The pitching ace of the Chicago White Sox is the kind of guy who likes to spend the off-season hanging out at Sippy's Esquire Lounge with his friend Picklehead and the rest of the guys. And just like you and me, Dave (Snacks) LaPoint dreams of tying Jack Clark in knots with his 81-mph fastball.
But now the dream has come true. Clark is hitting .000 against LaPoint this season after three at bats. And the rest of the American League isn't doing much better. Thanks to his befuddling changeup, at week's end LaPoint had amassed a dazzling 2.57 ERA, the sixth best in the league.
While he may slip his slowball past the likes of Clark, don't ever try to slide a crab roll past LaPoint. "I'll never look good in a uniform," says LaPoint, a 231-pound lefty whose nickname is well deserved. "What can I do? At home in Glens Falls [N.Y.] my parents own a deli, an aunt and two cousins own Smitty's Pizza, and I have a wife who reads eat-to-win books. Is it my fault if I take my wife seriously?"
When Snacks arrived in Chicago last July after having been traded from the St. Louis Cardinals, the Sox were a last-place team that took its defeats quietly. Before long, players were finding rubber snakes in their lockers and hearing shrieks of delight whenever they hit a bloop single. "Some probably thought I was crazy," he says. But after he won six of the eight games he pitched, the skeptics disappeared.
Laughter has followed LaPoint everywhere. Playing for San Diego in 1986, he vowed to spit tobacco juice on the shoes of every Padre. By season's end only Steve Garvey was left. Says LaPoint, "I got him, but it was like splashing Kryptonite on Superman."
Appropriately enough, LaPoint is the only pitcher ever to be removed from a game because he couldn't stop laughing—after hitting his good friend Tim Wallach of the Montreal Expos in the foot with one of his slowballs in 1983. Even so, LaPoint's teammate Rick Horton, who's also a former Cardinal lefthander, says, "He's very intense when he's pitching." Says LaPoint, who lives across the street from Horton, "The only difference between Horton and me is that when we walk out of our building, he turns left for the Art Institute and I make a right for the bars on Rush Street."
One other difference: Horton can throw a real fastball. LaPoint once had a 92-mph zinger, but early in his career a bad elbow forced him to teach himself how to throw a veering changeup. He was still primarily a six-inning pitcher until last season, when he began spotting his fastball inside. The result, according to Clark, is that "he can make a mistake [with the fastball] and get away with it, because you can never quite pull the trigger, remembering that changeup."
There's one mistake LaPoint didn't get away with. While playing for St. Louis in the 1982 World Series, he was covering first base and dropped a toss from Keith Hernandez. Afterwards, Hernandez quipped, "If it had been a cheeseburger, he would have caught it."
Snacks has weighed as much as 245 pounds, but these days his attention to the White Sox' strength-and-flexibility program has him looking nearly svelte. "You might take me for an athlete," he says.
Well, almost. On a recent trip to New York, LaPoint got into an elevator and began talking pitching with a companion. From across the car, a man interrupted. "You're a pitcher?" he asked.
"Yes," LaPoint said. The man looked him up and down and then said, "What, a softball pitcher?"
"Well, sort of." LaPoint replied.