Glad Times For Mad Dog

May 09, 1983
May 09, 1983

Table of Contents
May 9, 1983

The Lakers
Special K
Derby Dilemma
Bill Madlock

Glad Times For Mad Dog

Belying his nickname, Pirate Bill Madlock has a rein on his explosive temper and a hold on the good life

Not too long ago, Bill Madlock was known, if he was known at all, as a troublemaker and sorehead. In fact, last Sunday—May Day—marked the third anniversary of the infamous glove facial that Madlock administered to Umpire Jerry Crawford. Long after the red on Crawford's nose faded, the incident marked Madlock as a villain and gave deeper meaning to his nickname, which was and still is Mad Dog.

This is an article from the May 9, 1983 issue Original Layout

Time heals all wounds. Today Mad Dog is one of the most respected players in the game and one of the better paid, with a guaranteed $850,000 a year. He's Willie Stargell's successor as captain of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the only active athlete serving as an advisor to The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Madlock is also a collector of clocks, a fledgling restaurateur and a loving father of four, the fourth having arrived on April 21 in the nine-pound person of Jeremy Jacob.

As Lucius Seneca (not to be confused with Lew Fonseca) said some 1,900 years ago, "Time discovers truth." Time may have discovered the truth about Madlock, but the world at large hasn't as yet discovered Madlock—a third baseman with an incredibly compact swing who's one of three players in baseball history to have more batting titles (three) than invitations to the All-Star Game (two).

His lifetime batting average of .316 is the highest of any righthanded hitter in the majors, but also the highest overall in the National League, which unfortunately for Madlock happens to be the league in which Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt plays third and Pete Rose once starred at that position. Madlock is also the only righty to win the National League batting title in the last decade.

He hits not only for average but with power as well. While finishing second in the batting race to Montreal's Al Oliver last year (.319 to .331), he had career highs in home runs, with 19, and RBIs, 95. His career totals stack up quite favorably with the much more famous George Brett, who broke into the majors a month before Madlock did, in September of 1973. Based on a 600-at-bat season, the Kansas City third baseman hits .31633 with 15 homers, 87 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. Madlock hits .31628 with 15 homers, 78 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. Nine RBIs a year does not seem to justify the discrepancy in publicity. "I'm actually getting used to being ignored," says Madlock. "It's nice in a way. Every year my wife, Cynthia, and I make reservations for Las Vegas at the All-Star break."

It would be one thing if all Madlock could do was hit. But he's a much better fielder than most people recognize—no third baseman in the league, Schmidt included, is better at handling bunts. When it comes to base running, Madlock not only can steal, but there isn't anyone who's better than he at breaking up double plays. He's so savvy on the field that Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner entrusts him with the defensive signals.

It would be another thing if his personality were bland or dull. Madlock is anything but. He's eminently quotable: honest, forthright and humorous. For instance, Madlock took a look at the Pirates' Opening Day roster and said, "Great. We have five catchers, one backup infielder and no defensive outfielders. But what do I know? I'm not the general manager."

Madlock, who usually gets off to a slow start during the baseball season, didn't get off to a great start in life, either. Born in Memphis on Jan. 12, 1951, he never knew his father, and before he was a month old, his mother gave him to her mother, Annie Polk, to raise. When Bill was two he and Annie moved to Decatur, Ill. There his grandmother was helped in bringing him up by his aunt and uncle, Sarah and Wardie Sain.

At Dwight D. Eisenhower High in Decatur, he earned nine letters and the heart of Cynthia Johnson, even though she went to rival Stephen Decatur High. "He was on the shy side," she says, "but essentially the same person he is now." He was an all-state halfback—he rushed for five touchdowns in a game against Mattoon, none of them covering less than 50 yards—and in his senior year more than 100 schools checked him out with an eye to offering a football scholarship. Only two wanted him for baseball. For Madlock, the choice was easy. "I didn't want to have 6'5", 250-pound guys bearing down on me, so I decided to play baseball," he says.

He and Cynthia married and moved to Keokuk, Iowa, where he attended Southwestern Iowa Community College. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in June 1969 on the 14th round, but Madlock didn't like the idea of playing shortstop, his primary position, behind Dal Maxvill. "I figured he'd be there forever," says Madlock, who declined to sign. Sara, his first child, was born in December, and in January of '70, the Washington Senators—time does fly—selected him in the secondary phase of the draft.

