HALF-ALLIGATOR HALF-HUMAN KILLS MIAMI MAN--AND ESCAPES FROM
This is an article from the Sept. 8, 1997 issue
This is the startling cover line in the Weekly World News in
David (Boomer) Wells's lap. But unlike the fugitive "Allisapien"
in the story, the New York Yankees lefthander isn't biting. "Oh,
come on!" he says with a wave of the hand. "This is stupid,
man." Still, Wells pages ahead. He pauses at a dispatch
headlined SCIENTISTS BAFFLED BY PLUG AT BOTTOM OF GREAT SALT
LAKE. Wells's brow furrows, his head shakes. "Uh-huh," he says,
sighing deeply. "Yeah, right!"
Onward. Wells stops at yet another bold-faced lie: HUNDREDS OF
EARTH WOMEN RALLY AGAINST EXTRATERRESTRIAL BRUTALITY! Feminist
SAYS SEX ATTACKS BY SPACE ALIENS MUST STOP. Wells tosses the
paper away. "I can't even look at it anymore," he snaps. "Does
anybody actually think these stories are for real?"
For months, Yankees fans have been asking the same question
about stories involving Wells. Since signing a three-year, $13.5
million free-agent contract with the Bronx Bombers last
December, this big cartoon of a man has been providing New
York's sports sections with copy that would be right at home in
a supermarket tabloid.
WELLS' WILD PITCH screamed Newsday in January after he broke his
pitching hand back home in San Diego during an early-morning
street fight over missing car keys. TOTALLY RUTHLESS blared the
New York Post in February when Wells floated the blasphemous
idea of wearing the Babe's retired number. OVER & GOUT bellowed
the New York Daily News after a lumpy-dumpy Wells arrived in
training camp and missed four days of throwing because of an
ailment commonly associated with Ruthian gluttony. WHISKEY
BUSINESS trumpeted the next day's Post after Wells gave new
meaning to the term "high-ball pitcher" by minimizing his bout
with gout: "If [the cause] is beer, then I'll go to whiskey; if
it's whiskey, then I'll go to vodka. Who knows? Maybe I'll have
to drink water. I don't care. I just don't want to hurt." WELLS
& CO. bleated Newsday in early April after disgraced O.J.
detective Mark Fuhrman showed up at a Yankees workout in Seattle
as Wells's guest. While the story questioned the wisdom of
hosting the racially challenged ex-cop during the season that
celebrated the 50th anniversary of baseball's integration, it
skirted the issue of whether the glove in Wells's locker had
The unshakable Wells shrugs off these preseason contretemps as
easily as he does a three-run homer. "S--- happens," he says. "I
do what I want to do and say what I want to say. The press hears
what I say but prints what it wants to print. I don't care. In
fact, I don't give a rat's ass what people say or think about
me." He adds, good-naturedly, "Of course, if you print that, I'm
gonna have to kill you."
Wells is a free spirit of the kind baseball once produced in
abundance. If his breed seems like an endangered species, that
may reflect the nature of the modern game. "Baseball is a kid's
game," says Seattle Mariners reliever Mike Timlin, "and Boomer
plays it that way."
PITCHER TURNS BODY INTO FAMILY ALBUM
It's a muggy Maryland night, and Wells comes in from warmups at
Oriole Park damp and disheveled. He sheds his jersey and he's a
little less damp, but with a grubby gray T-shirt blousing over
his belt he looks less like an athlete than like an enforcer
from an outlaw biker band. Yankees manager Joe Torre thinks
Wells may have misconstrued the Eat to Win Diet: "It doesn't
mean the more he eats, the more he wins."
Wells, 34, is 6'4" and weighs maybe 250 pounds. When he sits
down for a postgame meal with his teammates, he fills the table.
On the diamond, straddling the mound, he fills the ballpark.
