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Last year, when Rick Honeycutt was just another thrower with a pretty face, a Seattle television station asked him to appear on a morning talk show. But Honeycutt wasn't supposed to talk, because, frankly, who'd care what a so-so-pitcher might have to say. Instead, he tied an apron around his waist and made a lemon pie. Recently the television station asked Honeycutt back and said he could leave his apron at home. And why not? After beating Detroit 4-3 last week, the lefthanded Honeycutt had a 6-0 record, equaling the best in the majors, and a 2.45 ERA. Clearly, he's doing his cooking on the mound these days.
Honeycutt, 25, is a young man in the Jack Armstrong tradition. He is tall, good-looking and ever polite. He married his high school sweetheart, Debbie, and they live in the suburbs with their cute-as-a-button daughter, Holli.
If Honeycutt seems straight out of the pages of a dime novel, that's O.K. with him. "When I hear about some of the things other players do, I get upset," he says. "When I was a kid I thought baseball players were the greatest people in the world. I want some kid to be able to feel the same way about me."
No problem. Especially if Honeycutt keeps on winning. Of course, this is no easy thing on a weak-hitting team like the Mariners. The first run a Seattle pitcher allows in a game may be one too many. But the Mariners always score enough—just enough—for Honeycutt. Four of his six wins have been by one run, the others by two.
Honeycutt's ambition to become a major-leaguer was inspired by a childhood of idolizing the Yankees, even though he lived in Georgia. "They were the only team I ever really cared about," he says. "Every day I would run home from school and check the box scores to see how they had done. I decided that the only way I was going to get up there with my heroes was to work at it every day."
That meant joining any team he could find beginning at age six. When he was in high school, Honeycutt changed his uniform in the car while his father drove him from one sandlot game to another. While waiting for a phone call from New York, Honeycutt also quarterbacked Lakeview High's football team and pitched and hit its baseball team to two state championships. Nonetheless, the Yankees never called. But the Orioles did wire in 1972, to say he had been selected in the 10th round of the amateur draft.
"I had worked my entire life to get to that point and then it didn't seem right," Honeycutt says. "Maybe it was an ego thing, but being drafted so low made it seem that the Orioles didn't care. They only talked to me one time. I had to become realistic about my chances and look at other options."
He chose to attend the University of Tennessee, where he studied health education. Well, sort of studied. It was more like Honeycutt pitched and hit and Debbie tutored. "I'm not saying Rick was dumb or anything, but he needed a lot of help," says Debbie. "He says he couldn't have made it through school without me, and he's right. In fact, I was really disappointed when he got his diploma and my name wasn't on it."
Honeycutt wasn't all that interested in a degree, anyway. His original plan was to play three years of college ball and then accept a hefty contract befitting a high draft choice. But the only prize he landed was Debbie's hand in marriage.
Even after setting a Tennessee record for career wins (21), batting over .400 and being named an All-America first baseman, Honeycutt was no better than a 17th-round selection by Pittsburgh following his senior season in 1976.