The Senators sent him to Geneva, N.Y. in the summer. "We've had some bad times," says Madlock, "but Geneva was the worst." Says Cynthia, "Nobody wanted to rent a place to a black family." The Madlocks lived in a boardinghouse and developed a friendship with the Yalie first baseman on the team, Steve Greenberg. son of Hank Greenberg. "I outhit him .277 to .269 and we both had six homers," says Greenberg, who's now Madlock's agent and the person for whom they named their oldest son.

At Pittsfield the next year, Madlock batted .234. "I would not have bitched if they'd released me then and there," he says. "I was awful. I figured the quickest way to the majors was to be an infielder who hit home runs, when actually that was the quickest way back to Decatur." Madlock did have one notable moment that year, though. A gangly batter for Waterbury hit a triple, and when the Pittsfield pitcher tried to pick the opponent off third, Madlock slapped a hard tag on his head. "He chased me all the way into left field," Madlock recalls. "Good thing I didn't catch him," says 6'5" Dave Parker, now the 5'11" Madlock's closest friend.

Madlock turned things around at Pittsfield the next year, batting .328. "The guy I have to credit is Joe Klein, who was the manager at Pittsfield," says Madlock. "He stuck with me." Klein, now the general manager at Texas, declines any credit. "He just grew up, that's all," says Klein. "It was really a matter of toning him down. He already had that short swing, but he learned to be more selective. And he stayed aggressive, I'll say that. I still remember one fight we had with Waterbury that he was involved in."

In 1973 Madlock overwhelmed the Pacific Coast League, hitting .338 with 22 homers and 90 RBIs for Spokane while leading the league in runs and total bases. In September he was called up by the Rangers and batted .351 in 21 games. "On the plane back from our last road game," says Madlock, "Billy Martin, who was our manager, came up to me and told me that I would be his third baseman for years to come." A month later Madlock and Vic Harris were traded to the Chicago Cubs for Ferguson Jenkins. Bad Trade No. 1.

Madlock was not exactly welcomed with open arms by Chicago because 1) the Cubs traded Jenkins for him and 2) he was replacing Ron Santo at third. He was also coming off a horrible experience in the Dominican Republic, where the officials had threatened to put him in jail because he was hitting so badly they thought he was throwing games. "Parker saved me," says Madlock. "We were living together, and he told the Santiago club to leave me alone or he would leave. Fortunately, he was leading the league in batting at the time."

Madlock got off to his usual bad start at the plate and was, he admits, "terrible" in the field. But he hit .313 and in 1975 he batted .354 to become, at 24, the second-youngest player ever to win the league's batting title. He drove in 64 runs even though a badly bruised thumb kept him out of the lineup most of September. "I was still far from being a complete ballplayer," he says. "I would make two errors in a game, but I wouldn't care as long as I got my three hits. It's like that playing for a losing team." Madlock was named to the All-Star team that year and got the game-winning hit.

In 1976 Madlock repeated as batting champion, although this time it was a little harder. For one thing, he was mugged and robbed of $50 outside the Waldorf-Astoria in New York with nine days to go in the season and had to check into a Chicago hospital with a slight concussion. And going into the final game of the season, he trailed Cincinnati's Ken Griffey by five points. The Reds decided to keep Griffey out of the lineup to protect his lead, but Madlock went out and went 4 for 4 to pass Griffey. When the Reds, who were keeping track, found out, they inserted Griffey in the lineup, and he went 0 for 2, so Madlock won the title, .339 to .336. The Cub who went to the All-Star Game that year was Catcher Steve Swisher, who batted .236.

