A mighty peculiar vehicle—a boat on wheels—is tooting about outside the Kingdome, and it begins to attract a crowd. No, it isn't a tugboat, someone explains; it's a fireboat, modeled after a vessel that still fights fires in Seattle's harbor. Seated on the bow, port and starboard, are Mariner relief pitchers Bill Caudill (pronounced "coddle"), 26, and Larry Andersen, 29. Since it's a half hour before game time, the two are in uniform. Caudill is the one with the life ring around his neck that reads RELIEF and the double-billed Sherlock Holmes-style baseball cap on his head. Both are holding pennants and programs. "Get your World Series tickets here!" they yell. "Step right up! Buy a program! Find out if this is really Julio Cruz!"
"Who are they?" one fan asks a friend.
"One of them's Caudill." A roll of the eyes. That explains it. The infamous Inspector. Cuffs.
The fireboat's bell rings—CLANG!—and Caudill winces at the noise. "It's still morning," he says to the boat's captain. "That's not really necessary, is it? Day games...." he moans.
"World Series tickets!"
"Inspector," says a middle-aged man, "bring us a World Series, will you?"
"Only if you buy a pennant."
The man buys a pennant. Business is brisk. Before a game a few weeks ago, Caudill and Andersen sold $500 worth of Mariners merchandise in 40 minutes, not a cent of which they kept. "The Inspector's the best thing to happen to Seattle since Boeing and the rain," says Craig Barrick, director of operations at the Kingdome. "For the first time, people here are actually talking baseball."
Talking baseball in Seattle isn't like talking baseball in, say. New York. Remember, this is the place where Funny Nose Glasses Night outdrew Gaylord Perry's 300th win by some 9,000 fans. Which makes it Caudill's type of town. In addition to his repertoire of pitches, Caudill possesses a genuine customs inspector's badge, a pair of handcuffs, two pink panthers, a calabash pipe, a Sherlock Holmes hat, two magnifying glasses, a Beldar the Conehead mask and, some Mariners suspect, several dozen packages of Jell-O. "I've had players on my teams as goofy as Caudill," says Seattle Manager Rene Lachemann, "...as outgoing...? No, outgoing isn't the word, goofy's the word, but none that were also as important to the team."
Important's not the word, either. Essential is. Billy Martin's All-Star selections notwithstanding, Caudill—a/k/a Cuffs, a/k/a the Inspector—is statistically the top relief pitcher in the American League this year with a better ERA and winning percentage, fewer hits allowed per inning, and more saves per opportunity than All-Stars Rich Gossage, Mark Clear, Rollie Fingers and Dan Quisenberry. Caudill is the primary reason the Mariners are involved in their first pennant race in their sorry six-year (344-521) history. He leads the Mariners with a 10-4 record and a club-record 19 saves. In fact, the entire Seattle bullpen, which tops the league in appearances with 209, has been sensational. The Mariners are 23-16 in one-run games, and 43-11 in games in which they have been tied or ahead entering the seventh inning. Caudill is the short man; he has made only two appearances before the eighth inning since April 21. Nearly as effective as Caudill have been the middle men, lefty Ed Vande Berg (53 appearances, 2.41 ERA) and righthander Mike Stanton (44 appearances, 2.48 ERA), who have the job of holding things in line until Caudill comes in. "Every team has to start somewhere," Caudill says, "and the Mariners started with a great bullpen—the best in baseball, I think. Hey, we're not that far out. We're for real."
In the second half of last season, Mariner relievers entered games with 127 runners on base and allowed 50 to score—39%. This year they've come into games with 254 men on base, and only 52 have scored. That's 20%. Caudill is the man Lachemann usually calls on to get the final outs, the way the Yankees use Gossage. "He gets the saves and the publicity," says Lachemann, "but he lets the rest of the relievers know that he needs them before he can get in there. They know he means it, too, because Cuffs filled the same role for Bruce Sutter when he was with the Cubs."
