There is a smattering of applause from the hometown Mexico City crowd as George Scott steps into the batter's box, looking as big and fearsome as he did in those far-off days when he was called the Boomer and first base was indisputably his bag. It's the evening of July 21 past. The occasion is the first inning of the 1981 Mexican League All-Star Game. Some 10,000 fans have assembled under the lights of El Parque del Seguro Social (Social Security Park) to watch the Northern Zone play the Southern Zone. Scott is the first baseman for the Mexico City Tigers—Los Tigres of the Western Division of the Southern Zone in the 16-team Mexican League—and for the four months since the season began he has been tanning hide at the plate. Scott is 37 now, but he has been playing baseball with rediscovered fire and performing to cries of "íArriba King Kong!"—his new appellation. He is loving it again, to be sure, playing the game for fun.
At the plate he waves his bat, plants his feet and strikes that familiar stance. He hunches over as the pitcher throws. It's a fastball sinking, and it cuts across the outside of the plate. Scott reaches out slightly and swings. At the crack of the bat, the ball lifts in a high arc over the first baseman, curving toward the line. Scott gallops toward first, like a timber horse advancing on a fence. The ball drops inside the line, just fair, and scoots off toward the corner. Scott rounds first, his arms pumping, and glances right. Some of the fans are on their feet, holding their tacos and beer, and as he slides into second, they cheer. Safe! Scott rises, dusting his pants, and the electric scoreboard displays the message, one that Boomer never dreamed he'd ever see: DOBLETE DE KING KONG.
Doblete de King Kong, indeed. So this is what has become of old Boomer, the man who hit all those "taters" in the American League—271 home runs in all; who had 1,051 RBIs in his major league career; who appeared in three All-Star Games and one World Series; who won eight Gold Gloves at first base; who used to sit in the Fenway clubhouse after a game, his forearms propped on a table, eating a mile a minute, a meal a moment, his gold teeth flashing and his laugh booming. Before Manager Don Zimmer finally lowered the boom on the Boomer in 1979, Scott had collected his most vivid memories with Boston. But Scott also owns several copies of a baseball card that shows him in the New York Yankee uniform he had wanted to wear since he was a kid. One card sits in a shoe box at his home on Cape Cod, another he keeps in his Mexico City hotel room. And he still has that piece of gold, the letter "B" fashioned in script, fastened to his right front tooth. Every time he brushes his teeth a mirror reminds him he was once the Boomer.
"Nobody could have ever told me I'd end up in the Mexican League," Scott says. "Somebody had told me that, I would have knocked him out."
August 16, 1981
But there he is. Gone are the days of the $250,000-a-year salary, the fast trips by jet from major league city to major league city, the spacious clubhouses, the well-lit, well-kept playing fields, the big hotels and fancy restaurants on the road—the life he came to know in the bigs. After being dumped by both the Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals, he finished the 1979 season with the Yankees, hitting .318 in 16 games, and all at once found that his 14-year career as a major-leaguer was over. Today he makes $6,000 a month, frequently travels by bus, plays on rough, dim fields, lives in less commodious hotels and eats in towns where the water, more than the opposing pitchers, is the hazard. Where once he played in Boston, Chicago and New York, he now hits the high spots of Campeche, Chihuahua and Coatzacoalcos, the kind of places where restive fans are said to have thrown rattlesnakes into the visitors' dugout.
Scott had been a stranger in places before, but never so strange a stranger as he has found himself to be in parts of Mexico. In the city of Campeche not long ago, while taking a stroll with teammate Carlos Rios, he noticed that a small girl kept running around behind him and looking at the seat of his pants, as if they were split. Scott asked Rios what she was looking for. "Probably your tail," he said.
Scott still laughs about it. He finds that comes easier these days, looking back and laughing, for not only has he come to terms with what happened to him—on the field and off—but also feels he has begun to fashion from the drift and confusion of the last few years a sense of place and a permanence in his life.
