Sir Edmund P. Hillary had his Everest, Admiral Byrd his South Pole. Bobby Grich has the nation's top 100 golf courses, a mission of love.
"It's kind of a neat hobby, it's a lot of fun," says Grich, the Orioles' former Gold Glove second baseman. "It makes the travel I'm doing more interesting."
At some point in 1989, Grich was struck with the notion of playing the top 100 golf courses in the country, as rated that year by Golf Digest magazine. So far, he has played 58 courses in more than 30 states. He figures that the rest may take another five years as he works the mission around family obligations and his job as a roving minor-league infield instructor with the California Angels.
The Long Beach, Calif., resident is 45, married with one child and another on the way, and pursuing a life of celebrity golf tournaments, minor-league ball and skiing near his condominium Aspen, Colo. For one of baseball's five original free agents, life after baseball seems to be going rather nicely.
He left the Orioles after the 1976 season, his seventh year with the team and fifth full season. After hitting .266, knocking in 54 runs and winning his fourth consecutive Gold Glove, he was offered a contract by the Orioles but decided instead to test the new free-agent market.
After making $68,000 with the Orioles in 1976, he began working the following year under a five-year, $1.5 million contract with the Angels.
"I was raised in California, they were my favorite team, I loved that ballpark," Grich says. "I just really wanted to go back home . . . to play for my favorite team I watched growing up."
The feeling among Angels players, though, never matched the Orioles of the early 1970s, Grich says.
"They really did look on their team as a family. The guys really stuck together," he says of the Orioles. "It's something we never quite had in California."
His 10-year career with the Angels culminated in the dramatic 1986 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, in which California came within one strike of winning the pennant in Game 5, blew a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning, lost the game in 11 innings and went on to lose the series in seven games.
"It was probably my most painful off-season," Grich says. "I knew it was going to be my last season. It was a tough one to go out Three years ago, Grich returned to baseball as an Angels instructor, traveling from one minor-league city to another about 10 days a month during the five-month season. In between the ballparks populated by young players learning the pivot, there are golf courses. So many great golf courses. So little time.