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Scott Ostler

Silent George Letting His Bat Do Talking

April 15, 1986|Scott Ostler

Every time an Angel hits a home run, the cry goes up on the bench:

"Outta he-e-e-e-e-e! "

The impact of that call, like that of the mating call of a wild rhino, loses something in print. You'll have to use your imagination. Trust me: It's a fun, rousing cry.

It is the invention of George Hendrick.

George went outta he-e-e-e-e Monday afternoon during the Angels' home opener. It was a leadoff homer to left field in the sixth, when the Angels were trailing the Seattle Mariners, 5-2.

George also had two singles and a walk, and he set up the game-winning run in the ninth by slamming an 0-and-2 pitch up the middle, a hard ground ball that Mariner shortstop Spike Owen couldn't spike.

That error moved Brian Downing from first to third base, from where he scored the game-winner on a single by Darrell Miller.

Hendrick had a perfect day at bat, hit the ball hard all day, made things happen.

"That's Hard George," said Lean Gene Mauch, the Angel manager and a big Hendrick booster. George didn't say anything. He doesn't talk to the media, at least not about baseball. Too bad. If he did talk, it would be interesting to hear what he has to say about:

--Why, when the Angels got him from Pittsburgh last year near the end of the season, he couldn't make bat contact with a weather balloon. He hit .122 for the Angels and got himself benched.

--How he felt this spring when Lean Gene moved Reggie Jackson to DH and gave Hendrick the right-field job, a controversial move.

--How he felt this spring when the media roasted him for allegedly loafing, not running out grounders and so forth.

--How he felt when the media hinted that one reason he was given a starting job was that the Angels' brass very much wants George in the lineup because the team will pay $600,000 of his annual $737,000 salary through the 1988 season.

"That's a new one to me," Mauch said, when told of that speculation. "But then I don't read the newspapers. Unless it was in the box scores, I wouldn't see it."

--Why George wears the bottoms of his baseball pants pulled down to about two inches above his shoe tops, the longest pants in the major leagues, a true fashion risk.

But George doesn't talk about any of that stuff, because that's baseball talk, and he won't talk baseball. He hasn't talked for years. To the media, he is Silent George.

But to the Angel players, he is a fun kinda guy around the clubhouse, and a player they are counting on to rise above last year's miserable stick work and help keep them in first place. Lean Gene Mauch just knows Hard George will deliver this season, even at age 36.

"A guy with that much ability works that hard, something good has just got to happen," Mauch said. "It just has to."

How hard does Hendrick work?

"As hard as anyone," Mauch said. "(In spring training) he played 'B' games nine different days."

What about the no-hustle talk coming out of spring training?

"George Hendrick runs the way he knows he runs best," Mauch said. "He's not a highly animated guy, but the effort's there."

In other words, Hendrick is like a Joe DiMaggio. He makes the hard plays look easy, he makes a hard run look casual.

Certainly there don't seem to be any complaints about Hard George around the Angel clubhouse. The word is that he is one of the most upbeat players on what is one of the least animated teams in the big leagues.

The Angels' clubhouse usually has all the joviality and loosey-goosey ambiance of a corporate board room. After Monday's stirring victory, vaulting the team into a tie for first place, the Angels' clubhouse was quiet and businesslike.

You don't need 24 high-fiving, Magic Johnson-types to have a successful baseball team, certainly. But in this kind of subdued clubhouse, a colorful, upbeat guy like Hendrick can be a good influence.

"He's funny, he keeps you loose," said shortstop Rick Burleson, a serious type. "He's a great guy, as nice as anyone I've ever met."

Burleson also said: "We're depending on him quite a bit."

In his prime, as recently as '83, Hendrick was a .300 hitter with 100-RBI, 25-homer power. Then he spent most of the '85 season in Pittsburgh, where he hit .230. Then came the trade to the Angels, where he slumped, then sat.

What the heck, anyone can be excused for taking a few months to recover from playing ball in Pittsburgh, which last season was beset with every kind of bad news imaginable. What with drug trials and fan desertion and gloom and dissension, Pittsburgh was baseball's Club Dead.

Hendrick was lucky to get out alive. So what if he didn't revive immediately when shipped to California?

"I guarantee you George didn't have as many problems (last season) as people thought," Mauch said. "He tries like hell. He just wasn't in shape."

Now he is in shape, or so it appears. Now Silent George is hitting .462 (6 for 13), with two homers, and seems to be running hard, even though he makes it look easy.

Silent George looks great, Lean Gene looks great, the Angels look great, and there are only 5 1/2 months left in the season.

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