The Mexican League is designated Triple A, but it seems closer to Double A ball. Scott abides it and the rigors of the summer heat—not in the hope of returning to the majors, an old dream he regards now as remote, but rather to make enough to live on while earning a chance to manage Los Tigres one day. The president and field manager of the team, Chito Garcia, plans to move up to the front office at the end of the season, and he and the team's owner, Mexico City businessman Alejo Peralta, have said they are considering Scott for the manager's job. "He looks like a possible leader," says Garcia, 57. "He's trying to help my boys. He's been an example for the team. People know him and respect him."
Scott lives at the Hotel California in a spacious $32-a-day suite that overlooks an adjacent wall—"I'm going to try to move and get a view of the park"—and includes two beds, a television set and a telephone, which rings frequently. It's ringing now, just as the maid knocks on the door.
"íBomo! íBomo!" Boomer bellows mysteriously to the maid, who is carrying fresh sheets. Asked what "bomo" means, he says, "Come in." The maid bomos, sees that he's on the phone, giggles and leaves. On the phone, Scott is talking to a Mexican friend in a language he sort of invents as he goes along, an amalgam of English, Spanish and Italian that he speaks in the accent of his boyhood days in Greenville, Miss. It has plenty of "porques" and "buts" and even an occasional "mio," as in O Só¬ßle Mio. The hotel operator had failed to inform Scott that the friend called earlier, and Scott is heroically trying to explain why he never returned the call: "¬¨¬®‚àö‚àèSí? El operator no se mio el telèfono. íSí! But no...give...it to me. No habla con mio. She no tell mio!"
The language aside, Scott has made the important transitions in his own special way, having found a certain comfort and security in Mexico City. The Hotel California, right off the turbulent Avenida Cuautemoc, is only two blocks from El Parque del Seguro Social, the home field of the Tigres, an easy walk that takes him past vendors who fry corn on the cob on barbecue grills and paint the corn with brushes dabbed in cream sauce. Scott generally confines his eating to the Del Mar Seafood Cafè, an aromatic restaurant just around the corner from the entrance to his hotel.
Scott has had periodic bouts with weight; it was a source of concern even in his youthful Red Sox days. Once, when he was playing for Dick Williams in Boston, the manager benched him for being too heavy. After Scott lost the excess weight, Williams returned him to the lineup, and the Boomer hit three home runs in two games. "I don't care if I weigh 500 pounds," Scott said at the time. "The man should play me." He weighed 225 during his last year in the majors, he says. The Mexican sun has melted his 6'2" frame down to a more svelte 215, but he's still hefty 'round the beam.
"You think Mexico City is hot?" Scott says. "Go to Veracruz, Chihuahua, Yucatàn. I might be 37, but I'm not an old 37.1 proved that coming down here. You be 37 and try a 15-hour bus ride and get off and try to play nine innings. That's tough. It's tough on a man 21. But it's really nothing I can't deal with."
Scott has dealt with much the last few years, ever since the Yankees cut him adrift and not one of the 26 major league clubs invited him to spring training in 1980. There's no rancor in his voice, no bitterness expressed, but the rejection stunned him and he isn't quite over it. All he knows, 1½ years later, is that somehow he survived the experience and suspects he's the better for it. "Let me explain something," Scott says matter-of-factly. "I was born poor, I was born black, and I was born in Mississippi. When you've been through that, you can deal with anything. The only thing I was ever taught was survival. The name of the game for me is survival. I'm not making big money, but I'm learning how to teach, how to manage. This is where my heart is. You can see I'm loose and free and easy. It's the first time since 1979 that I'm at peace with myself."
That he is really here, loose and free and easy in the back room of the Del Mar Cafe, remains for Scott one of those mysteries that haunt athletes who are gone before they think their time has come. "It's no use racking your brain about it," he says. "I'll tell you one thing. It wasn't because of talent." What happened, briefly, was this.
