This past week was high anxiety for Vance Law, the third baseman for the Chicago Cubs from Provo. He was on the edge of the hot corner all week waiting to see if Whitey Herzog, manager of the National League All-Stars, would name him to the team.
Reporters kept calling, and fans kept asking him about it, and there was speculation whether Herzog would go with Law or with the Phillies' Mike Schmidt, who is having an awful year but, nevertheless, is en route to the Hall of Fame.All Law could do was sit and wait, or play and wait; that and say things like, "Well, I think I'm having an All-Star season . . ."
Still, as far as Vance Law's all-time wait-and-worry baseball list goes - this wasn't even close to first place.
Ten years ago, it was much worse.
Law had just finished his senior year at Brigham Young University, where, as a shortstop on the baseball team, he had been named All-WAC and batted .379.
He was confident his services would be recognized early in the June amateur baseball draft.
Then the seige began.
Law stayed near the phone at home in Provo. The draft started. It went through one full day. Nobody called. It went through a second full day. Still nobody called.
Vance was shaken, beside himself, incredulous. Already, it had been the longest week of his life.
Vance's dad, Vern Law, the Cy Young award-winning pitcher in his own playing career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, decided something had to be done. Vern, then a member of the BYU coaching staff, had watched Vance improve through his college career - particularly in his last two seasons when he stopped playing basketball and concentrated on baseball.
So Vern did what any self-respecting former Cy Young-award winner and parent would do.
He called his old team.
Hey guys, remember that World Series I helped us win . . .
Law got in touch with Pete Peterson, the Pirates' general manager. He asked Peterson why they hadn't drafted his son. Peterson said, well, they were thinking about it.
One day remained in the draft - Longshot Day. The third day.
On the final hour of the final day, in the final (39th) round, Vance Law was drafted - by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Gary Pullins, Vance's coach at BYU, remembers what he thought of that.
"We all questioned whether it was much of an opportunity," Pullins says. "He doesn't go until the 39th round, and then by Pittsburgh, which leads you to believe it might have been a token draft."
Which is what it was. The Pirates took Vance Law more out of loyalty to his last name than because of confidence in his playing ability.
They didn't admit as much at the time. They admitted it only after Vance made a fast trip through the minor leagues to land on the Pirates big league roster by 1981.
They'd under-rated Vern's kid.
He was major league caliber.
The Pirates traded Law to the White Sox and the White Sox traded Law to the Expos and then, just last winter, the Expos traded Law to the Cubs.
So Vance's was no meteoric rise. He's had to pay his dues. He's had to sit on a lot of benches. He's been platooned and removed in late innings for pinch-hitters.
But as he first showed at BYU, he has staying power. "He wasn't the kind of player who could
do any one thing so well that it grabbed your attention," remembers Pullins. "He just did everything well. Good arm, good eye, a little power, excellent instincts . . . a solid, steady player who always improved."
By 1988, his seventh season in the majors, that improvement led to his best start yet. With Cubs manager Don Zimmer playing Law every day at third base, his fielding has been impeccable and, as of two days ago, his offensive statitics included 88 hits, 14 doubles, five home runs, 39 RBI, and a .307 average that ranks sixth best in the National League.
All-Star kind of stats.
But it ain't so until they say it's so, and in baseball, making the All-Star team consists of either A) Being named as a starter on the fans' ballot or B) Being named as a reserve by the manager.
The fan voting went heavily in favor of the well-known players, with Pittsburgh's Bobby Bonilla and Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt the leaders. Law's votes placed him in 10th place - yet another indictment on the system.
He was at the mercy of Herzog, the manager.
In the final few days this past week before Herzog's decision deadline, when it was obvious Law's statistics had held their own through the first half of the season - that's when it got the most tedious.
Late Thursday afternoon, justice was served.
Herzog released his list - and Law was on it.
Next Tuesday night in Cincinnati, when the best baseball players in the world line up for introductions, one of them will be Vance Law.
He's living proof that all things come to those who wait . . . but it's still one of the toughest parts of the game.