Ah, those Cubbies. Last April Fools' Day, the Cubs traded Caudill to the Yankees to complete a deal made last summer. Exactly 22 minutes later the Yankees sent Caudill along with Outfielder Bobby Brown and Pitcher Gene Nelson to the Mariners for Reliever Shane Rawley. It was a deal George Steinbrenner later called "The worst we've made this year." For their part, the Cubs still maintain it was a swell trade. "Success in baseball is not a half-a-year thing or a one-year thing," says Cub General Manager Dallas Green. "It develops over a period of years, and Bill didn't have good years with the Cubs."
Adds Cub Manager Lee Elia: "Caudill had a good arm. But I found out that he couldn't put his body down at night. History had shown here that he couldn't adapt to day games."
History has shown that the Chicago Cubs cannot adapt to day games—they are 37 years between pennants, and counting. So Caudill is a night person, what of it? "Show me a Chicago Cub without sacks under his eyes," says Caudill, "and I'll show you a Cub who's only been with the team two weeks."
The Chicago experience was a bitter one for Caudill, and taped to his refrigerator in Bellevue, Wash, is a clipping from the Chicago Sun-Times proclaiming him ex-Chicago player of the first half of 1982—nipping out such luminaries as Andre Thornton, Steve Renko, Larry Gura, Geoff Zahn and Pete Vuckovich. In 1979, his rookie year, Caudill was 1-7 with the Cubbies, but he showed his promise on the next-to-last day of the season. In a nationally televised game, he kept the Pirates from clinching the pennant by pitching 3‚Öì innings of scoreless relief, winning in the 13th inning. Twice he struck out Willie Stargell, that year's MVP, thereby stranding a total of four men. Afterward Stargell predicted a great future for Caudill, and it seemed that his future arrived in 1980. That season Caudill had a 2.18 ERA and allowed only 100 hits in 128 innings, while striking out 112. It was Sutter, however, the finisher, who picked up the saves. He had-28 to Caudill's one. "I thought it was an honor to have my name before his in the box scores," Caudill says now. "You have to pay your dues."
In 1981, Caudill practically went bankrupt. "I had started the 1980 season weighing 195, but I reported for camp in 1981 at 175 and lost two feet off my fastball," he says. The weight loss was well-intentioned, but it left him weak. The result was a 1-5 record and a 5.83 ERA. He very nearly quit baseball. "I pitched a game against San Francisco last August and gave up two home runs in an inning," Caudill says. "Joey Amalfitano came out and said 'Give me that ball' and some other things I won't repeat. I went in and started packing my bags. I packed for an hour. I put the same pair of shoes in and out six times, 'I can't quit baseball' (shoes out). 'I've got to' (shoes in). 'I can't.' 'Yes I can...' I was a scared puppy. Finally Dick Tidrow came in and talked me out of it."
"I wouldn't go that far," Tidrow said recently. "I encouraged him to learn from the experience. He either learned, got healthy, or both—because when he came to camp this year he was throwing as well as he had in 1980."
Caudill spent last winter pitching in Venezuela, and when he reported to spring training this year, his weight was back up to a comfortable 202. "Dallas Green told me if I pitched decently, I'd go north with the club," says Caudill. "My first time out I gave up five runs, but after that I threw 16‚Öî scoreless innings. I guess that wasn't decent." Just before the Cubs broke camp, Green told Caudill that he wouldn't be going to Chicago after all, and shortly thereafter Caudill was a Mariner.
Caudill's only direct link to the Mariners at that time was Bob Harrison, Seattle's superscout. In 1974, Harrison, then working for the Cardinals, signed Caudill to his first contract after Caudill graduated from Aviation High School in Redondo Beach, Calif. Eight years later, Harrison still vouched for Caudill's arm. For his part, Lachemann had seen Caudill pitch winter ball in Puerto Rico a few years back and recalled that televised game in which he threw the ball right past Stargell. "I needed a guy we could call on to get a strikeout," says Lachemann, "especially in the Kingdome with its short porches and fast infield."
Caudill proved his worth during two games in the Kingdome July 7 and 8. The first night, the Orioles and Mariners were tied 7-7 when Caudill came on in the ninth inning with a man on first, none out. He struck out Ken Singleton, Cal Ripken and John Lowenstein, and eventually got the win. The next night he again entered the game in the ninth, this time with the Mariners leading 4-3, an Oriole on first, none out. The first batter, Rich Dauer, sacrificed the runner to second, bringing up Singleton and Eddie Murray. "If I'm Baltimore," says Richie Zisk, the Mariners' designated hitter, "those are the two guys I want batting." Caudill struck them out on six pitches. "That's when I thought we had someone special in Cuffs," says Zisk. "Now I just take him for granted."
