There was Craig Reynolds, sitting on top of the world—or the Seattle Mariners' training table, anyway—and he was obviously pretty worked up about something.
You could be sure that this was so, because he had momentarily put down his modern translation of the New Testament and was rubbing the swollen calf muscle in his left leg. Reynolds, the Mariners' shortstop, had been hit by a pitch a couple of days earlier, and as he inspected his fatted calf, he said hopefully, "It's gotten so big it almost looks like a real ballplayer's leg."
This season a lot of people have been wondering if Craig Reynolds is, indeed, a real ballplayer. The alternative, of course, is that some whimsical secretary named Reynolds in the American League office has been typing her name into the list of the league's top hitters for the past month. No way. At the end of last week, Craig Reynolds, the one and only, was batting .321, which was the fourth-best average in the American League, trailing only those of Rod Carew, Jim Sundberg and Fred Lynn. More and more, Reynolds' bat—just like his leg—was beginning to look as if it were for real. So real, in fact, that he stands a good chance of being named to the American League All-Star team by All-Star Manager Billy Martin.
If Reynolds' eminence as a batsman has been the best-kept secret in baseball, it is probably because he is employed by the Mariners, currently occupying last place in the AL West. And contributing significantly to this obscurity is the fact that Seattle's home games generally don't end until long after most newspapers east of the Rocky Mountains have been put to bed. Yet even at home, Reynolds' light has been kept under a bushel. The bushel, as it happens, is Seattle's Kingdome, to which the Mariners, lamentably, have drawn nearly a quarter of a million fans fewer this season than they had at this time last year.
None of this has dampened the spirits of either Reynolds or his teammates. The Mariners are still a fun franchise. Only in Seattle is a visitor likely to find Danny Kaye, one of the team's owners, sitting in the dugout discussing with the manager the possibility of having Mariner outfielders heave their gloves at home-run balls hit by the opposition. "We could hold a lot of these guys who go into their home-run trot to triples," reasons Kaye. Some of the Mariners have even resorted to prayer. As many as 15 of the 25 players have shown up for clubhouse chapel services. As one Seattle writer recently pointed out, the Mariners are a team that knows the first words in the Bible are "In the beginning," and not "In the big inning...." This is also a team on which Reynolds, the best hitter and the most conspicuous Bible thumper of all—he attended Houston Baptist University after a spectacular baseball and basketball career at Houston's Reagan High School—is distinguished for his scrawniness (175 pounds spread out over his 6'1" frame).
Scrawny or not, Reynolds has been hitting impressively since the middle of last season. A consistent if not overpowering hitter during several seasons in the minors, he batted only .225 in a handful of games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1975 and 1976 before being traded to Seattle. With the Mariners, Reynolds got off to a desultory start last year and was hitting only .218 on July 14. "I'm a natural front-footed hitter," he explains, "which is a fairly unorthodox style. Last year I started lunging at the ball, and before I knew it I was in a terrible slump."
"He was running around in the batter's box a lot," says Seattle Manager Darrell Johnson, "leaping at the ball and moving his head around too much. Once he calmed down he was all right."
From July 15 on, Reynolds hit .299, raising his season average to .248. This year he started slowly again, but then he went on a tear. At one point early in June he was hitting .337. Even Johnson, who used Reynolds as his No. 9 hitter for most of last year and kept him there until May this season, has been forced to admit that his shortstop may be better than that. "If anybody had told me before the season began that Craig Reynolds would be hitting .320 at the end of June," says Johnson, "I would have had them examined and put away."
Now Reynolds is firmly entrenched as the No. 2 batter in the Mariners' order and loves it. "When you see your name ninth on the lineup card," he says, "you get to thinking that the only reason it isn't any lower is because there's no such thing as batting 10th."
With his hitting woes behind him, at least temporarily, Reynolds is anxious to improve his defensive game. This season he has given one of the more erratic performances in organized baseball. In his first 133 chances he made only one error, and had the best fielding percentage of any shortstop in the league. Since then, however, he has made two errors in one inning against Cleveland; three errors in a single inning against Boston; two errors on one play against Chicago; and, last week, three errors in a game against Milwaukee. "You take away those three innings and that one game," Reynolds says, "and I'd be having a super season in the field."
Anxious to forestall such lapses, the Mariners had Bill Mazeroski, the old Pittsburgh Pirate second baseman who is now a Seattle minor league coach, work with Reynolds on his throwing motion during spring training. "I have a tendency to snap my wrist when I release the throw," Reynolds says, "and that makes the ball drop like a rock. There are a lot of pitchers who would love to have my sinker, and they're welcome to it."
Lou Gorman, Seattle's general manager, knew what he was getting when he traded for Reynolds and he hasn't regretted it, even during Reynolds' lean times. "As an expansion team, we were looking for a young shortstop to build around," says Gorman, "and Reynolds is it. Craig hasn't got the great natural defensive ability of a Mark Belanger or a Fred Patek, but he's capable and he's very smart. He has the ability and the intelligence to make himself one of the finest shortstops in baseball."
Right now Reynolds is content to be one of the best hitters in the game and isn't worried that nobody is naming any candy bars after him. "How can I let it bother me that I'm not well known when I've had only one full year in the big leagues, in which I hit a sizzling .248?" he says. "I've been thinking what it would mean to hit .320 for the whole season. I can't help wondering about all the guys I've played against in the minor leagues and what they must be thinking now. It must give all of them a lot of hope to see what I'm doing. I'll bet every one of those guys is saying to himself, 'If that guy can hit .320, anybody can.' "