May 9, 2013
Here it was May, baseball season, and Mickey Hatcher had gone fishing. Something wrong there.
Upon his return, the longtime Dodgers player and Angels batting coach had the fishing routine down perfectly.
"The day I got there [Mammoth]," he says, "they told me the fish were biting like crazy yesterday."
Hatcher is 58 and would still pick a life of baseball over a life of bobbers.
"I've got so much energy," he says. "I watch all the Dodger and Angel games. My heart's still with them. But it's tough to be on the sidelines."
There was no set agenda. Just lunch and baseball talk. A glance at the standings showed that both teams occupying Hatcher's heart currently stink. The thought was that, for some good thoughts about Los Angeles baseball, Hatcher was the man.
Who can forget Hatcher's pranks, the pies in the faces, the fun approach to a game that is supposed to be that? Longtime fans will remember with delight his all-out sprint around the bases when he homered in the first inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
"He's running like he's afraid they'll take it off the scoreboard," said announcer Joe Garagiola.
Hatcher told The Times' Bill Plaschke: "I don't have a home run trot."
It was in that '88 Series against the A's, the Kirk Gibson-homer series, that Hatcher replaced the injured Gibson and hit .368, with two homers and five runs batted in. That matched the home run total of Oakland's Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, whose RBI total topped Hatcher's by one.
So, there's quite a legacy there, enhanced when he joined his longtime Dodgers teammate, Mike Scioscia, on Scioscia's Angels staff in 2000. When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, Hatcher had a World Series ring as a coach and a player. Not many can match that.
The joy of the game has never left, even as he looks at it now through the eyes of an outsider. Asked for some stories, Hatcher produces as he did in '88.
"I came up with Scioscia," he says. "One spring, the Dodgers got worried about his weight. Al Campanis sends this treadmill to camp with a meter on it. Mike was supposed to do so many miles on it. One day, I hear this noise from the training room. I open the door and there's this little guy from the Dominican, running like crazy on the treadmill. Next to him, asleep on the couch, was Scioscia, shirt off and an empty pizza box on his stomach."
There are always Tom Lasorda stories.
"When we were rookies, we didn't have any money," Hatcher says. "Tommy would take us to a restaurant, sit us down and have us wait for the signals. If he goes to the nose, it means we better just order cheap appetizers. To the chin, it means start looking at the menu, because it's looking good. If he goes to the ear, start ordering the biggest, most expensive meal on the menu, because the manager has agreed to pick up the check."
Then there is a Lasorda-Scioscia combo.
"The Dodgers are after Mike to slim down," Hatcher says. "He and Rick Sutcliffe are at Little Joe's near Dodger Stadium. They don't see Lasorda, who is also there. Scioscia has a huge plate of pasta. The next day, Lasorda calls Scioscia over in pregame drills and tells him he wants him to take some ground balls at short. He keeps hitting them until Scioscia throws up."
The first interruption of Hatcher's L.A. baseball run came almost exactly a year ago, last May 15. The Angels, off to a 16-21 start, had just beaten the A's, 4-0, collecting 12 hits. After the game, Scioscia and Hatcher were summoned to the office of General Manager Jerry Dipoto and Hatcher was fired as hitting coach. Scioscia has never said much about it, just quietly fumed.
"I don't think Mike had an inkling," Hatcher says.
A few months later, perhaps with a mind to Hatcher's Dodgers past, Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti hired him as a special assistant. Hatcher was back in a uniform, back on the field for the major and minor league teams, back where he is happiest. When that job was not renewed this year, Hatcher was told it was because Colletti wanted him to have an open door to a mainstream major league job.
That job hasn't happened, but it has not dimmed Hatcher's enthusiasm for, or assessment of, Los Angeles' two teams.
"Every year," he says, "it's like taking a puzzle and dropping the pieces on a table. Sometimes, putting them together is fast, sometimes not."
Hatcher, 25 years removed from being an L.A. World Series hero (alongside guys named Gibson and Orel Hershiser), wants to be at the table again, moving pieces.
Fishing can wait. They'll always be biting yesterday.
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