"He is," says teammate Johnson, "our answer to Roberto Clemente. He just doesn't hit the ball to right field when he has to, he drives it."
Still, Rettenmund is not satisfied. Bouncing along in the team bus last week, he discussed his hitting as if it were somebody else's. Self-deprecation amuses him, and the collegiate blue eyes open wide as he describes the Lardnerian oaf he sometimes sees himself to be.
"I move the head of the bat before a pitch. It's a bad habit. The bat should be ready. But I can't stop myself. If I thought about it, the count would be 0 and 2 before I realized where I was. Anyway, I don't have what you might call a picture swing. I usually end up hitting myself in the back with the bat. I can't stop that, either.
"Also, I'm hitting down on the ball. I can't get anything up in the air. That's another bad habit. Too much top hand. Oh, and I can't hit the offspeed pitchers. Take Wilbur Wood of Chicago. He throws the ball and I hit it back to him. And that's all there is to it. When Stu Miller was pitching for us, I couldn't even hit him in batting practice. I never used the middle of the bat on him. And when he threw one of his so-called fast balls, it looked 120 miles an hour to me. With Hoyt Wilhelm, I might as well not bring a bat with me. I hate having people laugh at me, but those guys do make you look funny up there."
Rettenmund frankly is awed by stronger and more graceful hitters. His open admiration for teammates like Frank Robinson and Powell is almost school-boyish. "Strength in the hands and the forearms is the most important thing for a hitter," he says. "It's a great advantage being as strong as Boog or, say, Frank Howard. For one thing, the opposition has to play them so deep a lot of balls that might be caught off me drop in for them."
Rettenmund glanced around him on the bus, delighted apparently to be in the company of so many good fellows. Team buses bring out the adolescent in baseball players. A passing pretty girl will attract howls of boyish anguish and no one speaks in a voice beneath a shout. Rettenmund talks quietly, but he is happy. He is living in the best of all possible worlds.
"You can't be unhappy on this team," he says. "We get along. You read about something like what happened in Boston—teammates accusing each other of this and that—and you find it hard to believe. Earl calls the shots here and Frank [ Robinson] makes sure there are no complaints. You can talk to Frank about anything. He's just good to have around. And Earl...well, sometimes I can't figure him out, but most of the moves he makes work. He's right so often it's amazing."
Unless Weaver can amaze them with a new four-man outfield, it is just possible one of Baltimore's four starters may be traded after the season. It could be Rettenmund. He wouldn't like that, but he has had a taste of the action now and he wants to play. Anywhere. But these are for him ugly thoughts. He much prefers security, the familiar, the comfortable.
Rettenmund's wife joins him on the shorter road trips. His father watches him play in any city near Detroit. And he is never far from a telephone.
"My father thinks I should be batting .400, not .300. He'll call and ask me what I did that night. I'll say, 'Dad, I got 1 for 4 off Sam McDowell.' He'll say, "Only 1 for 4? Why, he's a lefthander. You should do better than that.' He'll never understand that when I go 1 for 4 off Sam McDowell, I've had a big night."