With Rod Carew still within striking distance of a fifth consecutive batting championship and Tony Oliva getting a pinch hit now and again, wouldn't you know the Minnesota Twins would come up with a young hitter who strokes line drives just like Carew and Oliva and who talks even better with his mouth than with his bat.
The heir apparent is Lyman Bostock, 25, a product of the talent-rich area around Birmingham, Ala. and the son of a fine Negro League first baseman. In 1972, he led Cal State-Northridge to the College Division World Series. But the Twins thought so little of him they picked him in the 26th round (he was the 596th player chosen) of the free agent draft. But after Bostock hit .294, .313 and .333 in the minors, Minnesota began to suspect it had another potential batting champion; between them Carew and Oliva have won eight of the last 12 American League titles.
However, as a rookie last year, Bostock crashed into the center-field wall after making an extraordinary catch against Oakland and broke his right ankle. The injury took some leg hits away from him and he ended up batting .282 in 98 games. This season Bostock got a quick start with a ninth-inning home run off Catfish Hunter on April 18 that tied a game with the Yankees and enabled the Twins to win. By May Bostock moved into the top 10 in batting and on July 24 he hit for the cycle against the White Sox, adding a sacrifice fly and a walk to his single, double, triple and homer in a 17-2 Twins romp. His average soared as high as .350—only four points behind the then league leader, George Brett—before a recent 16-for-81 slump dropped him to .314 and sixth place. But Bostock is the only player from the 1972 draft who remains on the Minnesota roster, and with customary aplomb he sees the slump as only a temporary setback.
"This guy hits .300," says Catcher Butch Wynegar, one of Bostock's batting-cage buddies, "but he talks 1.000." Bostock likes that kind of needling. Before every game he chastises Coach Don McMahon for being "the worst batting-practice pitcher in history. Move that screen and I'll murder you," he screams in mock rage. "Here comes one right back at you."
The 6'1", 170-pound Bostock seldom generates an extra-base hit—he has just three home runs this year, three more than his 1975 total. But the Twins put a lot of men on base, and Bostock has managed to drive in 39 runs, mostly with singles from the leadoff position in the batting order. Last Friday night, for example, he banged a run-scoring hit in the third inning against Detroit and cracked a two-run single in the ninth that iced an 8-5 Twins victory.
Bostock's penchant for hitting the ball up the middle threatened to get the best of him in a recent game against Baltimore. In his first two at bats against the Orioles he was thrown out by Shortstop Mark Belanger on bounding balls hit toward center field. Then he grounded into a fielder's choice near second base. His fourth at bat produced a wicked liner that Belanger intercepted on its way to left center.
"Dumb hitter, me. Smart fielder, Belanger. That's my reaction," said Bostock. "Except, what am I supposed to do? Carew says go to left field more. So I try it. There aren't any hits over there either. Oliva says to pull the ball since they're jamming the middle on me. I've just got to bust the bubble, that's all. Know what I did the last time up against Baltimore? Singled to center."
Twins Manager Gene Mauch is a fan of his young batting star. "In all my years in the big leagues I can't remember anyone who wanted to be a complete player more than Lyman Bostock. He has the talent—as much as Pete Rose has—and he is bound and determined to be the best ballplayer there is."
Though his father abandoned the family when Bostock was only seven, the youngster read his dad's press clippings and vowed he would be just as good one day. Reunited at a Twins old timers game this year, he gave the following scouting report on 58-year-old Lyman Bostock Sr.: "You know, he can still play. He picked a throw out of the dirt at first and even got himself a base hit...to center field, naturally."