Card Corner: Topps’ top 60 and Mickey Hatcherby Bruce Markusen
December 17, 2010
During my years at Hamilton College in the 1980s, this card became a standing joke in my dormitory. One of my friends, Kim Link, decided to "borrow" the card from me and put it under framed glass, accompanied by a semi-X-rated “love letter.” She then delivered the framed card and letter to me. It became a source of endless comedy over our final two years in college. Decency prevents me from detailing the specific contents of the letter—well, that and the fact that I’m married now.
Never has a player looked so ridiculous on a baseball card as Mickey Hatcher does on his 1986 Fleer card. The outlandish size of the glove, which appears to be the diameter of two frying pans, coupled with Hatcher’s childishly mischievous expression, make this an absolute classic.
The card also epitomizes Hatcher’s status as arguably the wackiest major league player of the 1980s. In fact, someone ran a poll in the middle of the decade, asking major leaguers to name the zaniest of their brethren. Hatcher finished first, beating out other eccentrics like Joaquin Andujar, Greg Minton and Steve Trout.
Here’s the story on how the giant glove made its way onto the Fleer card. An unremembered company brought the glove to the Twins’ spring training site in Orlando. “I picked it up and the card guy just happened to shoot it when I was out there playing for fun,” Hatcher told ESPN.com. “I said, ‘Get a picture of me with this glove because I need all the help I can get.’”
According to one Internet source, Hatcher eventually became the owner of the giant glove. He carted it around, giving himself an ever-ready prop to be used before and after games. I can only imagine the pre-game spectacle of Hatcher shagging fly balls while wearing the gigantic glove, a feat that would have made Luis Polonia proud. (For those who might not remember, Polonia used to wear a glove that was about the size of a lawn rake, and was almost certainly larger than the legal limit.)
According to legend, Hatcher once made two errors in a game and then, in honor of his defensive malaprops, bounced out of the dugout wearing the glove, proudly displaying it to the fans. Hatcher’s manager might not have appreciated the self-deprecating gesture, but the fans in the ballpark surely did.
In a similar vein, there’s a sense of irony to the card. Hatcher was never known for his fielding prowess, whether playing at third base, the outfield or first base. Hatcher ran awkwardly and lacked soft hands. It seemed that wherever his managers played him, he appeared to be out of position. So how fitting it was for Hatcher, a butcher in the field, to be shown on a card with the largest glove in creation. Not even a mammoth glove could have helped Hatcher’s cause.
In spite of his defensive shortcomings, Hatcher emerged as a top prospect in the Dodgers system in the late 1970s. He also reminded some observers of Pete Rose, especially the way he sprinted full-out to first base after drawing a walk. The Dodgers considered him the eventual heir at third base to an aging Ron Cey, but Hatcher lacked the hands, footwork and range for the hot corner. So manager Tommy Lasorda tried him in right field, but quickly became concerned about his lack of power. Hatcher hit one home run in 93 at-bats in 1979, followed by another one-home run performance in 84 at-bats the following season.
Hatcher’s lack of power, not to mention his low batting averages, made the Dodgers willing to make him the centerpiece to a trade package for Twins outfielder Ken Landreaux. The hustling Hatcher settled into a role as a part-time jack-of-all-trades, playing the outfield, working as a DH, and dabbling at third base and first base. With the Twins, he twice reached the .300 mark, but he did so with few walks and almost no power.
While with the Twins, Hatcher also developed a reputation as one of the game’s great comic figures. In addition to the giant-sized glove, Hatcher liked to wear a special helmet featuring a spinning propeller. He also became a prolific prankster. No teammate, or opponent for that matter, was off limits in Hatcher’s world of hot foots and joy buzzers.
One of Hatcher’s best pranks occurred while with the Twins, with his former Dodgers manager the victim. During spring training in the mid-1980s, the Twins hosted the Dodgers in an exhibition game in Orlando. As the Dodgers and Twins played, Hatcher sneaked into the clubhouse, took Lasorda’s dress pants, and cut them in half, just above the knees. Lasorda had no choice but to leave the ballpark wearing the newly created shorts.
The label of top prospect long since removed, Hatcher remained with Minnesota through spring training of 1987, when the cost-cutting Twins gave him his unconditional release. The decision would cost Hatcher a world championship ring in 1987, but would open up a new World Series opportunity in an old location.
Hatcher quickly hooked up with his original Dodgers. Presumably forgiven by Lasorda for the pants-cutting incident, Hatcher fit in nicely as a backup on the infield and outfield corners. The reunion set up Hatcher’s 15 minutes of glory, which came in October of 1988. After hitting just one home run in 191 regular season at-bats, he replaced a hobbled Kirk Gibson as the starting left fielder in the World Series. Hatcher clubbed two home runs and batted .368 in the Dodgers’ monumental four-game upset of the A’s. After hitting his first long ball in Game One, Hatcher abandoned the usual home run trot for a full sprint around the bases, drawing national attention.
If not for the presence of Orel Hershiser, Hatcher would have won MVP honors for the World Series. Hatcher followed up his unlikely Series heroics with a productive 1990 season, but his hitting fell way off the following summer, to a career low OPS of .498. That would prove to be his major league swan song, ending a 12-year career split between Minnesota and Los Angeles.
Hatcher didn’t play in 1991, but Upper Deck still issued a card for him, once again featuring the gigantic glove. The glove would remain in Hatcher’s garage until 1992, when he resurfaced as a coach with the Albuquerque Dukes, the Dodgers‘ top affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Hatcher then joined the major league staff of the Rangers for two seasons before eventually returning to the Dodgers organization.
In 2000, Hatcher reunited with former Dodgers teammate Mike Scioscia, by now the manager of the Angels. As the Angels batting coach, Hatcher preached an aggressive approach at the plate, coupled with an emphasis on contact hitting and the ability to hit to all fields. The approach worked well for the Angels in 2002, as they won the first world championship in franchise history.
Eight years later, Hatcher remains with the Angels as hitting coach. Now that he’s a 55-year-old man, I wonder if he still carries that preposterous glove around with him. I hope he does.
References and Resources
Mickey Hatcher's player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Library
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.