The legendary Vin Scully described former big leaguer Mickey Hatcher as “baseball’s answer to a loose cannon.”
Indeed, Hatcher played the game of baseball as if his hair was on fire. During a 12-year career (1979-90) spent with the Dodgers and Twins, Hatcher was a fan favorite largely because of the way he hustled on the field. When he hit home runs -- and with just 38 for his career, they were rare -- Hatcher ran the bases like a 40-yard-dash. It was as if Hatcher, who posted a .280/.313/.377 career slash line, feared the umpires might take the home runs away if he didn’t circle the bases fast enough.
And while he wasn’t a standout defender, the outfielder/first baseman never hesitated to lay it all out if he had the chance to prevent runs from scoring.
He remains best remembered, however, for what he did during the 1988 World Series, when the Dodgers tapped him to fill in for injured Kirk Gibson in left field. If not for the heroics of right-hander Orel Hershiser, the National League Cy Young Award winner that season, Hatcher might have won the Series’ Most Valuable Player Award.
After hitting one home run over 202 plate appearances during the regular season, Hatcher tallied two homers and five RBIs while going 7-for-19 in the Fall Classic.
“I enjoyed the game,” Hatcher, now 64, told MLB.com during a recent phone interview. “I enjoyed my teammates, my coaches [and] especially the fans. I had a lot of idols in the game that made me enjoy the game even better. I grew up a Mickey Mantle fan. Pete Rose was a guy I looked up to. He played hard [on the field]. My dad always told me, ‘No matter what happens on the field, make sure you leave it out on the field.’ It got me 12 years in the Major Leagues.”
It also made him a cult hero.
Fans were drawn to him; laughed at him, too. He also laughed at himself. His 1986 Fleer baseball card featured Hatcher wearing a giant glove that he found just ahead of the Spring Training photo shoot.
Search on YouTube and you'll find video of Hatcher stumbling down the dugout steps while signing baseballs for fans. He once crawled his way to home plate. When he hit his second home run of the 1988 World Series against the Athletics, Hatcher pretended he was a member of the Bash Brothers, the nickname assigned to then-A’s sluggers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Hatcher did the forearm bash after the home run and hurt his wrist. Fortunately, the injury wasn’t serious.
“I always had a lot of energy. That’s just how I was,” said Hatcher. “I was excited to have an opportunity to be out on that field, playing. I was excited to be in the Major Leagues. I was excited to have the opportunity to meet people like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Baseball was just exciting for me. It wasn’t about me. Just being in the environment and having a chance to compete at a high level -- that’s what I enjoyed.”
In ’88, Hatcher became a proud member of “The Stuntmen,” the name given to the players on the Dodgers bench, who played a big role in the team’s success. It included Hatcher and Rick Dempsey (the leaders of the group), along with Dave Anderson, Franklin Stubbs, Mike Davis and Tracy Woodson.
“[Hatcher] was one of those guys who was passionate about winning,” Dempsey said via telephone. “He knew he didn’t have all the talent to be a regular player, but this guy could play. He was a great contact hitter. He knew the game. He was kind of like a fun-loving inspirational kind of teammate. He worked hard at it. He was one of those guys that could go up there and get a big hit in any situation. He just had no fear.”
Hatcher’s birth name was Michael Vaughn Hatcher, but his father, who idolized Mantle, nicknamed him Mickey. It stuck. Hatcher met Mantle at the Yankees legend’s New York restaurant during the Dodgers’ World Series championship season.
Hatcher walked over to Mantle like a little kid, his knees shaking. Hatcher thanked Mantle, who then presented Hatcher with an autographed menu. Hatcher still has it.
“I walked away like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Hatcher recalled. “I took two steps and I turned around. Mickey walks up to me, grabs me around the neck and says, ‘Hey, your name is Mickey, right? You better start hitting some [bleeping] home runs.’ I said, ‘If Mickey Mantle was my hitting coach, I might have made some money in this game.’ That is a true story.”
Hatcher still does his share of public appearances for the Dodgers and Angels (he was a coach for the team from 2000-12).
“I’m like on call. I like to do that. I like to go out and speak to the Little Leaguers,” Hatcher said. “I keep myself busy with them, and it’s great. I enjoy it.”