Wells has presence. He also had a 14-8 record and 4.21 ERA at
week's end. And he has one of the world's most comprehensive
collections of profane T-shirts. In past campaigns Wells has
concealed them under his team jersey. But a FECES PEANUT BUTTER
CUP shirt, even hidden, won't cut it on George Steinbrenner's
Yankees. "George is very particular about what's under the
pinstripes," Wells says. "The Yankees are pretty prim and
proper. It's tradition, so I just go by what George says. He's
the man, and I respect that."
Beneath the shirts Wells is even more impressively decorated. He
commissioned Tom Pennshaw, the Detroit tattoo artiste
responsible for illustrating Dennis Rodman, to etch portraits of
relatives on his anatomy. Peeking out from Wells's right deltoid
is his five-year-old son, Brandon. "It's convenient," Wells
says. "Instead of pulling out my wallet all the time, I can just
flip up my sleeve." Asked what he plans to do when Brandon gets
older, Wells says, "No problem. I'll just have a goatee and a
mustache carved in."
Wells's back bears a likeness of his grandmother, a San Diego
Padres fan who took him to games at Jack Murphy Stadium when he
was a kid. An engraving of his mother, who died in January of
complications from diabetes, appears in blue ink above his
heart. Curiously, the tattoo shows Mom as a three-year-old. "She
looks precious," Wells more or less explains. "When the season's
over, I'll get her tattooed on my back. I'll have it copied off
a photo taken right before she died." He will not add his
ex-wife to the gallery. "Unnecessary," he says. "She's been on
my ass since our divorce."
YANKEES QUIPPER COMMUNES WITH DEAD BIKER MOM
Wells may have inherited a stubborn irascibility from his
mother. Eugenia Ann Wells was an independent woman who had five
kids by four men. Around the gritty Ocean Beach section of San
Diego, her handle was Attitude Annie.
David grew up an Angels fan--a Hell's Angels fan. Attitude's
longtime boyfriend, Crazy Charlie, was a chapter president. On
weekends David, Annie and Charlie would roar off to biker
rallies in Northern California on Charlie's Harley. Angels used
to converge on David's Little League games. The bikers would
each give him a dollar for every strikeout and a five-spot for
every win. "I could pull in $100 a game, and nobody dared to
screw around with me," he says. "Try, and I'd say, 'I'll get my
mom's boyfriend on you.'"
Crazy Charlie wasn't much of a surrogate father, but he had a
swell left hook. "I came into the kitchen once with my fists up,
and he clocked me," Wells says. "I was 12, and I started crying.
I said, 'What'd you do that for?' He said, 'Anytime you put your
hands up, you'd better use 'em.' Other than that, he treated me
like a king."
Wells didn't know his real dad. "I'd always assumed he'd died,"
he says. Until one night when he was 22. He dreamed he had been
given the address of his father's house in West Virginia. He
found the street, but the house was gone. When he awoke, he
asked his mother, "Does my dad live in West Virginia?"
Mom reeled. "How did you know that?"
"I dreamed it," he said. "How can I reach him?" Attitude Annie
rummaged through a drawer and unearthed a phone number. David
dialed it and got his father's sister. She gave him another
number. David dialed again.
A low voice: "Hello."
Wells, nervously: "Hello. Is David Pritt there?"
"Well, this is your son from California."
Wells began to weep. "I didn't know what to do," he says. "My
goal was to meet him before I died or he died."
A month later Wells flew out to see his father in West Virginia,
where he did railroad work, for Thanksgiving. "Dad picked me up
at the airport in Cincinnati," he says. "All I remember is
falling asleep in the car."
These days he talks to his old man about once a month, which is
not nearly as often as he gabs with his dead mother. "Every now
and then I find myself picking up the phone to call her," he
says. "I wind up looking to the sky and having a conversation
In tight games he has been known to hold pitching conferences
with the woman upstairs. "Most people look to heaven and talk to
God," says Wells. "I go to Mom. She's the newcomer up there. If
help doesn't come, I know she must be pissed."
BALLPLAYER TRAPPED IN FIREMAN'S BODY
As their fellow Yankees tattoo balls from the gossipy shadows of
the batting cage at Toronto's SkyDome, veterans Cecil (Big
Daddy) Fielder and Tim (Rock) Raines go to the Wells. "The guy's
a little weird," says Big Daddy. "Just look at his hair."
