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"My father has always been a great help," says Danny, who once a week talks on the phone with Jose about his hitting. "He's a confidence builder. He notices everything." Oddly enough, Jose hit only two home runs in his nine-year major league career.
The hiring of McRae as the Royals' manager on May 24 probably has had the greater impact on Tartabull's batting. When Tartabull first joined the Royals after a trade in December 1986, McRae was Kansas City's batting instructor. "He knows me," says Tartabull. "And he knows how to communicate with me."
Through week's end, Tartabull had batted .373 with 17 homers and 48 RBIs in the 46 games since McRae replaced John Wathan as manager. And though he is only in his sixth big league season, Tartabull, 28, is on course for his fourth 25-plus homer, 95-plus RBI year. Yet Tartabull is not recognized as one of baseball's top hitters.
Tartabull did the job for the Mariners, hitting 25 homers and driving in 96 runs, during his first season, 1986, but lost in the Rookie of the Year voting to the A's Jose Canseco. Then Seattle traded him in the off-season—a move the Mariners no doubt now regret—to Kansas City for pitchers Scott Bankhead and Steve Shields and outfielder Mike Kingery. And almost every year since, Tartabull's name has continued to come up in trade talks. Two years ago, the rumor mill had him going to the Orioles for minor league third baseman Craig Worthington. Last winter, it was the Padres who wanted Tartabull, but San Diego wouldn't part with leadoff man Bip Roberts.
So why does Tartabull's name circulate so often in trade talk?
He says it's because he's one of the most marketable players on the Royals. But others question his durability and whether he'll play with pain; he appeared in 133 games in 1989 and only 88 last season. One general manager says there is also a concern about Tartabull's attitude. "I've heard that," says Tartabull. "I say to people, 'Give me an example,' but I never get one. Have I ever been in a fistfight with a teammate? No. Have I ever said anything bad about a teammate? No. I've never had a problem with a manager."
The Royals are not looking to trade Tartabull now. They have started preliminary talks with him on a new contract-sure to be a lucrative, long-term deal that will prevent him from leaving Kansas City as a free agent after this season. The Royals have sorely missed Jackson's power and presence since releasing him in spring training. But Jackson's departure turned the spotlight on Tartabull, and he's enjoying it. "Bo got all the attention, no matter what I or George [Brett] or anyone else did," he says. "George and I could go 4 for 4 with a pair of homers, but if Bo got a hit, it was magnified a hundred times. Bo was a sideshow. You guys [the media] created him, that's the truth."
Another truth is that the Royals can now ill afford to lose their main threat in the middle of the order.
Pitcher with No Control