Haywood C. Sullivan leaned against a fence and pointed a long finger at the closed door of the Boston Red Sox locker room in Winter Haven, Fla. "There's a Players Association meeting going on in there right now," said Sullivan, chief executive officer and part owner of the Red Sox, "and Marc would never, ever breathe one word of what happened to me. By the same token, people have said, 'Can't you find out what happened?' And I say, 'You must be kidding. I would never put Marc in that spot.' "
Marc is Sullivan's oldest son, and, despite a lifetime major league batting average of .200, now the starting catcher for the defending American League champions. With all the problems the Bosox are having this spring—injuries; aging veterans; the twin burdens of repeating and forgetting; the Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens, bolting from camp in a salary squabble—they must also deal with...the n-word.
"It's pretty difficult for Marc to lead a normal competitive life," says his father, "when people are determined to talk about...when there has to be a suspicion of...of...nepotism."
There. He said it. The n-word.
"There are some real asses who say Gedman is not signed because I want my son to be the catcher," Haywood continues. "They're just stirring up problems that don't exist."
Neither does Rich Gedman, at least as far as Boston's current catching situation is concerned. Gedman, who was an All-Star the last two seasons, turned down Boston's offer of a three-year, $2.6 million contract and also an invitation to go to arbitration. League rules now prohibit the free agent from signing with his old club until May 1, which, as of Sunday, left Gedman paddling in place on Limbo River. And left one Marc Cooper Sullivan, at least until that date, as the No. 1 catcher for the team that is owned and operated by his father.
Such an arrangement is rare, though Dodger G.M. Al Campanis once traded his son, Jim, to the Kansas City Royals for two minor leaguers. Haywood, as well, claims that he would deal Marc if circumstances warranted it. "But at this point," says Haywood, "nobody knows what market value to put on him."
It's not Gedman's. that much is for sure. The party line says that Sullivan, 28, is a) an excellent defensive catcher who b) simply hasn't had the opportunity to prove himself with the bat. The former is more or less true, though Sullivan has had periods of inconsistency when he has been prone to drop the ball. His offense, on the other hand, hasn't gotten good enough to be inconsistent.
"I don't know anyone who could hit consistently if he got one at bat per week, which is basically how we've used him," says Bosox G.M. Lou Gorman. True, that was Sullivan's role last season; he played in 41 games and had just 119 at bats and a .193 average as Gedman's backup. But in his three best minor league seasons he hit only .268 (at Winston-Salem, Class A in 1981), .203 (at Bristol, Class AA in 1982) and .204 (at Pawtucket. Class AAA in 1984). He has shown flashes of power (14 homers at Winston-Salem, 15 at Pawtucket). but they haven't been bright enough to make anyone forget that he gets tied in knots by a good curveball.
"My personal opinion is that Marc is at the crossroad of his career," says Sullivan père, a Bosox catcher himself in 1955, '57, '59 and '60. "He spent his developing years in the system. He has paid his dues. He knows what it takes to be a success at this level. The question is, can he do it?" And here's another question: How much has the n-word had to do with Marc Sullivan getting this far?
"Sully made this club on his own merit," says pitcher Bruce Hurst. "He does not have to hang his head." Adds second baseman Marty Barrett, "He would be on the 24-man roster of any team for his defensive abilities."
One thing about Sullivan: Few ballplayers look better in a uniform. He is a handsome, solidly developed, 6'4" 213-pounder with piercing hazel eyes and stay-in-place hair. He looks as if he should be running bedroom relays on Days of Our Lives every afternoon. No wonder his wife, Angela, who won the swimsuit competition in the 1981 Miss Florida pageant, has used Marc in ads for her modeling agency and school, Model's World Studio, Inc., in Lakeland, Fla. Marc is even considering an acting career after baseball. Because of his height, he resembles another tall Bosox catcher who could play a little, Carlton Fisk. However, the resemblance has not been quite enough to satisfy the fans, who would prefer that he hit like Fisk.
"I guess I've heard every father-son line possible," says Marc. "One time in spring training I went out to the mound, and this guy screams at our pitcher. "You better listen to him or he'll tell his father to release you.' "
He shakes his head and smiles. The n-word has gotten him down but never knocked him out. "In Boston I can be blamed for almost anything. If it's a wild pitch, I take heat because my father signed the pitcher. I took heat in '81 when Fisk left, and I was in Class A ball at the time. Heck, I took heat when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl because their owner's named Sullivan, too."
And, naturally, he takes heat from his teammates. Says Marc. "If somebody's having a contract dispute, then guys will say to me, 'Just have your father take it out of your allowance.' That seems to be a major theme—their salaries and my allowance."
But he has done an excellent job of walking the tightrope between son-of-the-boss and one-of-the-boys. "Honestly, we forget who Marc is," says Barrett. "Once in a while we'll be talking about a player, and Marc will say, 'Yeah, he'll be eligible for arbitration soon,' and I nod my head, then think, Wait a minute.... I'll tell you, the day Marc goes to arbitration is the day I'll know the worm has turned."
Still, Sullivan is the only Red Sox player who negotiates his own contract with Gorman (Haywood doesn't get involved). Might that indicate a management-knows-best mentality?
"I have advisers, but basically I haven't needed an agent yet," says Marc, who received a $40,000 raise, to $125,000, for this season. "I suppose that could change, but right now I'm not thinking about it." Says Haywood, "I think Marc feels he hasn't accomplished enough to warrant having an agent."
If the day comes when Marc plays well enough to hire one. it might cost his father some money. But it will be a small price to pay if the n-word disappears forever from Fenway Park.