ST. LOUIS — LaMarr Hoyt, minus a belly and, thus, an identity, walked into the San Diego Padre offices last winter completely unrecognized, telling the receptionist once, twice, three times that, yes, he was the fat man they'd traded four players for.
Finally, Jack McKeon, the Padre general manager, was paged and told to enter the lobby, whereupon he "went into shock," according to Hoyt's agent and close friend, Ron Shapiro. At that precise moment, McKeon suddenly had better vibes about the Hoyt trade, which he instigated after Padre starters had embarrassed themselves in the World Series against Detroit.
Still, there were those who laughed at the deal since Hoyt, in 1984, weighed more than 270 pounds and belonged on "Save the Whale" posters. When it was proposed that he could save the Padre pitching staff, most people said (pardon the pun): Fat chance.
Of course, he now weighs just 230 pounds and will be the National League starter in tonight's All-Star Game, which more or less means that less is more. He comes in having won 10 straight (he's 12-4 overall), which is reminiscent of his days with the Chicago White Sox, where he had 14- and 15-game winning streaks. But he says he's even better now, since he's lighter, stronger and has worked on this new "funky" changeup.
In many ways, he has saved the staff, which has been slumping lately. San Diego had lost two straight to last-place Pittsburgh recently, but Hoyt stopped the losing streak, tossing a six-hit shutout.
He said it was easy because the Pirates were paranoid about his uncanny control. Hoyt has the ability to throw a baseball over the corner of the plate at a multitude of speeds.
If players wait for a pitch in a certain area or wait for a particular type of pitch, they may sometimes get lucky and hit him hard. But if they're waiting to hit a strike, as the Pirates did, forget it. He'll just move the ball in and out to the corners, and they'll be so concerned about taking called strikes, they'll swing at anything.
Days after that game, Dave Dravecky, another Padre pitcher, walked up to Hoyt in Chicago and congratulated him, for no apparent reason.
Dravecky: "Congratulations, LaMarr."
Hoyt: "For what?"
Dravecky: "I don't know."
Everybody likes Hoyt. Padre Manager Dick Williams, who saw him pitch for the first time and said: "My gosh! He throws just like Catfish Hunter," likes Hoyt's calm and quiet outlook on life.
"You hardly know he's here," Williams has said. "I like that."
Back in Chicago, where you hardly know he's missed, White Sox people say they knew Hoyt was a better pitcher than 1984's 13-18 record and that they're happy for him now. But 21-year-old shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who was the player the White Sox really coveted in the deal, is reminding Chicagoans of Luis Aparicio, and so Hoyt is basically history.
Still, earlier this season, a bunch of White Sox players were watching TV in the clubhouse and saw Hoyt pitching for the Padres. Where was the beard? The belly? Didn't he used to win ugly? Where did he get that tan?
"Yeah, I saw him on TV," White
Sox first baseman Greg Walker said. "The new LaMarr Hoyt, I guess."
And if there is one consistent theme in Hoyt's life, it's that people always expected one thing and got something entirely different.
"Yeah, it's been a pretty weird life, I guess," he said.
Joe Sparks, a former minor league manager in the White Sox organization, is probably one of the few men LaMarr Hoyt dislikes. But Hoyt hasn't told Sparks. Sparks, who sells cars in Phoenix, saw Hoyt this March during spring training, and they had a brief, pleasant conversation in the sun, which only goes to show that Hoyt has class.
"He's a most courteous guy," said Sparks, who managed Hoyt in Triple-A Iowa in 1977, and, little did he know, made an enemy for life. "He looks like he came from a family that had real good upbringings. Everything was 'Yes Sir. No Sir.' "
Dewey LaMarr Hoyt's childhood was not typical. Just after he was born in Columbia, S.C., his parents divorced. Norma Hoyt, his mother, kidnaped him from her ex-husband, Dewey Sr., taking 6-month-old LaMarr to Santa Barbara.
Dewey, who worked for the City of Columbia, took a leave of absence and drove, with what little money he had, to California. Norma, however, would not relent and told Dewey to get lost. LaMarr was hidden in a back bedroom.
Months later, Dewey quit his job to once and for all get LaMarr back, and he did this time, stealing him just as his wife had done. Dewey, not exactly the parental type, dropped LaMarr off with his older sister, Margaret Hiller, who had a husband and three sons.