By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"I go back to 1969 with Wayne," Blyleven says. "The first time I met him was in the instructional league down in Florida. He was kind of the clubhouse guy, equipment manager, traveling secretary-slash-everything. I was 18 years old, and to be honest with you, he scared me. He was one guy you definitely didn't want to get on the bad side of. He'd rub down a pitcher's arm before a game, slap him on the back, and say, 'See you in 20 minutes, kid.' I didn't know how to take him. He used to go sit in a chair out behind the outfield fence when I was pitching, and he'd be out there shouting and clapping his hands, 'Hit it to me! Let 'em hit it to me, Bert!'"
Hattaway remembers those days fondly. "I'd always get four or five balls," he remembers. "Bert's one of my favorite all-time characters. He hasn't changed a bit. He's the same guy now as he was the first day we signed him. He was a nut then, and he's still a nut."
Another famous Hattaway story that comes up again and again in conversations with players and coaches involved a long home-run pitcher Rob Wassenaar gave up when he was toiling for a Twins minor league team. The team was driving through the night, headed to the next town; the bus was an hour away from the stadium, and guys were starting to nod off. All of a sudden Hattaway was on his feet in the dark bus, screaming, "Stop the bus! Hey, bussie, stop the bus!" Players were shouting at Wayne to shut up. The bus ground to a halt along the highway, and Hattaway peered out into the darkness and shouted, "There's Wassenaar's home run ball! It's still rolling!"
Hattaway was the batboy in Mobile for almost 10 years--a job he got through the intercession of Chuck Connors, star of the old television series The Rifleman. Connors played for the Bears in those years (and later, briefly, with the Dodgers and Cubs).
"Connors and another guy who was a pitcher on that team saw me around the neighborhood and they took me down and introduced me to the owner," Hattaway recalls. "I was just 12 years old, and they made me the batboy. Since that day, other than the time I worked in a grocery store for a few days, I've never had any other job but baseball."
In 1962, the year the New York Mets entered the National League, the team held its minor league spring training in Mobile and hired Hattaway as trainer and equipment manager. The next year the Twins hired him and sent him down to Dallas to run the clubhouse of their AAA team. He spent a couple of years in Dallas, and when the season ended he would head down to Florida for the instructional league. In 1964 he moved again, to work for Phil Howser, the general manager of the Twins AA team in Charlotte. Hattaway would spend eight memorable years in Charlotte, where he was the equipment manager and trainer for teams that included such notable ex-Twins as Lyman Bostock, Dave Boswell, Charlie Manuel, and Tom Kelly.
The most notorious bus trip in Hattaway's long career of endless bus trips was a 1971 debacle that handily deflates any lingering romantic notions about life in baseball's minor leagues.
"We were on the bus headed back to Charlotte after a game in Montgomery," Hattaway remembers. "This was an early Sunday morning in the Deep South, and the bus breaks down about 10 miles outside of Atlanta. The bussie went into town to find another vehicle, but there wasn't nothing open and he eventually came back out with a big U-Haul. It was like four o'clock in the morning, and we piled all the players and equipment in the back of this U-Haul and took 'em on to Charlotte to play a doubleheader. That was probably the funniest thing that ever happened to me, but I probably shouldn't say that, because every time I do, something funnier comes along."
Nineteen sixty-nine was Hattaway's darkest year in professional baseball. He was married on the field that year in Charlotte, with former Twins executive and Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard serving as best man. Charlotte manager Ralph Rowe gave away the bride.
"That was pretty much a bad year all around," Hattaway says. "We won the pennant, but that was also the year our general manager, Phil Howser, pushed a woman out of a window and killed her. I can't prove he did it on purpose, because he was acquitted, but we were in Columbus and this newspaperman came up and asked us if we thought Howser was innocent or guilty. We didn't know what the hell he was talking about, and he told us Howser had pushed this woman out of a window the night before. Ralph Rowe turned to me and said, 'My goodness, do you think he could have done that?' And I said, 'You're damn right he could have!' That same year Howser fired Rowe because his wife brought a snow cone into the stadium. He was pissed because she didn't buy it at the concession stand. Howser was one of those guys who would fire you one minute and bring you back the next. I don't know how many times he fired my ass or I quit. I'd get back to my rooming house and the woman who ran the place would say, 'Mr. Howser called.' I don't know how he did it, but he'd get me to come back every time."