I never got that
tryout, I never played Little League ball, but I did get a solid thrashing from
You may think, so
what? But as Lister said, suppose I had made the club. Suppose I'd played great
ball as a kid and showed everyone how good I was. A 10-year-old phenom, right?
Who knows? Wouldn't that have been an important beginning?
Lister kept building up my confidence. He knew I was sensitive about being only
5'7", but he kept telling me how it wasn't that important. "Think of
Rizzuto," he said. "Think of Freddie Patek. You're only 5'7", but
every inch is loaded with dynamite. The only thing that matters is that you're
O.K., I knew
that. I'd always known that. I'd proved it enough times. Seventeen years ago,
both the Dodgers and the Kansas City A's wanted to sign me, and when Arthur
Lilly, a scout for the A's, offered me a contract and a spot on the roster at
Class D Daytona Beach, I accepted. I was set to start my professional career.
But I got the flu and ran a 104� temperature; I had to go into the hospital. I
almost died! I lost 16 pounds, and when I got out, I was too weak. The A's knew
I could play ball, but they had to release me. They didn't have the funds to
hold me, they said. So I had to go back to my sister in California a failure. I
remember how I arrived at the bus station at two in the morning with my Kansas
City A's travel bag and walked eight miles to her home, and when I saw her, I
broke into tears.
your fault," Doc kept saying to me. "The breaks went against you. You
have to believe you can make it in spite of the breaks. You can, Rich. You're
good enough so you can."
Every day that
winter we worked out. There is a lot of good baseball played around Los Angeles
in the winter. You could put together a first-rate semipro team from the gang
that hangs around Sawtelle Park, for instance. Lister was my coach and trainer
as well as my shrink. He had me running my butt off. Hit, field, throw, bunt,
slide. And I had to play like a kid. Dumb, not cocky. I had to tone down my
savvy. Like a kid, for example, I'd pull the bill of my cap over my eyes so
that I had to raise my head to see. I even had to change my jargon because kids
have new ways of saying things. They no longer say that a fastball pitcher
throws "aspirin tablets" or "BBs"; they say, "He throws
heat" or "He brings it." And the old superstitions—like the one
about not crossing bats—well, kids don't care about those sorts of things
anymore. If I went around uncrossing bats, it would tend to give away my age,
This went on for
weeks, a combination of field workouts and hypnosis, body and mind, all of me
conditioned into a whole new person. A couple of times, Doc even pulled me
aside and put me under light hypnosis right on the ball field, because he
thought I was dogging it.
my sister's help, I learned how to work on my face. I made a study of cosmetic
creams and powders. I visited beauty parlors and cosmetic specialists. I got
facials and massages and mudpacks. I used Essence of Youth, Dermassage, baby
oils—even butter—trying to make myself look more youthful. Because I have a
heavy black beard, I figured out how to shave close without cutting up my skin,
first working in hot soap and cream to open up the pores. It would take me at
least 25 minutes to shave, but my skin would end up as smooth as a baby's butt.
Then I'd pat tinted baby powder on my cheeks to cover the pores.
On top, I got
fixed up with a rug that was styled sort of the way Pete Rose wears his hair. I
learned how to dye the exposed hair beneath it with a mixture that would leave
it dark and shining.
I was careful
about what I ate. Mostly I stuck with fruits and vegetables. I got lots of
sleep. It helped that I had never smoked or drunk, not even beer. And I kept my
face out of the sun as much as possible, protecting my skin with creams
whenever I played.