Caudill throws three different fast-balls—one that runs in, one that runs out and one that rises, starting at the waist and ending up somewhere around the chin. "When he's got his good velocity, there are maybe 10 hitters in the big leagues that can hit that high one," says Mariner Catcher Rick Sweet.
"He's had as awesome a first half as I've seen by any pitcher," says Seattle Starter Jim Beattie. "The few times that he's gotten hit hard it hasn't bothered him. He knows he'll do the job the next day."
One such instance came in a recent game against the Yankees, when Caudill relieved Vande Berg with Seattle holding a 5-1 eighth-inning lead. After John Mayberry hit a run-scoring single, Graig Nettles hit a three-run homer to tie the game, but Seattle—and Caudill—went on to win in the ninth, 6-5. "Hey, even Betty Crocker burns a cake once in a while," the unflappable Caudill told Beattie, who had started the game. The next night Caudill came back and pitched 4‚Öî innings of one-hit ball—his longest stint of the season—to beat the Yankees 6-5 yet again.
"The attitude under Lachemann is 'Have fun, enjoy the game, and win,' " says Caudill. "In Chicago it was 'Win first, then you can have some fun.' As Gaylord Perry says, 'You've got to get people relaxed so that they can win.' "
Caudill was dubbed the Inspector after the Mariners went 2-7 on their first road trip. "It could have been 7-2 if we'd had some timely hitting," said Caudill. So when the team returned to the King-dome, Caudill put on his Sherlock Holmes cap and inspected the bat rack for the missing hits. He would pull out a bat, check its grain, feel its balance, thump it like a watermelon, then throw it away. Inspector Clouseau, they called him. The name stuck, and pretty soon fans were sending him magnifying glasses. When Caudill strode in from the bullpen, the organist played The Pink Panther Theme. Da-dum-da-dum.... The fans loved it. By Seattle standards, they went absolutely wild. Strike One...(da-dum-da-dum)...Strike Two...(da-dum-da-dum)...Strike Three!...(wild applause and the rest of the song). It was the first time anyone could remember Seattleites reacting in such a manner for a pitcher. Recently, Kingdome fans were even heard to boo an umpire's call when the Inspector walked a batter. "Seattle fans never boo anything," says Diana Bowser, Caudill's fiancée.
Caudill earned his other nickname—Cuffs—in Cleveland, during the second road trip. Caudill had closed the bar at the team hotel and was hanging around the lobby at 2:30 a.m., when two hotel security guards ordered him to his room. The guards put Caudill on an elevator three times, and three times Caudill came back down to the lobby. The third time, one of the guards slapped a pair of handcuffs on him. "The guy wanted to take me downtown, but Lach talked him out of it," Caudill says, grinning.
To commemorate the incident, Zisk bought the Inspector his very own set of handcuffs. Since then players and clubhouse personnel have found themselves handcuffed in bizarre locations for a variety of offenses. The most recent victim was Lachemann's 13-year-old son, Britt, who wound up handcuffed to a Nautilus machine in the pitch dark after calling Caudill "Blimpy." (Britt eventually picked the lock with a paper clip.) "I've never been around someone as vindictive as Caudill," says Zisk, who had his shoes stolen on a recent team charter and was reduced to driving home in his stocking feet. "No one's really safe when he gets into one of his tantrums. He's a very unpredictable and unstable individual."
In June, during a rain delay in Detroit, Caudill pranced onto the field wearing Andersen's Conehead mask and Gaylord Perry's jersey with a pillow stuffed into it and did his Perry impression—wiping grease from behind the ears and the eyebrows of the Conehead mask. For a while, Caudill thought it was hilarious, until..."Next thing I knew this big body was tackling me, then wringing my neck, saying, 'I'm going to kill you, sucker.' 'Gaylord, Gaylord! It was just a joke!' "
One day Perry and Caudill collaborated to steal the keys to the fireboat, which was originally intended to carry Mariner relief pitchers to the mound. "I'll be damned if anybody's going to come in and pitch for me riding a tugboat," said Perry. He instituted a $100 fine for any reliever who rode in. No one did. Later, the two pitchers tried to sink the U.S.S. Mariner, a ship that rises from behind the centerfield wall to fire a cannon whenever a Mariner hits a home run, but Caudill couldn't locate any fuses. "I think she's unsinkable," he reported.
