Bob Cerv, Kansas City's left fielder, has 17 home runs, 51 runs batted in and one broken jaw. He is leading the league in each department.
Cerv broke his jaw when he collided with Detroit's Red Wilson at home plate on May 17. In the hospital his jaws were wired tightly together, but not before a dental plate was removed, leaving a gap which allows Cerv to sip liquids through a straw. Three days after the accident, Cerv was back hitting home runs.
On a humid afternoon in Washington, D.C. recently, Cerv, stripped to his shorts and undershirt, sat in his hotel room waiting for room service to bring his dinner. Cerv is a huge man, well over 200 pounds, with massive shoulders, arms and legs.
"When they wired me up at the hospital," he said, "they told me I'd have to live on custards, milk shakes and baby food for six weeks. Have you ever tasted baby food? Boy, I have. I've got six kids, seven come August, and I can tell you baby food is horrible. The first day I was in the hospital they fed me gruel and I thought, 'Lord, let me out of here.' See that gadget over there? That's what saved me. I can eat almost anything with that." He pointed to a high-speed mixing machine called a Liquidizer.
"I'll show you how it works when the food arrives. It's been a lifesaver. I've been able to eat steaks. In fact, I haven't lost a pound since the accident." He rubbed his jaw softly. "I'm past the halfway point on this thing. Only two weeks more. It isn't so bad. I can't brush my teeth, of course. I use some stuff called Cepacol. That washes 'em out pretty good. I can talk all right. It really isn't hard. Try it. You just have to talk more slowly and not as often."
There was a knock on the door and a waiter wheeled in a table covered with silver serving dishes. There were two huge hamburger steaks, string beans, mashed potatoes, some cottage cheese, pears, three scoops of vanilla ice cream, two glasses of Jell-O, two containers of chocolate milk, a bowl of gravy and a bowl of clear soup.
"This may look like a lot of food," said Cerv, "but it's only two meals."
He poured the hamburger, beans, potatoes, gravy and soup into the container, then put the top on. "This morning I forgot it when I had the eggs, butter and bacon in there, and they shot out all over the mirror."
He turned the machine on to pulverizing, then up to liquifying and left it there for two minutes. The finished product looked like a thick coffee milk shake. He poured half of it into a Thermos bottle for after the game. The rest he put in a bowl. He slid a paper straw into the gap between his teeth and began sipping.
"It's really not bad," he said between sips. "Try it."
He explained: "My jaw only hurts when I swing and miss and when I throw the ball. Hitting the ball doesn't hurt a bit.
"I do have a hard time breathing, especially if I have to run a lot. So I take a whiff of pure oxygen from a tank about once a game. First time I tried it I hit one of the longest home runs I've ever hit."
The Jell-O was put into the machine and converted to a pink foam. Some was left over and poured into a wineglass for the visitor.
"Sort of look like Pink Ladies, don't they?" said Cerv.
"In that case," said the visitor, "I'd like to propose a toast to your recovery and continued success with a bat."
"I'll drink to that," said Cerv, and his tight-lipped grin revealed a network of wire. The glasses were clinked all around and with that the big man slid a fresh straw through the gap in his teeth and began emptying his glass.