SI Vault
John Underwood
July 01, 1985
Whether he's impersonating his manager or coming off the bench to get a hit in a crucial situation, flaky Kurt Bevacqua of the Padres is indeed a good man to have in a pinch
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July 01, 1985

A Great Role Player

Whether he's impersonating his manager or coming off the bench to get a hit in a crucial situation, flaky Kurt Bevacqua of the Padres is indeed a good man to have in a pinch

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Bevacqua is also the owner of the Padres' semiofficial monthly newspaper, Baseball Gold. "The first thing I did when I bought it," he says, "was look up the word 'publisher.' " He also put himself on the cover of the January 1985 issue. "Actually, my editor did it. He said, 'You're the only one from the Series we could honestly single out.' I said, 'I guess you're right.' " In April he put his wife Carrie on the cover, in a very brief Padres uniform. Circulation has soared to 40,000, "and we are almost in the black."

Bevacqua now drives a Corvette Stingray with California license plates that say KB HITS. He bought Carrie a Porsche 944 for Valentine's Day. He is also part-owner of a limo service, Valentino Limousine, and when the Padres are playing in Los Angeles he sometimes orders a car around to drive him up the freeway. He says he wants Dodger manager Tom Lasorda, an old nemesis, to see him being driven into Dodger Stadium. Bevacqua refers to Lasorda as "the fat little Italian." Lasorda refers to Bevacqua as "the kind of hitter I'd send a limousine for if I was pitching." Lasorda has rued the day.

Among some other image-enhancers, Bevacqua now gets his hair "done," instead of cut, in "body waves." ("I always hated my hair," he explains.) He takes acting lessons. Teammates say they have helped him do a terrific Dick Williams, in which he suddenly appears—fully costumed—so convincingly as the Padres manager, under game conditions, that he has fooled fans, umpires and Padres alike. He has also perfected that furious, slightly demented-looking Jack Nicholson grin. "Except with Nicholson, it's acting," says Garvey.

Bevacqua used to complain that he had "more bats than at bats" in the big leagues and that he had to have "my own zip code" as he ricocheted from club to club—from Cleveland to Kansas City to Pittsburgh back to Kansas City to Milwaukee to Texas to San Diego back to Pittsburgh and finally back to San Diego again, with water stops up and down the line in seven minor league towns. Look up the word "trade" in the dictionary and chances are Kurt's picture will be there, says Padres general manager Jack McKeon, who traded for him or traded him away three times himself.

But now Bevacqua is in his fourth straight year as a Padre, double the time spent anywhere else, and he is a familiar, beloved presence in San Diego. He writes a weekly column for The La Costan/Blade Tribune, explaining why he does the crazy things he does. Besides his radio show, he now sponsors his own charity golf tournament, the Kurt Bevacqua Celebrity Golf Classic, for San Diego's Children's Hospital. "I asked myself, 'How could a nobody like you be putting on a charity golf tournament like this?' Well, I'm not the kind of person who downgrades himself." He recently cut a twangy country and western record he calls "Twinkletoes," and it has made the local charts, apparently on sheer determination: "I love to dance around the bases.... Watch the looks on all the faces.... When I park one in the seats, I get a case of happy feet...."

It would be tempting to conclude that all of this has spun off Bevacqua's sensational World Series against the Tigers. As Williams' surprise designated hitter (he had hit .200 with only one home run in 80 times at bat in the regular season), Bevacqua led the Padres in the Series with a gaudy .412 average, an .882 slugging percentage, two home runs and four runs batted in. His second homer was off Cy Young-winner Willie Hernandez.

Instantly celebrated, he was hugged by the ubiquitous Mary Lou Retton and booked onto the Today Show. Asked what he was thinking about as he circled the bases with his winning home run, he said, "I was thinking about circling them again." When presented the ball afterward, he said, "Look, it's crushed on one side." For once in his life, he said, "I was in the right place at the right time." The day after his winning homer in Game 2, the Padres coaxed him to the batting cage with chants of "Kurt! Kurt! Kurt!" They cheered and performed a facsimile wave every time he hit a ball out of the infield. Much was made of the sign above his locker: IF I HANG AROUND HERE ANOTHER 20 YEARS, MAYBE I'LL GET MY ACT TOGETHER.

But the Series did more than just highlight Bevacqua; it revealed him as a man who could articulate getting his act together. He said luck had nothing to do with it. "You don't last as long as I have by being lucky." He said he was "the little guy on the assembly line who's always getting laid off. I've put all my guts and perseverance into this game, and it has always tried to get rid of me. I'm not the guy who makes a million, I'm the guy fighting to support his family. Guys like me, we owe the company nothing."

Closer scrutiny made it clearer, too, why he had been able to hang on all that time. He had developed an extraordinary hitting skill, fully appreciated if not totally understood by Dick Williams himself. For despite those mediocre lifetime statistics, Bevacqua was dynamite under pressure. Sent to the plate at the most crucial times, against the toughest pitching, he had over the last three seasons averaged .333 as a pinch hitter. He says, "I get the feeling when I come up that the pitcher has to think, 'Uh-oh, it's Kurt Bevacqua, one of the greatest pinch hitters of all time.' I get the feeling nobody can beat me in the clutch."

Practically nobody had. He had been particularly rough on some of the best—Bruce Sutter, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Carlton, for example. In 1982 he was .346 as a pinch hitter. In 1983 his .412 led National League pinch hitters, and he hit the first grand-slam pinch homer in San Diego history.

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