"Most of your relief pitchers are on the carefree side," says Bullpen Coach Bill Plummer, a former Cincinnati Red. "Pedro Borbon was a flake. Will McEnaney. Cuffs is like that. I'll tell you, if you ever sit out there, bring a raincoat."
Caudill learned water pranks from Tidrow, who would put pinholes in paper cups in the Cubs' dugout. "Guys would take a drink and wonder how they got soaked," says Caudill. Once this season he cut the bottoms out of two paper cups, held them to his eyes, gazed at the sky and muttered, "Weird...wow...far out. Vandy, you've got to try this," he told Vande Berg. When Vande Berg looked skyward through the cups, Caudill dumped in two cupfuls of water. "Some guys are so easy to sucker it takes the fun out of it," says Caudill.
On May 30, the Mariners trailed Boston 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, when Caudill and Andersen decided it was time to invent Rally Caps. They turned their hats inside out, and the Mariners promptly scored two runs to win. The next night the cap trick worked again, against the Brewers. "We're 8-3 so far with the Rally Caps," says Caudill. "If Lach sees we have them on, he's not allowed to bunt. Strange things begin to happen to batted balls."
The truth is, strange things have been happening to Lachemann ever since Caudill joined the Mariners—stranger even than winning games. Once in Chicago, Lachemann returned to his hotel suite after a night on the town to find—egads! Mr. Jell-O had struck! All the light bulbs had been unscrewed, the furniture was crammed into the bathrooms, and the telephone transmitter had been removed so that when Lachemann called Zisk, his first suspect, his accusation went unheard.
"O.K. I know it was you or [Tom] Paciorek."
"Who's calling at this hour of the morning?"
"Who is this?"
When Lachemann finally cleared the bathroom, he couldn't use the John because it had been filled with Jell-O. Eventually, Caudill became Lachemann's prime suspect, but Diana—Caudill's fiancée—provided an airtight alibi; Caudill, she said, was with her at their friend Howard Fagenholtz's house. Lachemann posted a $250 reward for information leading to the apprehension of Mr. Jell-O and offered the Inspector a paid weekend for two to Arizona if he'd help solve the case. Caudill refused, and went so far as to bet Lachemann $100 that he wouldn't uncover the perpetrator before Aug. 14. "I don't think he knows who did it," says Lachemann. "He claims that he knows a lot of things just because his name's the Inspector."
Since that episode, Lachemann has been inundated by Jell-O. Bowls of it have been delivered to his hotel rooms. Stewardesses offer it with his meals. He has found it in his cans of beer. A set of incriminating Jell-O-gate tapes even surfaced tabbing former Mariner Paciorek, now with the White Sox, as the culprit—and then were mysteriously erased. The other week in Baltimore Lachemann's favorite tennis shoes were stolen, and before the next day's game he smelled burning rubber coming from the clubhouse. He ran back to find Caudill and Andersen scurrying away from a smoldering pair of tennis shoes—not Lachemann's—they had torched to antagonize him. Says Lachemann, "Caudill's got my shoes, and I'll promise you—they'll turn up one day in a bowl of Jell-O." (He's right.)
Says Caudill: "The only word in pranksterism is originality. I want to pull pranks that people will talk about for 10 or 12 years. There's only one time that the looseness ends, and that's when they say, 'Caudill, start throwing.' You've got to smile even if you lose. I can see baseball ruining my sundown, but I can't see it ruining my sunup. Every day's a new one in this game."
To remind himself of that fact, Caudill keeps his old Cubs hat in his locker, "Just so if I ever get down, I'll remember that things aren't as bad as they could be," he says. "I remember that day I almost quit, Tidrow told me, 'Baseball isn't just an escape, it's reality.'
"He said to me—we were there four, five hours after the game—'If you're a man, and you're my friend, you'll show me how good you can be.' "