Sunday, June 15, 2003

Sit down, Frankenstein - and fear the ultimate closer


From the hair to the 'tude, we've created one crazy pitcher

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Somebody cue Foghat and open the PBR tap. Rod Beck is back in the majors.

The game's strangest brotherhood - that of the closer - has its strangest character back. Sure, he's a little heavier and a little less hairy. Nonetheless, the Padres recently signed the man known as "Shooter" in many a clubhouse and roadhouse. A man who a few weeks ago was living in an RV behind the outfield wall at Triple-A Iowa, tossing back beers with fans after games.

And we at Top of the Second got to thinking. If he's not the quintessential closer, who is? Then, like Dr. Frankenstein and the two kids from Weird Science before us, we decided to build him.

And in a fashion typical of this page, style, not so much substance, is what counts. Here we go.

If there's one thing a closer needs, it's heat. So we're transplanting Billy Wagner's arm that throws the 100 mph fastball. We're also taking the size of Lee Smith (6 feet 6, 240 pounds). So that should add at least 2 or 3 mph.

Now, for a closer to be effective - or for our purposes, interesting - he also must have a weird windup or pitching motion. We're going to go with submariner Dan Quisenberry and his "hook the toe on the calf and throw the ball right before you fall down" delivery. Just like Von Hayes and collared White Sox unis, it's classic '80s.

Now that we've gotten all the pitching stuff out of the way, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Facial hair - an absolute must for any self-respecting closer. But whose was the best? The Rollie Fingers handlebar? The John Franco Italian Bensonhurst Brooklyn 'stache? The Rod Beck Fu Manchu? We're giving our ultimate closer all three. Why? Because we can.

And that brings us to ... (drum roll) ... the mullet - the business-in-front-party-in-back hairstyle that became a staple in the '80s for both closers and Euro-rockers. We'll use the permed-out Mitch Williams look combined with Dennis Eckersley's neck-warmer.

Speaking of fashion, our closer also will have the pig sty-dirty hat of John Wetteland, the "Oh my god, you're a psycho" clear sunglasses of Eric Gagne and the Run-DMC rope chain necklace Danny Graves wore out of the bullpen.

But a closer cannot make a name on looks alone. He has to have attitude. So we're injecting our reliever with the temperament of the Nasty Boys - the Reds' early '90s closers by committee. Norm Charlton once barreled over Mike Scioscia in a play at the plate; Rob Dibble threw a ball in the stands and injured a first-grade teacher; and Randy Myers knocked down a disgruntled fan with a forearm shiver after the fan ran onto the field.

Cuckoo, cuckoo.

But that's what it takes to be a closer. They all have that Travis Bickle streak.

And they all have a "thing." A calling card, a routine. Something that stands out. Our closer is getting two "things" - Wetteland's pregame ritual and Mike Fetters' pre-pitch ritual. Wetteland used to don hockey pads and skate around the stadium tunnels, firing slap shots off the walls. Fetters would look away from the hitter, then snap his head violently around in a stone-cold-killer stare. Wow.

Although this imaginary closer is already the scariest person on the planet, there's one final touch. The entrance. And no one did it better than John Rocker. It was always one final warmup pitch registering in the mid-90s, then right out of the gate on a dead sprint, looking like he wanted to tackle someone.

And that's frightening enough when it's Rocker. But this is a 6-6 beast-man with a filthy hat pulled down over two pounds of hair. A man who spent two hours before the game in hockey gear. A man with a 100 mph heater who's ready to snap.

Ha, ha, ha. HA, HA, HA. It's alive!

---

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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SUNDAY "PAGE TWO"
Sit down, Frankenstein - and fear the ultimate closer
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