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It's business as usual in the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and with the Pittsburgh Pirates in town, that means anything goes. At the moment Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock are mimicking teammates Omar Moreno and Tim Foli. Madlock ( Moreno) prances back and forth on the carpeting, breaking with each imaginary pitch and diving back to "first" because Stargell ( Foli), shaking and sweating profusely in the "batter's box," is too scared to swing at the ball.
Most of the players are roaring with laughter, but Mike Easler sits quietly in front of his locker pondering which pair of shoes to wear for today's game against the Cubs: the spiffy-looking patent leathers that hurt his feet or an uglier pair that is infinitely more comfortable. Two lockers away, Lee Lacy is also sitting quietly, oiling a new glove. Easler thinks the glove is nice and tells Lacy so. Lacy thanks Easler and offers an opinion on the shoes.
The brief interchange is just small talk, but implicit is the respect and appreciation the two men have for each other. Heretofore both had been peripheral players. Now that they are having outstanding seasons of their own, their journeyman past has become a sort of bond.
The 29-year-old Easler started only three games last year, but by week's end he had started 67 in 1980 and led the Pirates with a .358 average and 14 home runs. The 31-year-old Lacy, hobbled by injuries a year ago, had started 47 games and was right behind Easler with a .353 average. Among National League hitters with 200 or more at bats, nobody else was close. Manager Chuck Tanner, never one given to understatement, says, "When they share the position, we have the best leftfielder in the league."
Though Easler, who bats left, and Lacy, who bats right, have been platooning in left, their ability to play other positions has been instrumental in keeping the Pirates at or near the top of the NL East. When last year's leftfield tandem, John Milner and Bill Robinson, struggled at the plate early this season, Easler and Lacy filled the breach. When Dave Parker recently hurt his left knee and missed five games, Easler took over in rightfield, which meant that both hot bats were in the lineup.
The two men have a special place in the Pirate fam-a-lee, a reflection of their recent success and of their personalities. Easler, whose batting stroke and .400 average with men in scoring position have earned him nicknames such as "Hit Man" and "Line Drive," is quiet and introspective and credits religion for helping him grow as a ballplayer and as a man.
Lacy is also quiet, but his silence is more a matter of intensity than introversion. When he speaks, his eyes bore in on the listener. He would do great on the stare-downs that often precede title fights. He probably would pack a pretty good punch, too; his teammates say that on the Pirates only Parker is a better athlete. They also admire Lacy's ability to switch positions; he can play second and third as well as the outfield.
" Lee Lacy is the key to this team," Easler says. "His good year has me having a good one." Lacy is equally generous. "Mike is having a great year. It couldn't happen to a more deserving person."
The plaudits have been a long time coming. Easler spent most of his 11 professional seasons in the minors before sticking with the Pirates in 1979, mainly as a pinch-hitter. He expected more of the same this season. "If I worked real hard and had a good spring, I hoped Chuck would play me more," Easler says. "My goal for the season was to start 10 games. I thought if I did that I would be ecstatic." In Easler's first start on April 22 against Montreal, he hit two home runs and had four RBIs in a 5-3 Pirate win. He continued to play regularly, and on June 12, in a 10-6 win over Cincinnati, he hit for the cycle and drove in two runs.
Always an outstanding hitter (six .300-plus seasons in the minors, two AAA batting titles), Easler had been hampered by a lack of adroitness in the field, which, combined with the talent on the teams he was trying to make (e.g., Cesar Cedeno, Lou Brock, Don Baylor, Jim Rice), assured a long wait.