Mainieri says he tried to talk Bevacqua out of playing the infield because it was a treacherous place for a man with iron hands. "I figured if I could get him to play outfield, I could hide him." The prospect did not interest Bevacqua, and the reputation did not bother him. Even after he was drafted, before his second year at Dade, by the Mets (offering "a bonus of $30,000"), he wrote to Joe McDonald of the Mets' front office to ask for game tickets and signed the letter "Iron Hands."
He eventually went with the Reds for a meager $500 bonus in 1967—"another astute financial move on my part"—but he says his fielding was undervalued. "I'm awkward looking. I don't do anything with style or grace, like a Templeton, I just do it. But I'm not a stumbler."
To the young Bevacqua, life in the minor leagues was "like having 18 or 19 brothers and never growing up. It's fine when you're starting out. You don't mind the 5 a.m. wake-up calls and the all-night bus rides, because you've got the allnight card games, and the setting off of fire extinguishers, and the giving of hotfoots. But then you begin to realize you can't do that forever."
During his perilous ascent and tenuous hold on the big leagues, he was traded six times, sold twice, released twice. He has been traded for the likes of Cal Meier, Fernando Gonzales and Mike Hedlund, But he long ago concluded that getting traded is a bummer only if it's down, and then you have to decide if it might at last be a permanent ride. He thought of quitting only once, when Pittsburgh sent him to Portland in 1981 (for, as it turned out, his last 14 games in the minors). He was 34 years old. He announced he wouldn't go. Then he had a long talk with his friend Stargell. "Willie said, 'Keep the uniform on your back.' "
But of all the unkind cuts, he says, the worst was in 1977, "when I really felt I had everything turned around. I'd hit .337 in Spokane the year before, with 12 home runs, a lot for me. In the spring I had a shot with Seattle, an expansion club. I figured I'd be starting. That spring, whenever we needed a base hit, I got it. A three-run homer, I got it. Three or four days in a row, I got the game-winning hits. I hit .467 and I never went to bed later than nine o'clock.
"But as I understand it, Danny Kaye [then a Seattle owner] heard me cussing on the bench one day, and there were some kids around. And I had Carrie there, living with me before we were married. When they cut me, they said I was a 'bad influence' on younger players. Hell, I was a monk compared to some of them. But instead of starting, I was in the street. I wound up with Texas, which traded me to San Diego in 1978, so it worked out O.K., but at the time I wasn't too happy about it."
His last "negative trade" was in 1980, when McKeon came in as general manager of the Padres. Bevacqua had had words with Bob Fontaine, McKeon's predecessor. Pictures on Fontaine's office wall had crashed down when Bevacqua slammed the door on his way out. "I told McKeon, 'Forget what you've heard. Don't believe what you've heard about me.' Two weeks later I went none for four in a game in Cincinnati. The next day, in St. Louis, I got a call at 2:30 a.m. I knew it wasn't to congratulate me. McKeon said, 'You're traded to Pittsburgh. You play in Chicago today.'
"History tells me there are no lights in Chicago. That meant no sleep for me. I made a 6 a.m. flight and was in the lineup that afternoon. The closest we got to San Diego for the next two months was Houston. I had clothes for nine days. But I got even. When Dick Williams took over as Padre manager, I kept calling him up, telling him to tell McKeon he wanted me."
He says he is not sure if it's his innate enthusiasm or his natural wackiness that's responsible for his ability to survive. Sometimes, he says, he does feel like the Lone Ranger. When Dodger pitcher Tom Niedenfuer hit Joe Lefebvre in the head with a pitch in 1982, Bevacqua, ever alert to confrontation, was the first one out of the San Diego dugout, and when the umpire tackled him short of Niedenfuer, he discovered he was the only one out of the dugout. That was the rhubarb Kurt blamed on "the fat little Italian," Lasorda, for "sanctioning" the pitch. Lasorda responded by saying that he doesn't throw at hitters like Lefebvre or Bevacqua because he (Bevacqua) "couldn't hit the water if he fell out of a boat." They have been feuding, more or less seriously, ever since.
It could be, says Bevacqua, that the Dirty Kurts of the world act as they do as a hedge against hidden fears. But it's not such a bad way to live, he says, when you realize that "if I wasn't doing this, I'd be parking cars in Florida." His ship may never completely stop shaking, but life is more tolerable "when you've accepted what you are. I am now the Lloyd's of London of baseball for a couple months a year—in case somebody gets hurt, in case the team needs a clutch hit." He is confident that he will continue to drive in runs and astound managers indefinitely.