They were power hitters in the truest sense, all-or-nothing
sluggers who missed out on the current homer-happy era of small
ballparks and diluted pitching. The careers of five of the
biggest boppers--Cecil Fielder, Rob Deer, Dave Kingman, Mickey
Tettleton and Gorman Thomas--shared a striking similarity: When
they didn't bash the bejesus out of the ball, they missed
spectacularly. Collectively they belted 1,504 dingers and struck
out 7,187 times.
With Kingman, SI also swung and missed. After several phone
calls and faxes to Kingman went unreturned, SI dispatched
photographer Jeffery Salter to Glenbrook, Nev., where Kingman,
53 and retired, lives with his family on the shores of Lake
Tahoe. Salter arrived to find the man once known as Kong, still
slender but gray-haired, working in his garage. Kingman, a
media-loathing player who once sent a rat to a sportswriter and
poured a bucket of ice water on another, insisted that he was
"too busy" to be included in the issue. "Considering that a
stranger was pulling into his driveway in a van," says Salter,
"he was very cordial."
With 442 career dingers, Kingman, who played with seven teams
over 16 seasons (1971 through '86), is the most prolific home
run hitter eligible for the Hall of Fame who's not in it, thanks
to a career .236 batting average and 1,816 K's. But none of
these sluggers are ashamed of their frequent failure to connect.
"As a kid I didn't remember the guy who had five hits," says
Deer. "Even if he went 1 for 5 with four strikeouts, I
remembered the guy who homered to win the game."
He moved nothing like a deer, lumbering around the bases,
stumbling in the outfield and, most notably, whiffing
inelegantly--an AL-record 186 times in 1987. "I swung as hard as
I could, just in case I made contact," says Deer, 41, who had
230 home runs while hitting .220 in 11 seasons. After retiring
in '96, Deer was a full-time drag racer for five years. Last
year he returned to baseball as a minor league hitting coach
with the Class A Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm. His mission:
"Teach young players how not to be the kind of hitter I was."
Stormin' Gorman gazes out onto Miller Park from his usual
game-day perch--in front of the Gorman's Corner concession
stand, which sells his signature BBQ--and licks his chops. "In
these times," Thomas, 51, says, "I might have hit 70 or 75 home
runs." The most he did hit in his day was 45 in 1979, when he
batted .244 and fanned 175 times. He spent 10 of his 13 seasons
as a Brewers outfielder and now lives a short drive from
Milwaukee. "I miss everything about the game," he says, "the
aches and pains, the hits and misses."
The slugger who ate froot loops and thanked Toucan Sam for his
power finally grew up. After retiring in 1997, Tettleton moved to
a 160-acre ranch in Pauls Valley, Okla., where horses, his wife
and the youngest two of his four children roam. An avid golfer,
he's a regular on the Celebrity Players Tour. "It would have been
nice to hit for a good average," says Tettleton, a catcher-DH who
batted .241 with 245 homers for four AL teams over 14 seasons,
"but that wasn't important to me. I considered myself simply a
pure power hitter."