A baseball player named Deer should run like one. He should be slender, steal bases and scamper around the infield.
But the Deer—Rob Deer—who plays for the Milwaukee Brewers isn't like that. In fact he doesn't run very fast at all. He hits a lot of home runs, he lumbers around rightfield and he's built like a bear. About the only thing appropriate to the name Deer is the nickname of his manager, which happens to be Bambi.
Bambi, a.k.a. George Bamberger, is sitting behind the desk in his office, talking about Deer. He loves to talk about the 25-year-old Deer, who is 6'3", 230 pounds and came to Milwaukee as a non-roster invitee last spring. Deer has not only hit 29 homers (second in the majors to Toronto's Jesse Barfield) and driven in 79 runs this season, but he has also been the hottest hitter in baseball, with 13 homers and 36 RBIs since the All-Star break. "He's a helluva good-looking ballplayer," says Bambi. "He's come a long way, and he's just going to get better."
Bamberger is not concerned about Deer's strikeouts, which now total 130, or one for every 2.72 at bats. He doesn't mind his batting average, a modest .237. What would happen, Bambi is asked, if Deer cut his strikeouts down to, oh, 120 a season and raised his average to, say, .260? The manager's eyes get Bambiesque. He rises from his chair and shouts, "He might just hit 80 home runs!"
August 31, 1986
Eighty is probably overdoing it, but Deer might someday reach the 40 level. And to think the San Francisco Giants kept him imprisoned in their farm system for seven years, let him languish on their bench for another year and then traded him to Milwaukee for two nondescript minor league pitchers just before Christmas. It was an unusually generous gift.
The reason for Deer's turnaround is that the Brewers, unlike the Giants, were willing to let him play every day to work out of his periodic strikeout binges. Of course, Milwaukee needed power desperately, having finished last in the AL in homers in '85. Despite his lack of speed, Deer is a capable outfielder, and he possesses a prodigious arm. But it's his strength that commands attention. In his first at bat of '86, he hit a Tom Seaver pitch over the roof of Comiskey Park.
"I look at guys like Don Mattingly, guys who hit .300 and hit home runs, and they all have this air about them," says Deer, who has thick red hair, a healthy mustache and a soft-spoken manner. "Those guys are confident. To me that's fascinating, because I wouldn't know what that feeling is. I may never know. But Mike Schmidt hit .196 his first year, and look at him."
Deer started hitting home runs in Orange, Calif., a few miles from Anaheim Stadium. Out of Canyon High, he was a fourth-round pick in the June '78 draft. As he remembers it, "I could always hit the ball a mile. And even as a kid going to Angel games, I'd remember who got the home run, not who got three hits.
"Before this year, I used to go up there with only one thing in mind. I was going to swing the bat hard, and if I hit it, it was going to go a long way. But I get in trouble when I try to hit it 850 feet."
Even though the Brewers are in last place in the AL East, they have flirted with .500 most of the season and show great promise for the future. "He is a big part of the growing up of this ball club," says Bambi of Deer. "He'll be hitting home runs for a long, long time."