BOSTON — By the time the clubhouse were doors opened, Larry Herndon was already dressed in shirt and pants and had one shoe on.
Had he been able to get away faster he would have. But the team bus was not due for 20 minutes. Where could he go? A group of reporters approached, and he quickly found a TV set and stared as if his destiny were somewhere inside it.
“Can we get a comment on that tremendous home run?” asked someone to Herndon’s shoulder blades, as the minicam lights flicked on.
“Uh . . . uh . . . I’d rather not,” he said, stepping back like a trapped animal.
The lights clicked off. The Boston media was taken aback. This was special. This was exceptional. This was the day Larry Herndon — who has been a pro baseball player for 15 years — finally hit his first major league grand slam.
Surely this was a moment to talk about. A moment to shout about. Surely it was.
“You must have been excited,” tried another reporter. The camera lights flicked on.
“I . . . uh . . . was happy we won the game,” said Herndon, still unable to look at the questioner. “Thank you,” he added.
The camera lights clicked off.
Lights, camera, silence
All around, the other Tigers were talking to small groups of reporters. Jack Morris talked about his victory. Alan Trammell talked about his hot bat. This was a big win, a must win, and the Tigers had come through in record fashion, with 21 hits.
And no one hit was bigger than Herndon’s. He had been sent in as a pinch hitter for John Grubb with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and the score 8-5, Tigers. And he sent the first pitch over the left field fence and clinched the victory. The first pitch. His first grand slam.
“Were you thinking home run?” he was asked.
“I was just trying to make contact,” he said, his forehead sweating. “Um, thank you.”
No one really knows why Larry Herndon is so quiet. The Detroit media knows he prefers not to be interviewed. When he homered to win the first game of the 1984 World Series, he went back to his hotel in his uniform, just so he could avoid the inquisitive mob.
But he is never ornery. He always says hello. He does not shake up reporters, as John Denny has done. He does not tape unkind articles above his locker, as Joaquin Andujar has done.
He simply prefers not to speak — an attitude many players take with their failures. But now success was putting Larry Herndon to the test.
“Did you feel something special when you watched the ball go over the fence?” someone asked, refusing to give up. The camera lights again clicked on.
“Well, it felt good,” Herndon said, allowing a nervous smile. “You know . .
“You hit it a ton,” someone said.
“I hit it enough,” he added softly. He spoke with his bat
The microphones gathered in his face. He kept trying to watch that TV set, but he offered a sentence here, a sentence there.
Across the room, Chet Lemon watched. “Hon-dooo!” he yelled. Herndon grinned nervously.
Finally, he said, “OK?”, his way of ending the session, and the reporters walked away, onto other subjects, other stories.
“What’s wrong with him?” someone asked.
Wrong? Nothing is wrong. We may be frustrated when someone excels in sports and refuses to embellish it with words. But wrong? No. It is not wrong. To each man his moment. And his silence.
When the throng had left, Larry Herndon dropped onto his stool like a boxer after the 15th round. He wiped the sweat with a towel.
“That was hard, huh?” someone asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
A few moments passed. “That grand slam did mean something special to you, didn’t it?”
“It did,” Larry Herndon finally said. “You know, I was afraid I was going to leave the game and never get one of those.”
Almost no one heard him say that. It was a good quote, a nice touch, and who knows how many stories might have been written around that line?
But a man does what he has to do.
Today is another day, another game. Yesterday’s box score is forgotten. But for one afternoon — an afternoon when the Tigers played “Can You Top This?” at the plate — Larry Herndon, as usual, spoke softly.
But he carried the biggest stick. CUTLINE: Larry Herndon