"The hair kind of goes straight up," says Rock. "What there is
"Boomer's got a topflat instead of a flattop."
"With a lot of forehead. The thing with Boomer is, you never
really know where he's coming from."
"To look at him, you'd think he's quiet."
"But he's not."
"Yeah. The guy's a little weird."
Rock rocks back on his heels. "To me, Boomer's a gamer," he
says. "He's normal out there on the mound."
"That's probably his only normal time," says Fielder.
"If you saw him off the mound, you wouldn't think he was a
"Pitcher! You wouldn't think he was a ballplayer!"
"Yeah, maybe a fireman."
"The guy's a little weird."
Rock bobs his head in agreement. "Like that time at Comiskey
Park when he wore the black wig on the bench. Steinbrenner saw
it on TV and let Boomer know he wasn't happy."
"That boy's sick." It's unclear whether Big Daddy means Boomer
or the Boss.
BOOMER TO BOSS: DUCK
Steinbrenner got Wells by default. The Boss had been pursuing
another free-agent pitcher, Roger Clemens, but the Rocket took
off to Toronto. (Clemens's 20-4 record at week's end suggests he
has yet to come down.) Steinbrenner had deemed Jimmy Key, his
own free-agent starter, too fragile for a two-year contract, so
Key bolted to Baltimore, where he's a hardy 14-8.
That left Wells, a 33-year-old southpaw who had spent the
previous five seasons connecting the dots on a map of the big
leagues. He had played for Toronto, Detroit, Cincinnati and,
lastly, Baltimore, where he was uneven (11-14, 5.14 ERA) but
durable (224 1/3 innings). Still, Wells's lifetime numbers in
the Bronx were staggering: 9-1, a 2.84 ERA and a .218 batting
average by opponents. Ruth may have built Yankee Stadium, but
Wells owned it. "David's got that Yankee mystique," says
Steinbrenner. "He goes out there thinking, Ruth played here.
DiMaggio played here. He understands Yankee tradition. That's
hard to say about a guy who looks like a beer-league softball
The Boss, it turns out, was one of Boomer's biggest boosters.
"There's a lot to like about him," says Steinbrenner. "He's a
pitcher who wants the ball, who'll come out on two days' rest.
He's sometimes outrageous and disruptive, but on balance, you
Before offering Wells a contract, Steinbrenner huddled with him
for nearly an hour. "We talked about everything but baseball,"
Wells says. "It was more of a personality check. George wanted
to see if I was a sane person or the crazy son of a bitch he'd
heard about." Though Steinbrenner concluded that Wells was sane
enough to be a Yankee, the Boss's sanity didn't much concern
Wells. "I'd heard good things and bad things about George," he
says. "He's a generous man and a crazy man. He says things now
and then that are uncalled for, but he's human. With me, he's
been very nice and patient. But I like to have fun, and if he
doesn't like that, I'll deal with the consequences. On the other
hand, I'm not going out of my way to piss the guy off. What he
gets out of me is a 110-percent genuine person who's not afraid
A mischievous grin spreads across Wells's face. "I might punch
George before I leave," he says. "We'll see."
GHOST OF BAMBINO FEEDS WELLS
"My dream came true when I became a Yankee," Wells says, and he
means it. "Now I can die happy." His reverence for the team
contrasts oddly with his irreverence toward everything else.
"Yankee Stadium is all history and atmosphere," he says almost
solemnly. "The spirits are still there, feeding everybody. More
so the Babe's, because that was his stomping ground. When you're
out on the field, you suck it all in and bear down."
He was only half kidding when he asked Steinbrenner for Ruth's
number 3. "It's retired," said Steinbrenner.
"Come on, George," Wells said. "Bring it out of retirement."
"All right then. Just give me oh-three."
"O.K., what about point three?"
"Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Wells settled for 33. "This way," he reasons, "I can be the Babe
While with Baltimore last year, Wells made a pilgrimage to the
city's Babe Ruth Museum. "The place gave me chills," he says. "I
read the walls. I checked out the memorabilia. I paced around
the room he was born in. I went in feeling good and came out
feeling great." His trove of Babeabilia includes a bat, a
jersey, three signed baseballs and a cap that set him back
"It's the strangest thing," says Yankees coach Don Zimmer. "When
he puts that hat on, he looks like the Babe." Ruth wore the cap
in 1934, his final season in New York. Wells donned it to pitch
in the first inning of a game against Cleveland on June 28. When
he returned to the dugout, Torre made him take the cap off. "I
didn't know he had it on [at first]," Torre said. "It wasn't the
standard uniform. Boomer has to live by the same rules as
Wells's memorabilia collection is not limited to Ruthiana, and
he works on it as persistently as he works on hitters. On
Opening Day this year he got Joe DiMaggio to sign three balls.
"Joe was in a good mood, to me at least," says Wells. "He won't
sign for some of the Yankees." Among them is Brian Boehringer,
who has been blown off by the Yankee Clipper three years running.
"Hey, Boomer," said Boehringer. "How'd you get DiMaggio to
sign?" "You've got to know how to talk to the man," said Wells.
"Don't ask him about Marilyn Monroe or he'll get pissed. You
schmooze him a little, tell him what he wants to hear. Then you
shove the ball in his face."
OPPOSING CHANGE, WELLS HEAVES
The great Warren Spahn used to say that hitting is timing, and
pitching is upsetting that timing. Few pitchers upset hitters
more than Wells. He works quickly and doesn't waste a lot of
pitches, throwing inside often enough to make the outside of the
plate his own. "Boomer can get beat up in a hurry," says Torre.
"But for the most part, he keeps hitters in the big part of the
ballpark by jumping ahead with a first-pitch fastball and
throwing strikes whenever and wherever he wants. His control is
Besides two- and four-seam fastballs, Wells has a slippery
slider and a 12-to-6-o'clock curve that dips, wiggles and does a
fair rendition of Chuck Berry's duck strut. "I love the way
Boomer fires that curve," says Baltimore outfielder Brady
Anderson. "It's like: Here it is, hit it."
One pitch Wells rarely fires at lefties is a changeup. "I've had
no success with it," he says. "It runs against my pitching
That philosophical dispute traces back at least to 1991, when
Wells was with the Blue Jays and Toronto manager Cito Gaston
challenged his lefty dogma during a game against the Boston Red
Sox. With lefthanded Mike Greenwell up, Blue Jays catcher Pat
Borders called for a changeup. Wells shook him off. Borders
flashed the sign again. Wells shook him off again. Borders tried
a third time. Wells wouldn't give in. Finally, Borders ran out
to the mound. "You'd better throw that pitch," he said. "Cito's
"He's calling it," growled Wells, "but I'm the one who'll be
taking the loss."
Borders returned to the plate and was rebuffed yet again. On the
catcher's fifth attempt, Wells relented and threw the change.
"Actually, it was more of a lob than a throw," says Toronto's
Joe Carter. "He could have tossed it underhand faster." By the
time Wells got the ball back, Greenwell was on first with a
Gaston tramped angrily to the pitching rubber and demanded the
ball. "If you want it, go get it," Wells muttered and flung the
ball down the third base line.
Wells recalls stalking to the clubhouse, showering and leaving
the stadium. Toronto coach Gene Tenace remembers things
differently: "Believe me, Boomer went straight into Cito's
office. I know, because Cito was right behind him."
HEFTY LEFTY FALLS OFF EARTH
"It was like I had dropped off the face of the planet." That's
Wells describing how he felt when Toronto cut him near the end
of spring training in 1993. For six years he had alternated
between spot starting and long relief. In '92 he figured he
deserved a place in the Blue Jays rotation after winning 15
games in 28 starts and 12 relief appearances in '91. Instead, he
started just 14 games and finished 7-9 with a 5.40 ERA. "The
Blue Jays played me like a yo-yo," he says. "They shouldn't have
made me fight for a starting job. To me, that's just showing
Getting dumped, says Carter, shook Wells out of a deep sleep.
