The next time Cincinnati Red lefthander David Wells shaves off
his mustache--as he had to when he joined the clean-shaven Reds
in July--he might just store the clippings in a Baggie and flick
them at Cincinnati owner Marge Schott before a big game. Schott
likes to rub fur from her late St. Bernard, Schottzie, on the
Red players, because she thinks it has mystical qualities that
will help them win. Wells takes the parochial view that it's
icky hair from a dead dog, and he doesn't want it on him. But
that's O.K., Schott has her way and Wells has his, and
everything is cool as long as Cincy is winning and Wells is
getting his turn on the mound.
You do not take a bone from a dog, and you do not take a
baseball from Wells. Cincinnati manager Davey Johnson wanted to
do that in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against
the Los Angeles Dodgers last Friday, as he demonstrated by
sending Mariano Duncan to the on-deck circle in the bottom of
the sixth inning to bat for Wells. "I told Davey I'd kick his
butt and take Gully [pitching coach Don Gullett] with him,"
Wells said later. "In different words, of course." The threat
wasn't nearly as effective as Mark Lewis's pinch-hit grand slam
that gave the Reds a 7-1 lead before Duncan could get to the
plate. "The ball was hardly out of the park, and there was
[Wells] at the bat rack," Johnson said.
Given the reprieve and a six-run cushion, the 6'4", 225-pound
Wells dragged himself down the line to beat out a roller to
shortstop. He got an out in the seventh before finally giving up
the ball, having struck out eight, and Cincinnati went on to
complete its sweep of L.A. 10-1.
Wells is the anti-Red, at least if you buy the club's hoary
image of a bunch of Ward Cleavers that represents one of the
country's most conservative cities. Wells is as loud as the
music he listens to before he pitches--a mix of Van Halen, AC/DC,
Ted Nugent and other lite classics--which has made him a breath
of fresh air and a gust of hot wind since he came over from the
Detroit Tigers on the July 31 trading deadline. The man talks.
Like the needles that tattooed a handsome portrait of his
toddler son, Brandon, on his right biceps, Wells has left a
lasting impression in his new clubhouse.
"The Boomer comes in one day just after we got him, and his
teeth are sticking out funny," Red closer Jeff Brantley says.
"We're thinking that this guy's a major leaguer and he needs to
go to the dentist bad. Then he just pulls out his false teeth.
He didn't care. That's Wells, a true lefthander."
Wells, 6-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 11 regular-season starts with
Cincinnati, filled out a rotation carefully crafted for an
assault on the Reds' National League Championship Series
opponents this week, the Atlanta Braves. The Braves are top
heavy in lefthanded power with David Justice, Ryan Klesko and
Fred McGriff, and the Reds are throwing three lefty starters at
them: Wells, John Smiley and gangly ace Pete Schourek. Last week
each member of that trio went at least six innings and muffled
the primarily righthanded-hitting Dodgers, combining for a 1.87
"Schourek's been the best lefthander in the league for almost a
year and a half, with apologies to [Atlanta starter] Tom
Glavine," says Cincy general manager Jim Bowden. With the help
of Gullett and bullpen coach Grant Jackson, Schourek, whom the
Reds took off the waiver wire in April 1994 from the New York
Mets, added five mph to a middling fastball and traded a sloppy
curve for one that bites harder than a schnauzer. Schourek
entered the NLCS with a 23-8 record in his last 37 starts.
If the Reds go on to win the World Series, maybe they can get
Seinfeld's Michael Richards, the guy who plays Kramer, to play
Schourek in the team's highlight film. (They look like cousins.)
Wells is too theatrical a character and too tenacious a pitcher
not to be a central figure as well. He had jitters before his
start last Friday night--"In the bullpen I was trying to throw
100 mph but it was going 20," he said--but he has the ability to
relax when the camera's rolling.
And Schott or not, Wells will have about four months in the
off-season to grow facial hair. After all, this is a country
devoted to life, liberty and the hirsute of happiness.