A neat circle of baseball caps covers one wall of Mike Stenhouse's bedroom. Right in the middle, the most prominently displayed, hangs the shiny green and yellow batting helmet of the Oakland Athletics.
"I used to love that Oakland team," Stenhouse says now, "When they were great, they were about the best ever."
Mike Stenhouse does not love the A's anymore.
Stenhouse holds just about every Harvard career and single season batting record. As a freshman he hit .475, a Crimson record, and he has followed that feat with seasons of .430 and .395. His career records include most home runs, 19; most hits, 141; and most runs batted in, 101, even though he has played only three seasons.
He will not play again for the Crimson. Since June 5, Stenhouse has had a strange odyssey through the world of professional baseball. His guide on that journey: Charles O. Finley, owner of the Oakland A's.
A player with credentials like Stenhouse draws baseball scouts faster than an open bar. By the time the 1979 spring draft rolled around, several teams--especially the Red Sox and Yankees--had shown interest, and the leftfielder had told them he wanted to play pro ball.
"I made it very clear to everyone that I would sign if I was given a fair opportunity." Stenhouse says. Read: a shot at the majors. "We had been saying up to the day of the draft (June 5) I'll be o.k. as long as Oakland doesn't draft me."
They did. On the final selection of the first round, the Oakland A's, who had never spoken to, or shown even the remotest interest in Mike Stenhouse, made him the 26th college player selected in the nation.
The reason the A's never contacted him is probably because they have no full-time scouts and their orgainization is the laughing stock of professional baseball. Finley has sold every player from the great championship teams of 1972, 1973, and 1974, and is trying hard to sell the whole team. In the meantime, he runs them like a pretzel stand. And pays commensurate salaries.
"I didn't have too much time to get too down about it, with the press calling and all, but I knew things might be difficult," Stenhouse says. With his father, Dave, a pitcher with the Washington Senators in the early '60's, acting as his agent, he began negotiations optimistically. "It could have been ideal," he says. "With a team like that, (the A's have been welded to last place in recent years) it could have been a quick way to get where I wanted." The majors.
The A's contacted the elder Stenhouse in the family home in Cranston R.I. with an offer that Mike says, "was really ridiculous. I knew what I was looking for was not that unreasonable, money-wise and everything-wise. I wasn't looking for six figures. What they were offering was barely two figures."
"It wasn't an offer. It was an ultimatum--take it or leave it. We said we weren't going to take it." About four days passed after the first offer before Finley himself called Dave Stenhouse with a new deal.