In baseball,when you reach age 40, generally nothing recedes like success. Knocking that theory into a corked bat, however, is veteran catcher Bob Boone of the California Angels. This year, Boone became the first man in the history of baseball to log more than 2,000 games at what is generally considered the most demanding of positions.
Ironically, the record he broke belonged to Al Lopez, who used to pat Bob on the head when Al managed the Cleveland Indians and Boone's father, Ray, played for him.
Bob is still producing, too, both behind the plate and with the bat. In fact, his .280-plus batting average is the highest it has been this late in the season in almost 10 years.
For his career, Boone has been basically a .250 hitter with limited power, but has always made the most of that ability. Over the years he has earned a reputation for getting runners home from third base (with fewer than two outs) that is among the best in baseball.
Boone, who still works regularly with weights long after his teammates have left the ballpark, has a young man's face, a still-trim body, and a right hand with few of the telltale signs of wear that sometimes give away the position he plays. And he isn't even thinking about the end of the road.
``I plan to go on catching indefinitely,'' Boone told me. ``Helping a young pitcher or even a veteran through a day when he doesn't have his best stuff is as rewarding to me as going 5-for-5 at the plate. Oh, I'll have a day once in a great while when I don't feel like going to work. But the truth is that I'm probably happiest when we're winning and I'm being productive.''
Boone says he didn't even know he was within striking distance of Lopez's longevity record until two or three years ago, when somebody else brought it up.
``Catching Lopez was never a goal for me,'' Bob explained.
Asked about his sudden surge as a hitter, Bob replied: ``Don't make too much of that. I really don't have an answer for it. One day this season everything just clicked in at the same time, and I hope it stays that way.''
When you ask others about Boone, one word that surfaces constantly is ``smart'' - not too surprising in view of the fact that he holds a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Stanford University. Gene Mauch, when he piloted the Angels, always said Boone was the best handler of pitchers he ever managed - and also the catcher with the most mental toughness and the greatest ability to withstand the discomforts of the job.
The Philadelphia Phillies must rue the day in 1981, when they sold Boone's contract to the Angels for $300,000.
It is inevitable, when talking with Boone, that the subject of his eventually becoming a manager comes up. Bob, however, is reluctant to discuss it.
``As long as I can continue to catch 100 or more games every year in the big leagues, managing isn't something I'm going to think a lot about,'' he said. ``I might like to do it someday. I think I could be successful at it. But so many things would have to happen just right that there is no sense at this point in managing becoming an issue in my career.''
It is doubtful if any catcher spends as much time preparing for a game as Boone. Often Bob gets to the ballpark six hours before game time to pour over scouting reports and study videotapes of other teams in action. He then goes to the dugout to watch opposing players take batting practice.
If there has ever been a catcher with a .250 lifetime batting average who should be considered for the Hall of Fame when he retires, Bob Boone is at the very top of the list. Come to think of it, class alone should get him the votes he'll need. Elsewhere in the majors
From Joe Morgan, who became manager of the Boston Red Sox in mid-July, on his feelings about young players, especially his decision to go with rookie Jody Reed at shortstop: ``I learned a long time ago that if you've got good young players, get them in there. Let them show you what they can do. Going with Reed wasn't much of a gamble, because I already knew he could field. My feeling was that if I put Reed in the lineup regularly and left him there, he'd hit enough to keep the job and he has. I think if a manager has faith in a kid, he ought to tell him so.''
Trade talks between St. Louis and New York that would send shortstop Ozzie Smith and pitcher John Tudor to the Yankees for first baseman Don Mattingly and one other major player are cool but not stone cold. The Yankees have a ready-made replacement for Mattingly in designated hitter Jack Clark, while the Cardinals have a whiz-kid shortstop in the minors they would like to promote.
Although most of his batting statistics are down from last season, when he was the American League's Rookie of the Year, Oakland's Mark McGwire leads the league with 16 game-winning hits.
Atlanta may be last in the NL West, but there is a good chance the Braves will have the league's 1988 batting champion in first baseman Gerald Perry.