In 1978, following a fine year in which he hit 33 home runs and knocked in 95 runs for Boston, Scott broke a finger and played much of the season hurt, ending up with only 12 taters and 54 RBIs. Marital problems, which would result in a divorce in 1980, tracked him into 1979. When Scott went into a severe early-season slump, Zimmer benched him and started to play Carl Yastrzemski at first. "He [Zimmer] quit on me early and I asked to be traded," Scott says. Boston obliged, sending him to Kansas City, but his problems had only begun. At a team meeting in Chicago one day, Royals Manager Whitey Herzog embarrassed Scott by openly criticizing him for spending time in the clubhouse during the games. Scott claims Herzog called him a loser, but Herzog denies that. Anyway, there was a shouting match, and on Aug. 17 the Royals released him.
Ten days later the Yankees picked him up, and he figured for sure that New York would take a look at him in Florida the next spring. But the Yankees obtained Bob Watson in the reentry draft, and they already had another first baseman in Jim Spencer. There was no room for Scott, and he wound up signing with the Yucatàn Leones for $4,500 a month. He hit .292 in 41 games for Yucatàn, and last winter did well in Venezuela, batting .327 for the Lara Cardinales. Scott figured he'd earned his way back, but again no one invited him to spring training, even though his agent, Richman Bry, had told every big league team Scott was willing to show up at camp without a contract.
Although Scott has never stopped believing he should be in the bigs, it no longer obsesses him. After 14 summers in the major leagues, and a 15th knocking about in Yucatàn, he signed last spring with the Tigres and began putting aside the thought of ever coming back. Sensing the folly of it, he turned to that other possibility. "When I got here and saw how bad they were at fundamentals," he says, "I thought, 'Maybe it's the time for me to start my second career. This would be a good place to start managing. They're weak in fundamentals, and I can help them.' "
Scott has been working with Los Tigres, Mexican and American players alike. A couple of weeks ago, in a two-hour session that began in the clubhouse, wended its way to the dugout and ended in the batting cage, Scott talked and taught baseball to whoever would listen. He ended up explaining to Claude Westmoreland, a 28-year-old former Dodger minor-leaguer, the need for a batter to flex his knees. Westmoreland assumed his stance.
"Like this?" Westmoreland asked.
"They're still too straight," Scott said. "You have to have some flexibility. Flex, like this." Striking another pose with his bat raised, Scott said, "Look. Here's Jim Rice's hitting position. He's like this, but he doesn't stand up straight. Nobody stands up straight to hit."
Scott figures that his new sense of direction has had a good deal to do with how well he has performed on the field, accounting in some measure for the smack with which he has been hitting the ball. In the league's latest statistics last week, Scott ranked among the top four in batting (.362), home runs (18) and RBIs (81). "Now the pressures of going back to the majors are off of me," he says. "Maybe that's why I'm doing so well here. I'm thinking of baseball 100 percent." And, despite the sometimes difficult conditions, he has even been having a time of it on the road. A few weeks ago, following a 2½-hour bus ride from Yucatàn to Campeche, he had lunch with Westmoreland. Later they killed time in a stroll through town. They headed down a back street and came upon a park where some children were pitching pesos to a line 10 feet away, while others were shining shoes. Two shoeshine boys approached him.
"Thirty pesos," said one boy.
"You?" Scott asked the other.
"Fifteen," said the boy. He got the job, and Scott paid him 30 anyway.
Scott has found his peace and place. When he started playing in Mexico City, the cries of "King Kong" offended him. "I thought they were making fun of me," he says. "In the U.S. it means black and ugly. But down here I found out they just mean you're big, you're strong, a giant among men." Or, a Gold Glover. During a game one recent evening, with a man on first, Scott picked off a hard ground ball that jumped and nearly hit him in the chest. Quickly, he spun and fired to second for the force, then dashed back to first and took the peg for the double play. The Mexicans rose and cheered. And the electric sign flashed: KING KONG EN ACCION.