Jim Souhan: LeCroy has intangibles to dye for

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2007 - 10:52 PM

What the Twins catcher lacks in skills, he makes up for with a knack for lifting the mood, new dark hair and all.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Matthew LeCroy's return to Twins camp raises questions no other player can answer.

Like: How's the gout? Is that hair coloring, or shoe polish? Are you really going to eat that? And: Where's your opossum?

LeCroy became a power-hitting star at Clemson, prompting the Twins to make him the 50th pick in the 1997 draft. He never developed into the kind of everyday catcher or power hitter the Twins expected, leaving him with two choices:

Sulk his way out of the game, or become one of the selfless, prank-playing good guys who populate big-league benches.

LeCroy would be happy to settle for the latter this spring, as he tries to make the Twins as a third catcher, pinch hitter and morale booster after spending last year with the Washington Nationals.

He returned to the Twins clubhouse this spring with noticeably darker hair, saying his gout is under control, jokingly offering to swallow a clubhouse cockroach in exchange for contributions to his retirement fund, but without the tin of road-kill opossum meat he tried to feed Eddie Guardado a few years ago.

"I never lost touch with him, but it is strange to see him back here with jet-black hair and a jet-black goatee," said Michael Cuddyer, who the Twins selected 41 picks before LeCroy in '97. "I guess he's making a statement that he's gotten younger somehow.

"To me, he looks like he's in one of those pictures from the '70s where the film starts going bad and the hair starts looking blacker and blacker and the face gets whiter and whiter."

LeCroy got 39 at-bats withWashington last year. He was released on July 24, re-signed with the Nationals on a minor league contract on Aug. 7, and then broke his wrist, ending not only his season but his hopes of playing winter ball.

"The Twins called in the middle of January," LeCroy said. "I had a couple of other teams call, but with nothing more than an opportunity, and I knew everybody here. This is the best thing that came up."

Rob Antony, the Twins director of baseball operations and contracts, was speaking to an agent about another player when LeCroy's name came up. Antony told GM Terry Ryan that LeCroy could be a good fit, considering manager Ron Gardenhire toys with the idea of carrying a third catcher, so he has insurance when Joe Mauer is in the lineup as a designated hitter.

The Twins signed LeCroy to a minor-league deal. He, in turn, gave them a high recommendation of Nationals pitcher Ramon Ortiz as a teammate and a talent, reinforcing their decision to sign Ortiz.

LeCroy is inextricably linked to another Ortiz. When the Twins released David Ortiz following the 2002 season, they reasoned that Ortiz had proved injury-prone and underproductive while LeCroy promised to balance their lineup with righthanded power.

Now Ortiz's annual goal is to win an MVP award and another World Series ring, and LeCroy's annual goal is to wear a big-league uniform.

He's got a chance mainly because he heeded that sage baseball advice: Don't make anybody angry on your way up, because you'll see the same people on your way down.

"He's a good baseball guy," Ryan said. "He fits in here, and he's got some pop. Maybe things will work out."

Cuddyer and LeCroy grew up together in the Twins organization, and LeCroy was in Cuddyer's wedding party in November, in Jamaica.

"It's hot, of course, and the wedding is outside, and LeCroy shows up with an Afro," Cuddyer said. "His hair was huge. He looked like Tom Hanks from 'Castaway.'

"We had lime-green Tommy Bahama shirts for the groomsmen, and by the time the wedding was over, his was forest green. Sweat was just pouring off him."

LeCroy says he wants to stay in the game when he's done playing.

"But you play as long as you can play," he said. "I'm just here trying to make the team -- like always."

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