Renewed acquaintances here with a grizzled big-league ballplayer who doesn't smoke, doesn't chew, doesn't swear and never misses the curfew. There is more. He is ferocious competitor, played on two of Chicago's three division championship teams of the last 32 years ('83 White Sox, '89 Cubs) and last season led his team in batting, home runs and runs batted in.
Where have you been, Vance Law?"Japan was all right. But money isn't everything. I could have gone back. They offered me the same deal - $900,000, U.S. But money doesn't mean that much. I didn't like their style of play. They play for one run. They bunt in the first inning. They do that every day."
So Vance Aaron Law took a $400,000 pay cut and returned to the States, reunited with Tony LaRussa, who managed him when they were with the White Sox. LaRussa, who now manages the Oakland A's, is delighted they are back together. When the A's begin defense of their American League title, Law is expected to be their regular third baseman.
Law stepped into the batting cage at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and drove a ball to the base of the wall in left-center.
Amused, he returned to my side and said, "That would have been a home run in Japan. If you're a pull hitter, you can hit a lot of home runs in Japan."
He hit 29 last year with the Chinuchi Dragons of Japan's Central League. It was his one-season high. He also led the league in slugging percentage and led his team in batting and runs batted in.
It will be different with the A's, who have a much bigger ballpark and power to burn. Basically a line-drive hitter, Law's principal assignment will be to get on base. He will settle for a .260-270 average, with 8-10 home runs.
"Vance is one of those quiet guys who knows how to win," LaRussa said. "That's why we got him. He does a lot of things that go unnoticed. We're lucky he was available."
The A's signed Law the first week in January, after Carney Lansford, their regular third baseman, tore up his knee in a New Year's Eve snowmobile accident. Twenty-four hours later, LaRussa called Sandy Alderson, the A's general manager, and suggested he contact Law's agent.
One man's bad luck can be another man's good fortune.
Said Law: "For me, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I'm with a club that can win the whole thing."
Then he added: "And one year in Japan is enough."
It wasn't only the pitch-and-putt style, but the entire Japanese method of play that Law found unsettling.
"In their society, they always have to place the blame on someone," he said. "One day our catcher got slapped in the face, supposedly because he called for the wrong pitch. The pitch was hit for a home run. The catcher got a bloody nose and a bloody mouth. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it."
Law took another round in the batting cage and then grabbed his glove and ran to third base.
Rickey Henderson then stepped in and rifled a shot down the line. Law glided over and made a backhanded stop.
"Hey," Henderson shouted to him. "I like that."
Henderson then turned to an Oakland reporter and said, "It's going to be good having him on our club."