Aaaaugh! A slider to the sacroiliac. Oooph! A fastball to the fibula. Yeeoow! A knuckler to the kneecap. All those hard baseballs plunking into various parts of Expo Ron Hunt's anatomy surely do smart, but, by now, whenever Hunt steps up to bat, pitchers must be talking to themselves in the perverse manner of a father about to spank his son. "This is going to hurt me a lot more than it'll hurt you," they might be saying.
The Montreal second baseman is one of the toughest outs in baseball and not only because he averages a solid .280. Hunt, it seems, would just as soon get hit as get a hit. Last year he was hit by 26 pitches—a particularly frustrating figure to pitchers who were able to strike him out only 29 times. Last week when the Astros' Wade Blasingame plunked Hunt, it was the 29th time this season he has been struck by a pitched ball, a pace which should easily enable him to break the "modern" National League record of 31 which was set in 1910. Hunt already holds the league career record of 156 HBPs in his nine big-league seasons.
Although most pitchers claim he tries to get nicked, Hunt denies it, and the umpires who always award him first base apparently agree. "I crowd the plate and don't move," Hunt says. "If I don't move and the pitcher doesn't hit the corners, I might get hit. It stands to reason that I'm going to get hit a few times, but if I were to start bailing out, I'd be dead. I found out early that I hit better standing right on top of the plate, that's all there is to it. I don't say to myself, 'Ron, this pitcher doesn't throw too hard, so get hit.' I just hang in there and don't yield to him."
It is an attitude that amazes most batters, whose greatest fear is being beaned. Hunt's former Giant roommate, Willie McCovey, once told him, "If you're dumb enough to stand in there and take it, that's one record you're welcome to. You can have it. I'll take the rest."
"My wife always wants to know where the colors come from," says Hunt of the multi-hued bruises he collects with each HBP. Opposing pitchers know, for throwing to—or at—the feisty Hunt has got to be as painful for them as: Crunch! A curve to the clavicle.