"Some things mean more than money," says Chris. "Bob's dream was to play baseball in the States, not halfway around the world." But when no major league team offered him a satisfactory contract at baseball's winter meetings in December, it seemed as if Horner would not recapture his dream anytime soon.
Then, free-agent Jack Clark, the Cardinals' hard-hitting first baseman, signed a two-year, $3.5 million deal with the New York Yankees. The move took the Cardinals by surprise. Clark had driven in 106 runs and slammed 35 homers for the defending National League champs and was the only power hitter in the Cards' slap-and-dash attack. When reports surfaced that Woy and St. Louis general manager Dal Maxvill were talking about a contract for Horner, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel called Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog late one night for a reaction.
"I don't want Horner," Herzog said, still miffed that the Cards had dragged their feet in trying to sign Clark after a season in which the club drew more than three million paying customers. "He can't hit, he can't run and he can't field."
Nor could he speak Japanese. And he was still none too fond of sushi. After reading Herzog's remarks, Horner called him to say he still wanted to be a Cardinal and that he thought he could help the team. Facing the prospect of a first base tandem of Mike Laga and Jim Lindeman (combined major league totals: .221 average, 21 homers in 201 games), Herzog reassessed the situation. The Cards signed Horner on Jan. 14 for one year at a base salary of $950,000. Should Horner play at least 135 games—a total he has surpassed only twice in his injury-plagued career—he will make another $500,000.
Clearly, St. Louis is a better team with Horner than it would have been without him. He doesn't have Clark's raw power, but he doesn't strike out as often. And Horner hits to all fields. A lifetime .278 hitter in the States, Horner has an average of .288 in spacious Busch Stadium, and batting behind an anticipated Opening Day lineup of speedsters Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, he will find himself coming up with runners on second and third base more often than he did in Atlanta. So a lot of Horner's RBIs—he drove in 652 runs in 960 games with the Braves, an average of 109 per year—should come not on dingers through the muggy air of Mizzou, but on singles, doubles up the gaps and sacrifice flies.
Herzog was impressed with Horner's physical condition—a relatively trim 215 pounds—-at the start of spring training. "If I can get 140 games out of him, and he hits his lifetime average," says Herzog, "I'm not going to worry about how many home runs he hits."
The Japanese, meanwhile, are in mourning for their departed Red Devil, as he was nicknamed by the Tokyo press. Japanese reporters and film crews—not to mention an inordinate number of their American counterparts—have been hovering around the Cardinals' training camp complex in St. Petersburg, Fla., asking. What was the worst part? What was the food like? How did you spend your time? "I wish I could hold up cards," Horner says.
"We never intended to stay more than a year," says Woy, who thinks Horner may earn $1.5 million in Japan for a book about his sojourn in that country and from sales of an instructional videocassette. "Still, it's nice to know he could go back tomorrow."
Kicking and screaming.