We've got lots of communication now. I don't run into fences anymore because Murph is there to tell me where I am. I tell you, we're good. Rickey's a great outfielder, and Murph's a great outfielder. Me? Oh, I don't know about me. I let the people say what kind of ballplayer I am. You never know in this baseball. When people ask me if I'm going to hit 30, 40 home runs, I just say, "I'll let you know when the season is over." All I do is wait for the pitch and use my hands, my body. It's bad luck to predict.
My father's 59 now. He's retired. I think he's pretty happy about me. His friends keep asking him, "Well, how do you feel about your son, now?" He realizes he made a mistake, so I just wish they would leave him alone. My father and my mom follow my career. There's a guy in New York who broadcasts the Yankee games back to Venezuela on radio, so they know what's going on. But they've never seen me play in the U.S. because they don't like flying. They did see me play one game in winter ball, though.
I have a wife and three kids in Venezuela. We live in the same small town I grew up in. I just go home and be the same guy I used to be. I talk to everybody, just like always. I have the same old friends. I don't want to be a big man doing a song and dance. You know what I mean?
RICKEY—LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD
He is, according to Mauch, "the most disruptive base runner in baseball," and he may also be the game's most exciting player because he's on base more than 40% of the time. He led the American League in hits (135), runs (89) and stolen bases (56) last year, hitting .319 as the lead-off man. In 1980, at age 21, he became the first American Leaguer to steal 100 bases (an even 100), breaking Ty Cobb's 65-year-old record of 96. He walked 117 times that year. Through last Sunday he had 25 steals and 33 walks, phenomenal figures. Although he was hitting only .230, his on-base percentage was .442. At 5'10", 180 pounds, he's built for speed, with muscular, overdeveloped buttocks and thighs. He's boyish and bubbly, and he talks constantly. He seems, at times, a child among men.
I was born in Chicago, but I left there when I was two. That was when my father left my mom. My mom and I moved to Pine Bluff, Ark. and stayed there until I was seven. Then we moved to Oakland for good. I have four brothers and two sisters, and my grandmother lived with us, too. My mother worked as a nurse to support us, some of the time in the old-folks ward. We had a big three-, four-bedroom house in North Oakland, right on the Berkeley line. I know Billy [Martin] went to Berkeley High, and I guess I could've gone there, but they didn't seem to like kids from Oakland, so I went to Oakland Tech. I did play at the same playground—Bushrod Park—that Billy played at when he was a kid. I first started playing baseball when I was about eight. I knew I wanted to be an athlete, but my mother would get on me for playing too much. I'd play anyway and take my whupping.
At Oakland Tech I wanted to be a football player, and I made all-city, gained over a thousand [1,100] yards. But my momma chose baseball for me. She thought I was too small for football and that as a running back I wouldn't last very long. I signed with the A's right out of high school. It was like a dream. When I grew up, Reggie Jackson was the hero here, and I wanted to be like him. Playing at home—it was a dream come true.
The funny thing is, I always wanted to be an infielder. In Little League I was a lefthanded shortstop for a while. Then they moved me to first base, and I played there until they decided I was too short. So I went to the outfield. That was fine. Centerfield. That was O.K. I dreamed of playing centerfield in the majors. I developed my stance in Modesto [of the Class A California League]. At first, with Reggie as my idol, I stood straight up and swung for the fences. I wanted to stand there at home plate and watch those balls go out. But pretty soon, I realized I wasn't going to be a power hitter. I thought, hey, I've got all this speed. I don't need to be a home-run hitter. I mean, I've always been fast. I never really ran track in high school because the school district wouldn't let you practice both sports—baseball and track. But I did run in a couple of meets and without much practice did a 9.6 hundred.
Anyway, I found that if I squatted down real low at the plate, the way I do now, I could see the ball better. I also knew it threw the pitcher off. I found that I could put my weight on my back foot and still turn my hips on the swing. I'm down so low I don't have much of a strike zone. Sometimes, walking so much even gets me mad. Last year Ed Ott of the Angels got so frustrated because the umpire was calling balls that would've been strikes on anybody else that he stood up and shouted at me, "Stand up and hit like a man." I guess I do that to people.
I really learned how to steal bases at Modesto in 1977. They taught me how to transfer my weight there and what to watch for in the pitcher. I used to lean a lot and get caught off base. I stole 95 bases that year. I learned the headfirst slide in '79, when I was playing for Ogden in Triple A. Guy named Mike Rodriguez taught me how to do it. He wasn't really a base-runner type. He was more of a home-run hitter. But he knew about sliding. When I tried sliding headfirst before, I'd almost stop and dive at the base. I kept banging up my shoulder that way. He taught me to do it all in one motion. I think the headfirst is quicker than feet first. You're using your momentum, and I think there's less wear and tear on the body, particularly the legs. I think if I stay healthy and get on base enough, I can steal 130, 140 bases a year. And I don't even run on my own. We have signs.