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Tiger Billy Bean: Big Bat and Brains, Too

May 07, 1987|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

Billy Bean has been in the big leagues for almost two weeks, but he seems to have settled in rather well.

He signed a major league contract with Detroit on April 25. An hour later, he walked into the clubhouse to discover he was leading off and starting in left field. And a couple of hours after that, he was finishing off a four-for-six debut with an hourlong news conference in front of a locker that didn't have his name on it yet.

Tiger manager Sparky Anderson had seen rookies get four hits in their first big-league game before, but that's not to say he wasn't impressed. It's just that Bean made a bigger impression the next day in the clubhouse that he had on the field.

"I'm holding a meeting with our outfielders, asking what they're supposed to do in different situations," Anderson said, "and this kid is answering all the questions. He knows where to be, where to throw, who to back up on every play I can think of.

"We got guys in the room with 10 years of major league experience and this kid has got all the answers. Fundamentally, he does everything perfectly. He came in here as well-coached as a human being could be."

Look up the word hyperbole in the dictionary and Anderson's picture is liable to be there next to the definition. But Bean, a 22-year-old who played at Santa Ana High School and Loyola Marymount University, is clearly a student of the game.

At the moment, he's rising to the head of the class.

"He caught my eye this spring," said Vada Pinson, the Tigers' batting coach. "It wasn't so much his talent but his command of the fundamentals.

"There's nothing left to teach him. . . . Baseball is a game of reacting to what you see and he reacts instinctively. I say leave him alone."

Bean, the Tigers' fourth pick in the 1986 June draft, was not one of the non-roster players invited to spring training, but he was allowed to make one four-game road trip.

Obviously, he made the most of it.

And he's doing exactly that with his opportunity to play in the majors.

After his first eight games, Bean had 9 hits in 29 at bats for a .310 average. Last week, with a couple of hundred friends and relatives at Anaheim Stadium to cheer him on, he had a single in three at-bats during a 2-1 victory over the Angels. Yes, it's been fun so far for Billy Bean.

Just a few weeks ago, he was a Toledo Mud Hen, hoping to get a call in September when major league rosters are expanded.

"We had just lost a game and (Toledo manager) Leon Roberts called me into his office," Bean said. "I had no idea what was going on. He had this big smile on his face. When he told me I was going up, I was sure he was kidding."

His first duty was to sign a contract so he could play that afternoon.

"I wasn't going to bargain," Bean said, laughing.

And the Tigers, who sent down catcher Dwight Lowry to make room for Bean, are satisfied they'll get their money's worth.

"We have kids in the minors with more speed and better arms," Anderson said, "but they're a year or two away. Billy's got the discipline now."

Bean is just grateful for the chance to prove himself.

"Nobody has detailed the reasons why I'm here," he said, "so I'm just going to wear this smile on my face and play as hard as I can until they tell me to go home.

"Walking on a major league field has always been my goal. Now my goal is to do it tomorrow and the next day and the next and the next."

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