CHICAGO -- Gabeen Mfoom stood in the batter's box, leaning way over the plate and waving a Louisville Slugger menacingly toward the pitching machine. The Iron Mike's metal arm spun forward, catapulting a ball toward the plate. Mfoom stepped into the pitch, then quickly ricocheted back as the ball smashed into his left shoulder. He collapsed on the ground and writhed painfully in the dirt, emitting a pitiful moan.
"Beautiful!" said third base coach Nick Barbario. "Perfect! You're really getting the hang of it now, Gabeen. Okay, let's try it again."
Barbario's training sessions have been a tad rough on his pupil, but they have succeeded in producing the Senators' newest and most controversial offensive weapon -- the American League's first "designated get-hitter." The Senators had previously used the speedy but weak-hitting Ethiopian exclusively as a pinch runner. But when designated hitter Stun Gun Ginzburg went on the disabled list (and Tito Mantequilla and Orlando Jones refused to risk their lives for any lesser being than God), manager Major Banks gave Mfoom the job. "It's nice, easy work," the skipper told Mfoom through an Amharic translator. "All you have to do is get in the way of the ball, limp down to first and then start stealing bases."
Initially, Mfoom balked. "You mean," he said through the translator, "you want me to be what you call in America a sitting duckling?"
"Oh, no," said Banks. "We think of it more philosophically. You won't be a mere target; you'll be practicing passive resistance in the classic tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King: You'll be using your opponent's violence to work against him."
"That's right, what the boss says there," interrupted Barbario. "But just remember one thing: You can swing and miss once in a while, just to make it look legit. But the first time you hit a fair ball, we confiscate your green card."
The Senators unveiled their new secret weapon in Fenway Park, home of Don Baylor, who recently set a major league record by being hit by pitches 244 times. Though the skinny Mfoom presents a decidedly smaller target than the massive Baylor, the Ethiopian has proved to be a prodigy at the art of getting battered. Hanging his tiny torso far over the plate, Mfoom was bopped in his first two appearances, then walked twice by frustrated pitchers trying desperately to avoid hitting him. For a man with no official at-bats in the game, Mfoom ended up with some impressive stats: five stolen bases and three runs scored. The Senators won 5-2.
The next day, Bosox hurler Roger Clemens was ready for the challenge. "If he tries that stuff tonight," the Cy Young winner said before the game, "I'll kneecap him with my hard one. After that, he'll be lucky if he can hobble to first, and he certainly won't be running to second."
True to his word, Clemens dispatched a fastball toward Mfoom's knee in the first inning. Mfoom dodged it, and umpire Ken Kaiser, who'd heard the pre-game threat, warned Clemens against another attempt. Clemens ignored the warning and unleashed another torrid fastball, this one aimed about a foot and a half higher -- "my Vienna choirboy pitch," he later called it -- and Kaiser ejected him from the game. Bosox manager John McNamara argued in vain, then summoned reliever Steve Crawford, who promptly gave up seven runs. The Senators won 8-4, and then beat the confused Sox again in the series finale, 3-1.
Mfoom repeated his performance in Chicago, where he was hit eight times, stole 11 bases and scored five runs while the Senators took two of three from the White Sox.
Banks' strategy has obviously succeeded, but one question remains: How long can Mfoom's scrawny body hold up under the barrage of high-speed cowhide? Last night, when the team trainer packed his entire aching body in ice, Mfoom's left arm was swollen as big as his left thigh, which was pockmarked with purple welts, and he was bruised and bleeding in a dozen other places. But he accepted his lot philosophically. "We all fill a role in God's great plan," he said through his translator. "Some people live by hunting kangaroo rats in the desert. I live by having men hit me with thrown pieces of dead cows while thousands cheer." Then he grinned and displayed some of the English he'd learned watching TV: "Mfoom like Timex. I take a lickin' and keep on tickin'."
That kind of inspiring grace under pressure has quickly turned Mfoom into a national folk hero. In Chicago, fans have been wearing "Mfoom Kboom" T-shirts, which show a ball bouncing off his cranium and the words: "You think you had a tough day at work?" At Camp Pendleton, Marines fired a 21-gun salute to the man they claimed embodied the "Ollie North spirit" by "taking a spear for the team." And Sen. Alan Simpson, co-sponsor of the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill, told the Senate that "this little Ethiopian has shown that an immigrant can still make it big in this great country if he's just willing to stand his ground and take his lumps like a true American."
Inevitably, the endorsement opportunities have come. Before last night's game, Mfoom taped his first TV commercial. The ad shows the Bruised One getting knocked down by a pitch, then rising to say, "A hard day got you feeling low? Try 'Mfoom's Mmagic Mpain Mkiller.' " In the next shot, Mfoom dances with a beautiful woman and says, "The secret ingredient in my smooth- tasting elixir will have you up and dancing in no time. It's Mmm-Mmm good."
The secret ingredient did not remain secret for long, however. Ralph Nader held a press conference to announce that his chemists had analyzed this "crude patent medicine" and found that "it consists simply of aspirin, Midol and Extra- Strength Tylenol dissolved in Thunderbird wine."
The only other negative note came when the Marxist government of Ethiopia denounced what it termed the "brutal capitalist exploitation" of Mfoom. "It is only too typical of the decadence of the racist imperialist West," said Radio Addis Ababa, "that one of our citizens is forced to submit to ritual brutality to earn his meager daily bread."
Asked for comment on the Ethiopian polemic, Mfoom simply pointed to his new cherry-red Maserati convertible and smiled. "No pain, no gain," he said. :: SENATORS STUFF: During team's road trip to Boston, right fielder and announced presidential candidate Gene McSparron opened New Hampshire campaign headquarters. "It's the bottom of the ninth, and this country is two runs behind," he said. "It's time to put a new manager in the White House and a new team on the field." His team, McSparron said, would include Oliver North as secretary of defense, Jesse Helms as secretary of state, Ivan Boesky as secretary of the treasury ("That should take care of the deficit") and Bernhard Goetz as attorney general. Asked if he would quit baseball if elected, he replied, "Oh, no. I'll be president as a hobby in the off-season, like hunting or fishing" . . . Lady Norelco has signed Emily Caitlin to advertising contract, making Senators' hill ace first female ballplayer to do shaving commercials . . . Owner Tang Ye-lin recently signed four new players to major league contracts -- Darryl Ripken, Reggie Ripken, Jim (Catfish) Ripken and Willie (Say Hey) Ripken. "There's no way I'm gonna let Ed Williams out-Ripken me," he boasted. :: AMERICAN LEAGUE STANDINGS East Division W L Pct. GB
New York 57 52 .523
Detroit 57 53 .518
1/2 Baltimore 56 54 .509 1 1/2 Washington 55 54 .505 2 Boston 53 55 .491 3 1/2 Milwaukee 53 56 .486 4 Cleveland 50 59 .459 7