After the season, Madlock became involved in a contract dispute with the Cubs' 82-year-old owner Philip K. Wrigley. "I never really fit into the Cubs' image of a player," he says, "although you might think that after all those years of losing, they might want to change their image." It was the dawn of free agency, and Madlock and Greenberg were asking for a salary commensurate with that of a two-time batting champion. Wrigley then put Madlock on the block, saying. "We'll trade Madlock if another team is foolish enough to have him." Wrigley also predicted that Madlock would have a very short career because of injuries. So on Feb. 11. 1977 Madlock and Infielder Rob Sperring were sent to the San Francisco Giants for Outfielder Bobby Murcer, Infielder Steve Ontiveros and Pitcher Andrew Muhlstock. Bad Trade No. 2. Cynthia and Bill also had Child No. 3 (Douglas) in that off-season.

Madlock liked the Giants' organization, but he absolutely hated Candlestick Park. He hit .302 and .309 in 1977 and '78, but they were soft years with only 46 and 44 RBIs, respectively. In his second season in San Francisco, he played nearly every game at second base. In the meantime, he was getting ejected a lot. In fact, Madlock was working on an unofficial major league record he still holds: most stadiums thrown out of (11). Dodger Stadium is believed to be the only one in which he hasn't received the boot.

Madlock remained with the Giants until June 28, 1979. A few days before, owner Bob Lurie, whom Madlock still respects, had told Greenberg it was safe for Madlock to put $130,000 down on a house near San Francisco. Then Madlock was traded to Pittsburgh, along with Pitcher Dave Roberts and Infielder Lenny Randle, for pitchers Ed Whitson. Al Holland and Fred Breining. Bad Trade No. 3.

"I remember very well when Bill came over," says Parker, "because just before the trade, Pete Peterson [the Pirates' executive vice-president] and Chuck Tanner called me and Stargell for a special meeting. Pete said he had a chance to get Madlock from the Giants and asked us what we thought of him as a player. At the same time, Willie and I said, 'If you get him, we'll win the division.' " Parker and Madlock are now neighbors in the bucolic suburb of Allison Park and in-laws of sorts—Parker's brother married Madlock's sister. Madlock also has another home in Decatur and a condominium in Sarasota, Fla.

In 85 games, Madlock batted .328 and fielded better than anyone thought possible. Even for the outspoken Madlock, the Pirates were a little hard to adjust to. "Though we were the Fam-a-lee," he says, "even then it wasn't exactly The Brady Bunch. I couldn't believe it, because they reacted the same after a win or a loss. No game faces and loud music." Madlock batted .375 in the '79 World Series against Baltimore, with a 4 for 4 performance in Game 5.

It was on one of his trips to Las Vegas that Madlock started collecting clocks. "I looked in a store window and saw this beautiful Chinese pedestal clock. It was $4,000, and I left and came back three times before I finally got the nerve to buy it."

Since then, Madlock has accumulated 32 clocks—grandfather, grandmother. European, Early American, even eight Japanese clocks he acquired on an all-star tour. Begging your indulgence for just a moment, clocks contain four groups of working parts. The driving mechanism, which can be either a weight or a coiled spring, supplies the power and tries to drive the clock as fast as possible. The controlling mechanism, or escapement, allows the clock to run just so fast and no faster, and it's the most complicated and delicate part of the clock. The transmitting mechanism, or time train, simply communicates the movement of the drive to the controlling mechanism. The indicating mechanism, which includes the hands, tells what time it is.

Madlock's difficulties on the field have never had anything to do with his driving mechanism. He has always played hard. But for a long time his controlling mechanism wasn't right. A clock should be wound regularly, but it should not be wound too tight. Madlock was. His performance in San Francisco also had something to do with the cold weather, which is bad for clocks.

Moving to Pittsburgh helped him, but he still wasn't quite in synch. On May 1, 1980 Pittsburgh was playing Montreal, and with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, Madlock tried to check his swing on a pitch from David Palmer. Home plate umpire Crawford called it strike three.

"Actually, the whole thing started when [Pirate Shortstop] Tim Foli asked me if it was a swing or a called strike," Crawford recalls. "I started to say, 'It was a swing and a strike,' but all I got out was 'It was a swing....' and Madlock started arguing."

Madlock started arguing with his glove, which a teammate had routinely brought him from the bench. He hit Crawford in the face with the glove. "Right on the bone underneath my nose," says Crawford, "and it stung."

