Wayne Hattaway, a longtime equipment manager, trainer and clubhouse attendant in the Minnesota Twins organization known as “Big Fella,” has died. He was 80.
The Twins said Hattaway died in hospice after a short battle with cancer in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
“He loved baseball,” said Charley Walters, who worked with Hattaway as a player in the late 1960s and was a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter for years afterward. “Baseball was his life.”
Hattaway never played professionally, but he started a long career in baseball as a batboy for the Mobile Bears at age 12. He joined the Twins with their minor league club in Dallas in 1962, and in 2002 joined the major league team as a part-time equipment manager but also worked as an assistant trainer.
“He liked to think of himself as a trainer, but he was more of a clubhouse guy than a trainer,” said longtime Twins scouting chief Jim Rantz, who shared a birthday with Hattaway and met him when he played for the Dallas Rangers.
“He would always brag about his strong hands. He’d say, ‘I’ve got strong hands and the pitchers all come to me. Of course, his big line was, ‘See ya after the second inning, big fella.'"
Those jabs, mostly playful but sometimes not, were Hattaway’s calling card, and they helped keep Twins clubhouses loose for almost 60 years. The only stop in Minnesota’s organization he didn’t make was Triple-A.
“I first met Wayne Hattaway in 1993 when I first signed,” said former Twins all-star center fielder Torii Hunter. “I flew to Fort Myers, Fla., and the first two people I saw were Jerry White and Wayne Hattaway, and the first thing Wayne says was, ‘I hope you’re better than the last first-rounder.’ I was like, who is this guy?”
Asked how Hattaway got his nickname, Walters said, “Because he called everybody ‘big fella.’ ” Or, as anyone who crossed paths with Hattaway knows, “Big ‘un.”
Hattaway was known throughout the major leagues, in part because he had worked with so many baseball men over the years, such as Don Zimmer and Charlie Manuel, and in part because, as former Twins general manager Terry Ryan said, “Once you met Wayne, you never forgot him.”
“He was quick-witted; he always had a one-liner — and most, if not all, were not all that complimentary,” Ryan said. “He’d take a shot at just about anybody, it didn’t matter who you were. He was a classic character.”
Walters met Hattaway in 1968 when he was a member of Minnesota’s instructional league team in St. Petersburg, Fla. When Walters was sent down to Charlotte, N.C., in 1969, Hattaway was there.
“He was our equipment guy, locker room/clubhouse guy,” Walters said. “I remember a game when I got knocked out in the first inning. It was hot and I felt awful, I’m sweating like crazy, and I’m sitting in the clubhouse alone. Wayne comes up to me and slaps me on the back and says, ‘Don’t worry, Shooter. We don’t blame you, we blame the scout who signed you.’
“He would needle guys all the time, I wasn’t the only one. But he was a beloved guy, a real no-nonsense guy.”
Hattaway was slowing down by the time the Twins moved into Target Field in 2010, but with Ron Gardenhire managing, and Ryan and Billy Smith serving as general manager, he always had a place in the Twins’ clubhouse.
“Billy and I tried to do right by Wayne,” Ryan said. “Every organization has a person like Wayne, a guy that’s been around forever and lives for baseball, it’s what gets him up in the morning. He was great for the camaraderie in the clubhouse and organization.
“Every guy from Tony Oliva and Harmon and Rod Carew, just about right down to the present roster, darn near everybody was familiar with Big Fella.”
Hattaway was married at the Hornets’ park in Charlotte, Walters said.
“I was at his wedding in 1969, the whole team was,” he said. “We all held up bats from home plate to the pitcher’s mound and they walked underneath the bats after the ceremony at home plate. Everybody loved Wayne.”
After baseball, Hattaway’s great love was Alabama football, and he often wore a Crimson Tide cowboy hat in the clubhouse. Hunter recalled a time when the team was going out together and Hattaway stayed home to watch the Alabama football game on television.
“When we came back, Wayne had impaled the TV on a fence pole because Alabama lost,” Hunter said. “He would say, ‘There are only two powerful beings in the world, God and Bear Bryant.’ ”
“It’s the end of an era, for sure, with the passing of Wayne,” Hunter added, “especially for the Minnesota Twins.”