Since you’ve arrived here, you probably remember at least a little about Kerfeld, one of the most colorful ballplayers of the late ’80s, kind of the John Daly of the Houston Astros. Here’s Charlie reacting to the death of Dave Smith, another Astros individualist, last year: “It brings back a ton of memories. Our lockers were right next to each other for all the years I was there. He was a great teammate. He always seemed to be able to take things in stride probably better than all of us.
“A California dude, that was what he was. He would relax and let things happen. It shakes you up a little bit. You realize how short life is and how you should enjoy every moment of it.
“He was probably one of the most giving people I ever met. He was probably known around the league as the best tipper around the league. (The news of his death) is a tough one. You ain’t supposed to go this early.”
Back in March 1986, in a spring profile of the guy who was about to become a minor sensation, the Houston Chronicle wrote:
“A quiet, nondescript bunch, the Astros have politely become baseball’s version of Holiday Inn. No surprises, no excitement. Fun? Not around here, and don’t you forget it.
Like the first wave of players who grew their hair long in the late 1960s, Kerfeld is a new breed of player. A child of the late ’70s, he thinks a song by Led Zeppelin qualifies as a golden oldie. First man on the moon? He was 6 years old when it happened. Where were you in ’62? Charlie was gleaming in his father’s eye.
In a sport where not much has changed in 30 years, especially the attitudes of the participants, a Charlie Kerfeld is viewed as a trailblazer.
But, in fact, all he is is just a 22-year-old kid acting like a 22-year-old kid. Kerfeld marches to the beat of a different drummer. The drummer, perhaps, of Oingo-Boingo or the B-52s or the Fat Boys, three of his favorite musical groups.
For recreation, Kerfeld has been known to step out for an evening of slam dancing, a ritual where partners bang each others’ heads. Ginger and Fred, it ain’t.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys like Charlie in my career,” said Nolan Ryan, a 19-year veteran, “but not many right-handers. I’ve seen a lot of left-handers like him, though.”
No one can be sure, but Kerfeld might be the first major-league player to wear a Jetsons’ T-shirt under his game jersey.
It’s just one in the Charlie Kerfeld line of spring ’86 undershirts.
“Let’s see, I brought the Jetsons, the Flintstones, Twisted Sister, AC/DC, the Go-Go’s, Devo and Twisted Brother.”
“Yeah, that’s our own band,” said Kerfeld. “Some buddies from home (Carson City, Nev.,) and me.”
A real band?
“Naw, we play air instruments. I play lead air guitar. You know, the top dog.”
Oh, of course.
“I’m 22 years old, and my mother still hasn’t figured me out,” said Kerfeld. “I think she’s given up.
“People don’t understand that I’m the same person I was when I was 14 years old. Only thing is I got a lot bigger, then I got smaller.”
Everybody knows that Kerfeld, never a Don Knotts to start with, went Balloon City last summer. His weight went all the way up to 284 pounds, which, spread over even a 6-foot-7 body, was quite a load to haul.
“The first thing I want to say about last year is that I was embarrassed,” said Kerfeld. “I let myself go, and I had to pay for it.”
When Kerfeld was called up from the minors in July, he weighed about 280 pounds. He really had no idea why he was called up, nor did many of the Astros. They snickered at his weight, as did everyone else who saw him squeeze into a uniform.
Within 24 hours of his recall, Kerfeld was on the mound in a sold-out Shea Stadium, making his major-league debut. Before the night was over, New York hadn’t laughed so hard since “Funny Girl “debuted.
In the first game of a double-header, the Mets scored 16 runs – all of them unearned. Top that, Charlie. No problem.
In the second game, Kerfeld took the mound. Lenny Dykstra, the Mets’ leadoff batter, took one look at Kerfeld’s girth, and decided a drag bunt might work.
Dykstra bunted, Kerfeld fielded and dived for the runner. Only about four steps late, he ended up sprawled in the first base coach’s box.
Things only got worse for Kerfeld. He gave up five hits, eight walks and six runs in three innings. It was a rude awakening to Kerfeld that a sense of humor doesn’t retire hitters in the big leagues.
“I wasn’t even close to the plate,” said Kerfeld. “That was the worst I’ve ever pitched, including Little League. There was nothing else to do but build from that.”