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NOTES : In a Pinch, Bates Is One Cool Cat; Designated Hitters Enter the Scene

October 19, 1990|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — Among other firsts, Billy Bates may be the first man to score the winning run in a World Series game within a month after winning a foot race with a cheetah.

In the tradition of a Marge Schott-owned enterprise, this is a true story.

Bates is the 5-foot-7 rookie who scored on Joe Oliver's single in the 10th inning Wednesday night to give the Cincinnati Reds a 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Besides helping the Reds take a two-games-to-none lead in the Series, Bates also hopes he dispelled the notion that all he can do is outrun animals.

"That cheetah thing . . . ," he said Thursday, shaking his head.

It occurred in the final month of the regular season, which is the only month Bates played for the Reds after being recalled from triple-A Nashville. The Cincinnati Zoo staged a promotion in which it wanted to prove that a cheetah was faster than a human, even if the human was given a five-second start.

Schott, the Reds' owner, agreed to hold an exhibition at Riverfront Stadium.

"They asked me to do it, and I said, 'What the heck?' " Bates said. "So I got stuck."

He didn't think much about it until he realized this 100-yard dash would be against an unleashed cheetah.

"They just let him out of the cage on the field, and I am looking at it, like, hmmm," Bates said. "I hoped he was safe."

Immediately after the start, Bates worried even more. His hat fell off, and the cheetah, instead of running after her toy, began chasing his hat. Trainers quickly coerced the cheetah back into his lane, but Bates, with obviously a bit more incentive, had already won the race.

"I didn't know it was supposed to chase hats," Bates said.

Bates, a substitute school teacher in Houston during the off-season, said he hopes eventually to outrun the notion that the little man cannot play major league baseball.

"It's not how big you are, it's what is in here that counts," he said, pointing to his chest.

That is certainly not what former teammates have thought, as Bates has spent his six mostly minor league seasons enduring ridicule for his size.

When he attended his first spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers, they designated a tricycle as his rental car. And they would throw a cap on the ground and talk to it like it was him.

"I hear things all the time, and sometimes I'll say something about it," Bates said. "But most of all, I just roll with it. You have to just roll with it."

With the use of the designated hitter in the next three games, Todd Benzinger will be the Reds' first baseman and Hal Morris will move to DH.

Benzinger, who played in the Oakland Coliseum during his two seasons with the Boston Red Sox in 1987-88, said his familiarity has bred contempt.

"The fans are loud and they can be obnoxious," he said. "That's a definite advantage for the A's. It's like starting the game a run behind. It's a tough place to play.

"(Boston) always had a tough time here. We could never play well here. The crowd is into it, and you can bet they'll be into this Series."

Benzinger, however, gave the A's the first raspberry.

"If they are a dynasty and we beat them, what does that make us?" Benzinger said. "I guess that makes us whatever one step above a dynasty is."

Lou Piniella, Reds' manager, has a soft spot for World Series designated hitters. While with the New York Yankees in the 1976 Series against the Reds, he collected the first hit by a World Series DH.

Although Dodger fans may already know this, the A's are 1-6 in the past three World Series against teams with a Hatcher in the starting lineup.

They were 1-4 against the Dodgers' Mickey Hatcher in 1988, and are 0-2 against the Reds' Billy Hatcher this season. The Hatchers have hit .583 against the A's, with 14 hits in 24 at-bats.

This average is helped by the fact that Billy Hatcher did not make an out in two games, with seven hits in seven at-bats.

Billy Hatcher continues to downplay his performance, saying that he didn't even want to attend Thursday's workout.

"Honestly, I don't really want to be here," he said. "If I had my way, I wouldn't even think about baseball today. Everybody keeps asking me if I replay the hits I got in the first two games, and the answer is no. I just want to put it out of my mind and concentrate on Game 3. That's it."

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