"Pedro's basically a big ham," says Denise. "I'm always taping him on a videocassette, singing to Dominican music. His ambition is to have a band with the two of us playing—him on drums, me on saxophone."
The other key figure in Guerrero's support system is Mota, who once pitched him 75 consecutive curves in batting practice. Like Guerrero, Mota is a Dominican who languished in the minors before being promoted for good. Guerrero spent all or parts of seven seasons down on the farm, before the Dodgers ran out of options and brought him up to stay in 1980; more than once before then, Mota talked him out of quitting.
"If I think he's doing something wrong at the plate, I call to him from the first-base coach's box," says Mota. After getting Guerrero's attention, Mota will signal—pointing to his head if Guerrero is looking up, showing his palm if Guerrero is uppercutting, pointing to his shoulder if his prot�g� is "opening up" too soon.
Guerrero grew up in San Pedro de Macor�s, a city of 66,000 about 40 miles from Santo Domingo. His parents separated when he was eight, and at 14 he dropped out of school to haul sugarcane for $2.60 a day. "I'd work all day, play drums at night and play baseball on weekends," he says. "We'd go on the road and only nine or 10 guys would show up, so I got used to playing a lot of positions."
By the time he was 16, Guerrero had settled at third and was leading his youth league with a .438 average. Cleveland promptly signed him for a $2,500 bonus. "We talk a lot about scouting with projections," says Regie Otero, who discovered Guerrero. "He was five-feet-11, 157 pounds. I looked at the width of his shoulders, back and front, and knew that he would get heavier and stronger. He had lived off of rice and beans. Meat—when? Vegetables—when? Eggs—when? Milk—when?" Guerrero now weighs 190 pounds.
He spent only one season in the Cleveland system. In 1974 the Indians were hungering after Bruce Ellingsen, a left-handed pitcher in the Dodger system. Otero, by then working for the Dodgers, persuaded Al Campanis, L.A.'s director of player personnel, to trade Ellingsen for Guerrero. Ellingsen has retired, having pitched just 16 major league games. Guerrero hit .300 or better in six of seven minor league seasons. From third, he switched to first and later the outfield after fracturing his left ankle at Albuquerque in 1977.
For Guerrero, it was a shattering experience in more ways than one. "Every day I'd see him walking around the field," says Dodger Pitcher Bob Welch, who was Guerrero's teammate during his recuperation period at Albuquerque in early 1978. "Ten laps, 12, 14, wouldn't say a word. Then, he'd get in his Thunderbird and drive away."
But the injury turned out to be the best break he ever had. "Before, I wasn't interested in being a good base runner or working on my defense," he says. "All I worried about was my hitting. After I got hurt I had a lot of time to think. There was a lot more money in baseball than when I signed, and I was thinking that if I played better I could make good money someday." Guerrero worked so hard to rehabilitate his ankle that he not only became an all-around player but also a faster one. He now has a $275,000 salary that figures to double—or triple—by next spring.
Indeed, the Dodgers, who considered trading him last winter, are now expected to do almost anything to keep him happy. That means both raising his salary and giving him a permanent position. Guerrero has had frequent shoulder difficulty while switching from the outfield to third. Now there's speculation that L.A. will trade the 34-year-old Cey, install Guerrero at third and insert 22-year-old Mike Marshall in right. That's a lot for a club to do on behalf of one man, but Guerrero is one man who has done a lot for his club.