Closing Ranks: High-Energy Hijinks from Baseball Closers

Kooky closers no stranger to the late innings

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 13: National League All-Star Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants waves to fans during the 6th Annual MLB All-Star Red Carpet Show outside Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 13, 2010 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

    So, a Mad Hungarian, a Goose and a guy off his Rocker walk into a bar ... and they get some chin music from the bartender -- known as Fear the Beard -- for no damn good reason.

    The punchline (or lack of)? For reasons not quite understood, closing pitchers have a tradition of being, at best, unpredictable. At worst? Nuts.

    The San Francisco Giants closer, Brian Wilson, is topping the news cycles during the World Series -- mostly thanks to the coal-black beard he sports (read: he dyes it). Sometimes, though, the interest is in archived interviews where he admits to being a mental assassin and a ninja (in his mind).

    And, of course, there's always The Machine -- Wilson's S&M neighbor who often "comes over for sugar" and who "doesn't talk much." (Machine appears about 35 seconds into the video.) Apparently, it's an ongoing joke with Fox's Chris Rose.

    Wilson is the one who sparked the wildly successful "fear the beard" battle cry for Giants fans when he decided to dye his facial hair  pitch black.  Facebook has an app that automatically places a beard on your profile photo and thousands signed on immediately.

    Recently Wilson told The NY Times he wanted to be in one of their crossword puzzles, too, but only as a down answer : "I want my clue to be down, not across. The down ones are usually harder. And when I’m the clue, I’ll fill it in — just that one — and frame it. How sweet would that be?”

    It does take a certain, um, 'specialness' to be a closer. The pressure can be immense, for instance. An entire city's months-long investment in a team's performance resting on your next pitch to the opposing team's most feared-and-hated batter? They write poems and songs about such things.

    Dr. Roland Carlstedt has done serious academic research on this topic. He told us you can't extrapolate how a person "works" by seeing his quirks.

    "If people are excessively quirky, that's actually a negative trait (for success)," Carlstedt said. "On the other hand, if they are physically imposing ... then personality may or may not come into play."

    Some other historic closers:

    * Al Hrabosky, aka The Mad Hungarian: With a pre-pitch ritual of breathing "exercises," a supreme psych-up and a slam of the ball into his glove -- all with his back turned to the batter -- his was one of the better performances.

    * Rollie Fingers: Sporting a stellar 'stache, Fingers was an icon for a while, especially when he was with the Oakland A's. On a team of eccentrics like the 1970s Athletics (Vida Blue says he was on acide when he threw a no-hitter, for instance), his remarkable arm -- and grooming -- made for good entertainment.

    John Rocker: Having a cannon for an arm is not license to offend an entire city. Especially New York City. But that's what he did. Widely deemed homophobic, xenophobic, racist and a few other choice descriptions, Rocker was reviled for most of his 15 minutes of fame. Even Jay Leno had a Rocker dummy that people struck with baseball bats. His website touts his charitable work, however. It just hasn't been updated since 2005.

    * Richard 'Goose' Gossage: Goose had an equally sweet 'stache as Fingers, only it was blonde and less imposing. At least on TV. But at the plate? Probably the last thing a hitter was thinking, because Gossage was no stranger to the high-and-inside aspect of pitching. Bonus points for doing it for the Yankees, too.

    Tug McGraw: Mostly included here for his creativity and boyish charm -- and an amazing capacity for cheeking some chewing tobacco. Wow, seriously Tug?? Possibly responsible for an entire generation of boys getting in trouble for trying some chaw in Little League. McGraw did write a book, showing his creativity needed more outlets than 90-mph sliders: "Lumpy: A Baseball Fable."

    Some honorable mentions would include Sparky Lyle, Kent Tekulve, Dan Quisenberry and Dennis Eckersley, but only b/c of facial hair or quirky deliveries.