But now, suddenly, Hawkins is the most successful pitcher in baseball. "Overnight," says teammate LaMarr Hoyt, "he went from a pretty decent pitcher to a great pitcher." Says teammate Tim Flannery, "Personally, I think he's doing it with mirrors."
Truth is, Hawkins is doing it with a lot of pluck, a little luck, an old delivery, a new pitch and a Hankering to prove himself anything but—don't get him started—timid.
The Padres' No. 1 draft choice in 1978, Hawkins turned down a football scholarship to quarterback for Baylor. He and Jackie pinballed around minor league baseball for five years—Walla Walla to Reno to Amarillo to Honolulu—until he was called up to San Diego in 1982, at age 22. He promptly went 2-5 and was sent back down. Trying again in 1983, he started off like a Rolls-Royce, with a 2.18 ERA after seven starts, including a 5-0 victory over Steve Carlton and the Phillies. But June arrived in a 1963 Valiant, and by July he was back in Vegas, devastated. "For a month and a half, I wasn't worth a damn," he says. "My best friend was right here," he says, lifting his bottle of Coors. This was no downstream relationship. Hawkins actually persuaded the man who stocked the soda machine in Las Vegas to fill one row with his favorite malted beverage. "Fifty cents a bottle," Hawkins remembers.
He won a spot in the Padres rotation last year, but lost it again by June 27, and was put on the first golf cart headed for the bullpen. "I've seen enough," Williams told him. "I'm sick of watching." Or, as even Hawkins admits, "You can beat your head up against a stump only so many times." Williams saddled up and rode Hawkins regularly, then whipped him in the newspapers. "Afraid to challenge the hitters" was the prime beef against him. The skipper admits he was trying to light a fire under Hawkins. "I wanted him to get mad," says Williams, who is the kind of manager nobody much likes until the World Series checks arrive.
"Here was a big, strapping guy with a beautiful, smooth delivery. It seemed to me he should have the hitters by the butt. But he wouldn't challenge them. He was the first Texan I'd ever known who wasn't always going around saying 'I can do this' and 'I can do that.' "
Pitching coach Norm Sherry, now working in the Padres' minor league system, failed to offer much help. At one point in the season, Sherry and Hawkins went two entire months without speaking to each other. Hawkins had heard enough anyway. Sherry bromides always came in two packages: "Throw strikes" and "Don't walk so many people."
Hmmmmm. Throw strikes. Now why in the world hadn't Hawkins thought of that?
"I don't know how I was supposed to challenge hitters when I couldn't even get the ball across the plate," he says. "There were times I'd be up there and I knew I couldn't throw a strike." The collective glare from the dugout was blinding. "Man, I felt like I was pitching with a hammer over my head." Hawkins was wrong, of course. It was a noose. Says Williams today, "We would have optioned his butt back to Las Vegas if we could have."
That's when Hawkins was saved by the Eyechart—otherwise known as Doug Gwosdz (pronounced goosh)—a catcher who had come up through the system with him. One glum September day, Eyechart, now with the Phoenix Giants, noticed Hawkins wasn't making the same sweep with his arm on his backswing, causing his arm to come across his body too late. "My arm couldn't catch up with my body," Hawkins says with glee, as though this tidbit could cure the common cold. With a few changes, he was suddenly able to control the ball, get some pop on his fastball and, voil�, challenge hitters. " Dick Williams used to call him timid," Eyechart says. "I wonder what he's calling him now."
As often as he can. By virtue of his Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Padres' World Series burnout, Hawkins became a starter for 1985 and has become an uncanny blend of gloriously good timing and finely tuned pitching. Hawkins has pitched exactly well enough to be 10-0, not one slider more, not one changeup less. His numbers are not shocking, just the results. Through the first 10 games he had given up a hit an inning (68 in 69?), had an ERA of 2.71 and served up eight gopher balls. Typically, six of the home runs were solo jobs. The fact that the Padres averaged 5.9 runs in games he has pitched hasn't hurt, either. "Call it serendipity or fate or the great universal cosmic sheen," says fellow starter Eric Show, "he's got it going."