his hotel room. Where is the door? To the right? Is the window to the left?
Four paces or five? "Suppose I have a nightmare and jump up. 'Hoo!' I'm
screaming, and I rush through the window and my room is on the 13th
Does he have
nightmares? "No," said Roberto.
But the point is,
he might have a nightmare sometime and, besides, when he is memorizing that
room he is carefully noting the exact position of the telephone, which is
vital. Suppose the phone rings. Roberto is able to pick up the receiver without
opening his eyes. When he is forced to open his eyes, he explained, it
frequently happens that tears well up in them and then he finds it perfectly
impossible to fall asleep. Earlier in his career Roberto roomed with Gene
Baker, but Baker snored. Roman Mejias and Alvin McBean, two others with whom he
tried rooming, came in too late and awoke him by rattling hangers. So now,
management having granted him privacy, he is able at least to hope for a little
sleep before it is time to boop his back.
Surely the Lord
cannot be punishing Roberto. A generous man and the devoted father of an infant
son, he has been the sole support—since age 17—of his parents, a niece and
nephew Pablo, to whom he recently gave an 18-foot cruiser. Before that he built
a house for his parents. When Pitcher Diomedes Olivojoined the Pirates at age
40, too late to make a pile, Roberto gave him half of all his banquet fees.
"I always try
to lead the clean life," says Roberto. He does not smoke and rarely drinks,
indulging himself only in his original milkshake recipes. His fruit cocktail
milkshake consists of milk, fruit cocktail, the yolks of eggs, banana ice
cream, sugar, orange juice and crushed ice. "As much as you want of
each," he says. "If I want a peach milkshake, I put a peach in it. If I
want a pear milkshake, I put a pear in it."
limping through his clean life, Roberto has acquired a reputation as baseball's
champion hypochondriac, but his personal physician, Dr. Roberto Bus� of San
Juan, says, "I wouldn't call him a true hypochondriac, because he doesn't
go to the extreme of just sitting down and brooding." Far from it. Roberto
gallops across the outfield making acrobatic catches; with a bat in his hands
he is all over the batter's box, spinning like a top when he swings. "I'm
convinced of his weakness," says Dodger Vice-President Fresco Thompson.
"Throw the best ball you've got right down the middle. If you pitch him
high and outside, he'll rap a shot into right field. If you throw one to him on
one hop, he'll bounce it back through the mound and it'll probably take your
pitcher and second baseman with it." In the past few years, alas, Roberto
has become relatively orthodox. "If I have to jump three feet over my head
to hit the ball, now I don't do it," he points out, deadly serious.
For all his
exertions, Roberto is perpetually unfit, because, as Dr. Bus� goes on to
explain, he has a low threshold of pain, which causes him to take minor
ailments for crippling debilitations. "If his back hurts he worries,"
says Dr. Bus�, "and then it becomes a vicious circle, leading to more
things. If he has a little diarrhea, he worries that he has a serious stomach
difficulty." Roberto is endowed with an exceptionally supple musculature
that enables him to race full speed into a base and then stop cold on it—which
he likes to do instead of rounding it. But even he pulls muscles, twists
ligaments and generally raises hell with his supple musculature that way.
"It's his natural style," sighs Dr. Bus�.
wink and giggle whenever Roberto announces that something or other is killing
him; his problem is that he is seldom able to come up with a good, visible
injury—say, a nice compound fracture with the bone sticking through the flesh.
He spent four of his first five big-league years complaining of an agonizing
back ailment that a battery of Pirate specialists could not track down. When a
chiropractor, whom Roberto consulted in defiance of front-office warnings, told
him he had a curved spine, a pair of legs that did not weigh the same and a
couple of wayward disks, Roberto immediately saw why the physicians had
overlooked such a mess. "They always X-rayed me lying down," he says.
"They never X-rayed me standing up."
Then, a little
later, there were chips floating in his elbow. Nobody doubted they were there,
because Dr. George Bennett of Johns Hopkins said so, and promised he'd remove
them at the end of the season. But when the time came—great Scott!—the chips
had floated off somewhere. Dr. Bennett could not find them.