"You always knew he had a great arm, but his talent wasn't being
tapped," Carter says.
Wells credits former Detroit Tigers skipper Sparky Anderson with
turning around his career. After the Tigers signed Wells in
April '93, Anderson made him a full-time starter, helped him
regain his confidence and made him take the gold hoop out of his
earlobe. Remade and remodeled, Wells won four of his first five
starts for Detroit and was 9-1 after his 15th start.
"Sparky really believed in me," Wells says. "He made me what I
For example, "I've learned to at least listen to what I'm told
before I respond," he says. "When I was a Blue Jay, I never
wanted to listen. Now I just enjoy life. I don't get into
anybody's business. I have fun."
Yet every once in a while the old excitable Boomer resurfaces.
He knocked himself out of the Yankees' game with the Florida
Marlins on June 14 after arguing with plate umpire Greg Bonin.
Wells, who had spit up five runs in the first inning, believed
the ump had squeezed the strike zone on a couple of his pitches.
When he went to bat in the top of the second, he looked at Bonin
and muttered, "You're horse----."
Bonin looked at Wells and snarled, "Did you say I was horse----?"
"You're outta here."
Fortunately for Wells's ERA, the game was rained out midway
through the third inning. Unfortunately for the Yanks, Torre had
had to dip into an already taxed bullpen. "It was a
spur-of-the-moment thing," Wells said of the comment that got
him ejected. "I did what I did, and I'm not going to criticize
He left that to Torre, who called his behavior "terrible and
unprofessional" and added, "He left us hanging." Torre and New
York pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre refused to speak to Wells
until he expressed contrition. Wells apologized three days
later, just before he pitched the Yanks to a 6-3 victory over
the New York Mets. One tabloid's headline read LEFTY'S FEAST
STARTS WITH HUMBLE pie.
TWO-HEADED BEAST FOUND IN REDS DUGOUT: CAN PITCH AND MAKE LINEUPS!
Davey Johnson has managed Wells--if that's possible--twice: in
Cincinnati (1995) and Baltimore ('96). "Boomer's a little
different," Johnson says. "Even his signs were reversed. One
finger meant a curve; two, a fastball. He made the catcher
adjust to him. He made everyone adjust to him. The guy wasn't
afraid to butt heads." Johnson ought to know. Wells once
Wells had gone 10-3 for Detroit in '95 before being dealt that
July to Cincinnati, where he won six games down the stretch for
the playoff-bound Reds. In one of those wins, he had no-hit
Philadelphia through six innings when Johnson made two defensive
switches in the outfield. In the seventh inning Wells gave up
two hits and a run, and he blamed the changes for disrupting his
rhythm. After the third out, Wells made straight for Johnson. "I
yelled, 'You a------,' then smoked him," says Wells, savoring
the memory. "It was a nice little bump."
His noggin and Johnson's collided with such force that it seemed
they might be permanently fused together, like Rosey Grier's and
Ray Milland's in The Thing with Two Heads. "I think it hurt his
head more than mine," says Johnson. "Mine's harder."
But not much. "Boomer can be real hardheaded about staying in a
game," says Yankees catcher Joe Girardi. "Which is exactly the
attitude you want from a starter." It was probably not the
attitude Torre wanted from Wells in a May 11 game with Kansas
City. Top of the ninth, one out, nobody on. The Yankees holding
a roomy 3-2 lead. Torre scaled the dugout steps, signaled for a
reliever and headed for the mound. "Good game," he told Wells.
"I want to stay in," Wells told him.
"Well, it's time to come out."
"No, no, no."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
Torre tried to pry the ball from Wells's hand. Wells wouldn't
"Boomer!" said Torre. "You're making me look bad. Just gimme the
damn ball and get outta here." Reluctantly, Wells handed it
over. "You've got to keep your thumb on Boomer a little," Torre
says, "or he'll try to get away with as much as he can."
"SHAPE UP," UNDERWEAR SALESMAN TELLS WELLS
Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher and Jockey pitchman, is
relating a brief encounter with Wells. It was on the first day
of spring training in 1996, Wells's first day as an Oriole. He
was a season away from free agency.
