07/23/10 9:37 AM ET
A Reggie with no homers? Say it ain't so
Angels' Willits remains in search of first career round-tripper
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Reggie Jackson hit three dingers on three straight pitches in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series -- the shots that won a ring and launched a candy bar -- and retired with 563 long balls, the Mr. October moniker and a cozy spot on the wall in the Hall of Fame.
And then there's the only Reggie currently in the Major Leagues, outfielder Reggie Willits of the Angels, who has a home run distinction all to himself.
Willits, all 5-foot-11, 185 pounds of him, has more at-bats without a home run than anyone in the Majors right now. As of Thursday, he'd gone 347 games and 744 at-bats with no taters.
Does he know it? You bet he does. And how could he not know it with everybody around him chirping about it all the time?
"Every day I'm hearing something about not having any power," Willits says. "Too many things. Most of them I probably can't repeat. But my teammates give me [grief] about a lot of things, and that's just one of them."
It's a big one, though.
While Willits is merely expected to provide spark in a lineup with his wheels and his eye (he has 39 career stolen bases and a career on-base percentage of .363), he wouldn't mind seeing one of his occasional fly balls leave the yard.
"I've been close several times," says Willits, who hit 15 homers in 1,895 at-bats in the Minor Leagues. "But I'd like to sneak one over the wall just to get the monkey off my back."
There's hope for Willits. Because even a light-hitting second baseman named Duane Kuiper ran into one.
A look at the back of Kuiper's baseball card reveals that glorious, stately numero uno, a lonely buoy in a sea of zeroes. Twelve years, 1,057 games, 3,379 at-bats. One home run.
Kuiper, now a San Francisco Giants broadcaster, was a Cleveland Indians second baseman when he went deep. It was Aug. 29, 1977, three years and 1,381 at-bats into his career, at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, when he launched a 1-0 Steve Stone fastball deep into the night.
"I did envy the guys that would hit 20, 30 a year," Kuiper says now. "I always thought it would be pretty cool to run easy around the bases when your whole life you had to haul [your tail off] everywhere you'd go.
"But it was a big deal to hit one. It still is. I mean, a lot of people come out to the park to see that."
Yes, home runs are serious business.
Just ask Royals catcher Jason Kendall, who, when a member of the Oakland A's in 2005, went a whole year without one. He finally connected for one -- one -- in 2006. It happened on May 31.
"I just ran into it," Kendall says. "Once in a while you run into it. Usually if I hit a home run, I'm usually past second base before I see the umpire tell me it's out."
His teammates, who had been riding him about the drought, poured onto the field in front of the dugout as he rounded the bases, greeting him like a returning hero.
But in Anaheim, Willits still waits.
He estimates that he's hit four balls off the tops of walls in big league parks, including "one off the top of the baggie in Minnesota" last year. But he's not exactly encouraged to hit homers.
In fact, when he puts one out in batting practice, Angels manager Mike Scioscia makes him run a lap around the field.
"It's not my game," he says. "It's not what I'm supposed to do."
Still, he hopes that one day he'll trot around those bases after hitting his first big league home run.
"You'd think I'd run into one eventually," Willits says with a laugh. "Maybe I will."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.