It's not hard to imagine the expressions on the faces of the Seattle Mariners' front-office executives that day in 1982 when Bruce Bochte announced he had decided to retire.
This was no over-the-hill pitcher with an earned-run average to match his age or a much-traveled utility infielder. Bochte was the team's all-time leader in hits, doubles, runs batted in, total bases and extra-base hits. And he wasn't exactly mired in a slump, either. He had just completed a .297, 12-homer, 70-RBI season.
At first, they must have been certain he wanted to renegotiate his contract. But Bochte wasn't bargaining, just saying good-by. He was fed up with the business of baseball and worried about the state of the world.
So he left his bats and glove in his locker and walked away. Far away. He took his family--wife Linda and daughters Sara and Dana--and moved to Whidbey Island in Washington's Puget Sound. Then he enrolled in the Chinook Institute of Learning to "expose myself to a wide variety of progressive thinkers."
It looked like the American Dream was going to take one on the chin this time around. Bruce Anton Bochte, Pasadena-born sports hero with All-American good looks that were made to be framed by a baseball cap, was going to sit around in the fog growing a beard and pondering the destruction of the environment while others battled for batting titles.
Still, the grand old game beckoned. And by 1984, Bochte was back in uniform (Oakland's green and gold this time) and before long, back in form, too. Baseball's version of Bill Walton started slowly in '84, but Bochte has come on strong early this year with a .370 average. He went 2 for 5 Wednesday and had the game-winning RBI as the A's beat the Angels, 6-4, at Anaheim Stadium.
"In the summer of 1983, teams started calling me," Bochte said. "I tried to dismiss it at first because I never really considered the possibility of coming back. But the phone kept ringing."
Bochte refuses to discuss his reasons for leaving the game in the first place ("It's too complicated to explain in a couple of paragraphs," he says. "Everyone who's written about it so far has messed it up"). But he insists it was the right move for him.
"It was something I decided to do and it worked out fine for me," he said. "It took me about four months to catch up last year because I didn't pick up a bat or ball for a year and a half. If I had ever anticipated that there might be an access back into the game, it might have been different."
Bochte returned to the game with a renewed enthusiasm, and, more importantly, a new sense of perspective.
"I don't take it all so seriously now," he said. "I'm just as intense from the start of a game to the finish, but I'm no longer caught up in that thinking that the whole community knows . . . and cares . . . what you're doing."
Bochte, who was the Angels' top hitter in 1975, was traded to Cleveland in 1977 and claimed later that year by Seattle in the re-entry draft. He was named to the All-Star team in '79 and finished the year with a .316 batting average and 100 RBIs.
It was, however, the beginning of three seasons of discontent.
In 1981, the Year of the Strike, Bochte was Seattle's player representative. He became disenchanted with the inner workings of the big business called baseball. It was also a year of "collective team problems" for the Mariners, many of whom were openly battling with Manager Maury Wills.
"This game has a tendency to turn in on itself," Bochte said. "It's all so darn narrow. Unimportant things are amplified, and you start to believe that everything hinges on one day's performance."
Bochte admits that he probably thinks about "a wider variety of things," than the average ballplayer.
But he bristles at the idea that he is a thinking man lost in a bus load of dumb jocks.
"There is a certain type of intelligence out here and it's very sophisticated," he said. "It's the kind of intelligence that integrates the body and mind."
Ironically, Bochte has found inner peace by separating the two. So he decided that a couple of more years of baseball would be "better for my situation in the long run."
The Oakland A's think he's right. And it hasn't hurt their situation either--they're in first place in the American League West.