The lights on the Christmas tree were off, his daughters were in bed, his wife was asleep-and he was up, walking around. His right hand still felt like it belonged to someone else. He'd played half a season for the Red Sox with a ruptured nerve in his elbow, that he crushed each time he straightened his throwing arm. He'd finally caved, and had the nerve moved back where it was meant to be; but when the operation was over he couldn't hold a baseball, much less throw one. He needed to rein-struct his hand how to be a part of a catcher's body,- he needed to relearn how to do a simple thing he had done his entire life, the simple thing he now did for a living.
The Boston Red Sox had given up on him-just last week, had traded him to the Colorado Rockies for infielder Pokey Reese. He was in his sixth year in the big leagues and eligible for arbitration and the Rockies quickly made it clear to him that they weren't going to risk having some arbitrator say they had to pay Scott Hatteberg $1.5 million. A million and a half dollars actually wasn't much for a guy who'd spent five years in the big leagues, but the Rockies thought it was three times what he was worth. Thinking no one else would take an interest in a catcher who couldn't throw, they immediately granted Hatteberg his free agency. Then they proposed a deal: five hundred grand for one year. That was a 50 percent pay cut from the $950,000 he'd made in Boston the year before. Hatteberg refused. At midnight December 20, 2001, the Rockies' rights to Scott Hatteberg expired; one minute later, at 12:01 a.m., Paul DePodesta, assistant general manager of the Oakland A's, telephoned Hatteberg's agent.
This was truly odd. Hatteberg hadn't the slightest idea why the Oakland A's were so interested in him. All he saw was that one major league baseball team treated him like a used carpet in a Moroccan garage sale, twenty-eight other teams had no interest in him whatsoever, and one team was so wildly enthusiastic about him they couldn't wait till the morning to make him an offer. They pestered his agent on Christmas Day! When the Rockies heard that the Oakland A's had called Hatteberg's agent and initiated a bidding war, the team improved its offer. They wound up nearly matching Oakland's money. So what? They wanted him just in case. Just in case something happened to some other guy. Billy Beane wanted him to play. Billy Beane wanted him to hit. Hatteberg told his agent to cut a deal with Oakland: one year with a club option for a second, with a base salary of $950,000 plus a few incentive clauses. The moment he signed it, a few days after Christmas, he had a call from Billy Beane, who said how pleased he was to have him in the lineup.
And, oh yes, he'd be playing first base.
Baseball players share with airline pilots the desire, when they aren't working, to live in sensory deprivation chambers. In the offseason they can be found in clusters in central Florida, or the Phoenix suburbs. Hatteberg and his wife, Bitsy, had bought a house on a golf course just south of Tacoma, Washington. It wasn't their dream house-they'd have to wait until he finished playing ball for the place on the water.