BASEBALL fans like to argue about the most eccentric...

Salmagundi

August 11, 1993

BASEBALL fans like to argue about the most eccentric player of recent memory. Was it Mark "The Bird" Fidrych? Bill "Spaceman" Lee? Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky?

Funny, all three of those famous flakes were pitchers. And now comes Steven John "Turk" Wendell, a minor league hurler for the Chicago Cubs franchise, whose sundry quirks were the subject of a cover story in the August 8 issue of the New York Times Magazine.

Here, writer Pat Jordan describes Wendell's pre-pitch preparations:

"When Wendell is on the mound to start an inning, he waits for the ball from the umpire, who has already been warned by Wendell's catcher not to throw it to him. The umpire rolls the ball to Wendell as if he were playing boccie. And if the umpire throws the ball to Wendell at the start of an inning, he lets it hit him in the chest and drop to the ground before he'll pick it up. Wendell's explanation: 'I like to pick a ball up from the mound to start an inning.' If the catcher is standing, Wendell crouches. When his catcher finally crouches, Wendell stands and begins throwing.

" . . . Before he throws his first pitch, he must wave to his center fielder. The center fielder must wave back. If he doesn't, Wendell will wave to his right fielder, and if he doesn't wave back, he will wave to his left fielder . . . Wendell's explanation for this is that in high school his best friend, Jim Duquette, was the center fielder and they always waved to one another to start an inning.

" . . . After every inning, Wendell runs off the mound, dives into the dugout and immediately wraps his pitching arm in his favorite towel."

As Pat Jordan explains, these antics have made Wendell a favorite with the home town fans of Des Moines, Iowa. But they didn't sit well with teammates or club officials when he had a three-game cup of coffee with the big league Cubs earlier this year. Still, he has good stuff, so look for him to return to Chicago. Professional sports, which tend to be taken all too seriously these days, could always use another good flake.

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