Madlock was ejected, more for his profanity than anything else. But Expo President John McHale saw the incident and called League President Chub Feeney, asking for a stiff penalty. Madlock was hit with the largest fine for an on-the-field incident, $5,000, and the second-longest suspension, 15 days, in history.

The incident was just what it took to make Madlock realize that he had to unwind. He has been thrown out of only two games since then, and Crawford says, "There's no question he's calmed down. He's changed, which is great, because a guy of his ability doesn't have to do the things to umpires that he was doing."

Cynthia says, "He settled down quite a bit on the field after that. Before, he was like night and day. Off the field he was gentle, never hotheaded. Now he's more like himself on the field." Says Greenberg, "The Crawford incident was a benchmark. Now if he disagrees with an umpire, he uses his charm, which can be considerable."

In the strike-shortened '81 season, Madlock batted .341 for his third title. Last year, with Parker and Stargell out of the lineup for extended periods, Madlock realized that the Pirates needed more power, so he willingly sacrificed his average for more home runs. Seven of his 19 homers came after the sixth inning, with three of them game-winners, while another broke a tie. And in September, Tanner announced that Madlock would replace Stargell as the Pirate captain.

Madlock injured his left knee during training this spring and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery. With typical bluntness, he chastised the Pirates for having substandard training equipment. Indeed, one day a trainer had to put dirt in a sock to provide Madlock with the extra weight prescribed for his knee exercises. Even without benefit of live spring-training hitting, Madlock was in the lineup on Opening Day, and at the end of last week he was hitting .274, which he says is his "best start ever." His drive mechanism is still working.

Madlock has a strange sense of time. For all his fascination with clocks, he sometimes refuses to wear a watch. Yet he's never late for an appointment or a practice. He does not take batting practice with the rest of the players. He shows up very early, hitting at about 4:30 p.m. for a night game, and then jokes around or plays cards with Phil Dorsey, the Pirates' majordomo.

In real life, Dorsey is a master sergeant in the Army Reserve and a clerk in the post office. He also runs errands for the players, keeps them company, protects their wives from obnoxious fans and brings them food. He usually attaches himself to one player, though, and Madlock is his special companion. Before Madlock, it was Stargell, and before Stargell, it was Roberto Clemente.

So how come Bill Madlock isn't as well known as they were? One explanation is that until he got to the Pirates, he never played on a winner, and once he got to Pittsburgh, he was overshadowed. Another explanation is that he'll always be the second-best third baseman in the league behind Schmidt.

To increase his client's visibility, Greenberg recommended the Los Angeles public relations firm of Rogers & Cowan to puff him up. That's how he became affiliated with the President's Council. Not that Madlock isn't worthy—Wayne Newton is on the council, too—but when he signed a six-year, $5.1 million guaranteed contract with Pittsburgh after the '81 season, the Pirates felt it was necessary to include a weight clause.

Despite all the slights, Madlock is living the good life. He has decked out his spacious house and its surroundings with taste and toys: a Jacuzzi, a Nautilus machine, a tree house, Picasso prints, Picasso plates, sculptures by the Bennett brothers of California, a wine cellar, a 200-year-old desk from a Scottish castle, a '32 Ford, an '82 Rolls, a satellite dish to pick up faraway baseball games. He's a partner in a new place opening up in Pittsburgh's One Oxford Center, The Wine Restaurant. "It's the first of its kind in town," says Madlock. "We'll offer 60 kinds of wine and French cuisine. But we're flexible. If the customers want beer, we'll offer 60 kinds of beer and call it The Beer Restaurant."

His children, known around the clubhouse as the Mad Puppies, are a joy. Madlock counted another blessing two weeks ago when Jeremy was born in a tense delivery. "His heart stopped for a moment, and I thought, 'O Lord,' " says Madlock, who was in the delivery room. Jeremy is doing fine now.

"I have everything I've ever wanted. A great family, three houses, a great job.

"Of course, I could use a little more recognition."

It's about time.

TWO PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERMadlock is all smiles at his 200-year-old Scottish desk but is all business at the plate, as his .316 career average attests.PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERMadlock owns 32 clocks, but this Chinese pedestal model is his hands-down favorite.TWO PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERThree years after his run-in with Crawford (above), Madlock has gotten a new grip on his relationship with the umpires.