"I congratulated David for joining the team," says Palmer, now
an Orioles broadcaster. "He looked at me and said, 'Do you know
anybody in San Diego?'" Palmer was flabbergasted. "Here it is,
Day One with a new team, and he's already thinking of where he's
gonna be in '97."
Wells doesn't deny he was looking ahead. "San Diego and New York
were the only places I wanted to play," he says. "I figured this
would be my final contract, and I should finish my career where
I felt most comfortable."
He never felt comfortable in Baltimore. He hated the ballpark
almost as much as he loved the ballplayers. "I'm a fly-ball
pitcher," Wells says, "and fly balls are home runs in Camden
Yards." And he cared little for Baltimore ("If you cruise around
anywhere outside the Inner Harbor, it's dead," he says) or
Baltimoreans ("I kept getting hassled by idiots on the street").
Palmer objects to the bit about Baltimoreans. "Go around in tank
tops and tattoos," he says, "and you'll get hassled anywhere."
Self-discipline is what Palmer found wanting in Wells. "I've
always loved Boomer," he says diplomatically. "If he doesn't get
the gout or get hassled too much, he's gonna give a team a lot
of innings. But they might have been better innings. If you're
talking about perfection or even the pursuit of perfection, I
get the feeling sometimes that he's not as well prepared or
conditioned as he could be." Palmer invokes Key, for whom Wells
was essentially swapped. "Jimmy is steeped in self-discipline,"
Palmer says. "He's always in shape, he can field his position,
he can hold runners on. You can't say any of that about David.
If Jimmy gets shelled, you think, Hey, he had a bad game. But if
David gets hit around, you think, Hey, maybe this guy should
make some lifestyle changes and lose a few pounds."
Wells doesn't burden himself with such weighty issues. "You
don't run the ball up to the plate," he says. "Besides, how can
somebody who's not me determine what's comfortable for me? He's
not in my body. Nowadays, the concern is more how you look in
the lobby than how you pitch. Nobody bothered Mickey Lolich
about how fat he was."
Hearing Wells's gut reactions, Palmer remarks, "Yeah, but Lolich
was a 25-game winner. David's never had more than 16 victories
in a season. I can't help wondering how great he really could
be. He might not wonder about that. Which is O.K. Some guys
don't ever want to find out."
YANKEES PITCHER HAS DOUBLE LIFE AND DOUBLE WIFE
Wells's night-crawler ways may explain why, during day games,
his pitching arm sometimes goes as dead as a hooked wiggler. His
nocturnal ERA is so much lower than his daytime run allowance
that Torre has considered tweaking the starting rotation to give
Wells more late-shift work. "David can handle New York," Orioles
general manager Pat Gillick said recently, "but I don't know if
New York can handle him."
Can David handle another David? Seven, maybe eight years ago,
somebody went around the country passing himself off as Wells.
"He didn't really resemble me," says Wells. "Well, maybe if you
just glanced at him."
Who was handsomer?
Wells narrows his eyes. "Who do you think, man?"
The Wells impostor was not nearly as benign as the Genuine
Article. "That knucklehead was a bad cup of tea, man. And
everything bad he did, he did in my name. It was kind of scary.
I could have shown up somewhere he had pulled something and had
the crap beat out of me."
There was, however, one consolation. The double's ex-wife wrote
Wells to alert him of the scam. They met in Toronto. "She
thought she had married me," he says with a 10-inch Wellsian
grin. "And you know what? She was pretty damn good-looking."
Which begs the question: Of all the prominent people in the
world, why was Wells singled out? Was he perhaps mistaken for
Orson Welles? Their silhouettes are somewhat similar, and, like
the pitcher, the director was a headline-grabbing renegade
accused of betraying his talent. The key to Wells may have been
revealed in something Welles once said:
Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything
about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live
between two poles. There's a philistine and an aesthete in all
of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don't reconcile the
poles. You just recognize them.
mean the more he eats, the more he wins."