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I was thrilled to discover that my younger grandson has become, at the age of seven, an ace pitcher for his baseball team. I watched astounded on Sunday as he struck out three of four batters, his form and windup elegant. He was completely at ease, comfortable and confident, as if he’d been born on the mound. As thrilled as I was, and am, I began worrying almost immediately: so many pitchers in Major League Baseball are psychotic. My son and I, who constantly alter words to pop tunes, sing Psycho Pitcher, Q’est que ce? to the old Talking Heads tune.
Even if you don’t know who’s who, you can easily spot the pitchers in the dugout: they’re always huddled together—that is, unless sitting alone giving off that don’t you dare come near me vibe—as if only their pitching brothers understand the burden under which they toil. Which is probably true.To bolster my thesis, I’ve compiled a list of pitchers who exhibit psychotic tendencies.
Since I only follow a few select teams, these are but a small sampling of the much larger psycho pitcher population.
Roger Clemens: Now 45, Clemens has announced his retirement three or four times. Some time during the season following every “last” standing ovation, he shows up again, sometimes as late as July–something, by the way, nobody but Clemens can get away with. Notorious Act: Once threw a broken bat at Mets catcher Mike Piazza during a Subway Series game. (To see a hilarious video of Clemens in the year 2057, click here.)
David (Boomer) Wells: Likes to boast that he doesn’t need to work out like other players, that his regimen of drinking, smoking and motorcycle riding keeps
him fit as a fiddle. Notorious Act: Left Game 5 of the 2003 World Series after just 1.0 inning with a back injury, abandoning the Yankees.
Pedro Martinez—Proof that one can be lovably adorable and still crazy as a loon, Pedro once confessed, while with the Red Sox, that he just could not strike out those damn Yankees, adding, with inimitable charm, “They’re my Daddy.” This led to fan chants, at Yankee games, of Who’s your Daddy? every time Pedro took the mound.
Notorious Act: Knocked down Don Zimmer, claiming the 70-something Yankee bench coach was about to hit him–which, to the fans’ delight, set off another Yankee-Red Sox bench-clearing brawl.
Randy (The Big Unit) Johnson: So entirely weird, with his miles-long torso and the shaggy hairdo he wore when with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he looked like he’d just stepped out of the movie Deliverance. Once he became a Yankee, he had to cut his hair for Steinbrenner, but he still looked like he’d walked straight out of Central Casting.
Notorious Act: Upon his arrival in New York, got spooked by the papparazzi and blocked a camera lens with his hand, making nasty headlines and igniting anger in New Yorkers and Yankee fans (redundant phrase).
Note: in 2004, Johnson pitched a perfect game for the Diamondbacks.
Curt Schilling: Randy Johnson’s sidekick with the Diamondbacks evolved into his biggest rival, having defected to Boston before Johnson even got to New York (you couldn’t make up a better denouemont). Brags obnoxiously in press conferences that he’s going to cream whoever he’s playing the next day.
Notorious Act: Taking the name of his team literally, Schilling wore a white sock oozing with blood in a 2004 ALCS playoff game against, yup, the Yankees; Boston fans praised him as a mighty martyr. Trouble is, as we later discovered, the blood was as fake as his smile, which always comes out an arrogant smirk.
Notorious Act: Nothing compared to his colleagues, but because the effervescent Papelbon performs clog dances (or are they country? I can’t tell) with a big cigar in his mouth at the end of winning games, the media falls all over itself calling him CRAZY! What he is, though, is another threat to my Yankees.
Eric Gagné: Recently dumped after just one season with the Red Sox due to a dismal performance, it’s hard to believe he was once a ferocious closer for the Dodgers.Notorious Act: Pitching, period. I used to get scared just watching him.
Mariano Rivera: This man, THE best closer in the history of baseball, shall serve as my grandson’s role model. Rivera is nowhere near psycho, at least outwardly; who knows what goes through his head when he’s quietly brooding in a corner of the dugout? To me he seems to be deep in meditation, a spiritual buddha preparing for the ninth inning, when he slowly takes the mound, does his elegant windup, and strikes out the side like clockwork. Okay, so maybe he doesn’t do it quite as perfectly anymore—but hey, nobody’s perfect forever. Time was, nobody, but nobody, could get near Rivera’s pitches. One, two, three, they fell like flies. New batters’ eyes popped outta their heads when they swung at empty air. And Rivera primarily uses just one pitch, his cutter, which kills them again and again. Rivera began to slow down during the 2004 playoffs, but I had to laugh at the signs Red Sox fans began bringing to the games: Hey, Joe, send in Rivera—We Need the Hits.
Charitable Act: From what I’ve read, Rivera financially supports half his home town down in Panama.That’s the kind of pitcher my Lowell’s going to be. He’s already sensitive, kind, and thoughtful–and, as I said, completely at home on the mound. Besides, he’s got a grandma who’s passionate for great pitchers—even the psychos.
This post was written with the assistance of Daryl Hochheiser.