As a closer, Mitch Williams took a loss from time to time, including Game 7 of the 1993 World Series. Rarely, however, was the Wild Thing ever at a loss for words.
"Oh jeez," Williams says.
This is in response to a simple question:
Can Williams name five colorful characters currently playing Major League Baseball, which he now covers for MLB Network?
"Nick Swisher is a character," Williams says.
Guillen's no longer playing, though. He's regularly making controversial statements while managing the Chicago White Sox.
"(Tim) Hudson. Manny (Ramirez) would be a character.... Jiminy Christmas."
Jiminy isn't on a roster anywhere.
"Yeah, it isn't like it used to be."
So there aren't as many characters? As many goofballs? As many strong or strange personalities?
So the game that gave us Lawrence "Yogi" Berra, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, Mickey "the Quick" Rivers and Rickey Henderson (who might speak of himself in the third person during his entire upcoming Hall of Fame induction speech) ... that game has grown up too much?
“Yeah, I would agree with that," Williams says. "Larry Andersen had a perfect saying back then: ‘You're only young once, but you can be immature forever.’ ”
Andersen was a member of one of the teams that got the last laughs, the 1993 Phillies. Characters were welcome in that clubhouse.
Tim Johnson / Associated Press
Pitcher Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, who Mark Grace said pitched "like his hair's on fire," was one of many characters on the 1993 Phillies.
That club had Williams, who wore No. 99 and pitched, according to close friend Mark Grace, like "his hair's on fire." It had Andersen, a Steven Wright type who would muse about such subjects as why sour cream had an expiration date and whether a person could ever run out of invisible ink.
It had the hard-playing, hard-living Lenny "Nails" Dykstra, with his cheek full of chew. It had the chubby, comedic John Kruk, a quality hitter best known for faking a heart attack while dodging Randy Johnson's All-Star fastball. And it had Darren "Dutch" Daulton, a hard-driving leader who later revealed his strong belief in time travel.
It had fun.
"What I see as the biggest difference in today's game is they don't look like they have as much fun," Williams says. "That's the thing that's missing. You see very little laughter on the field anymore. You play 162 games, you need to be able to laugh at yourself and other people."
Listen to this story. Try to imagine a current player repeating it:
"We were in Montreal in 1993, and we were leading the division," Williams says. "And I blew two games in a row in Montreal and we were going home. I knew the next night in Philadelphia, I was going to get killed. So I put on Larry Andersen's jersey when I went in the bullpen that night, in the sixth inning, when I always went down there. For some reason, they still recognized me ... I thought it was funny as hell, but the people of Philadelphia hated it."
Yet Williams, Andersen and Kruk are all working in television now, so their personalities paid off.
"What are the chances of that happening?" Williams says of Kruk. "That shows you how far TV has fallen. I always said, 'Krukkie, he's not going to build you a rocket, but he will tell you what he thinks.'"
And their Phillies are remembered, even though they didn't win a World Series.
Baseball fans will long remember the teams for which Jim Bouton pitched in the 1960s. That is partly due to Bouton's controversial and influential book "Ball Four," which was a diary of his 1969 season as a Seattle Pilot and a no-holds barred account of his tenure with Mickey Mantle and the Yankees. The book delved deep into the players' off-the-field antics, disputes and transgressions, whether related to teammates or women or drugs.
If Bouton wrote a book about today's players, he thinks it would be far less interesting.
His list of modern characters?
"Manny Ramirez, to begin with," Bouton says. "Jonathan Papelbon. But yeah, I think there are a lot fewer. A guy today acquires some of the attributes of a 'character' if he gets his uniform dirty three games in a row. That almost makes him a character."
Bouton cites a reason. Many players today have had one or more years of college, which "tends to be a very homogenizing experience." When Bouton played, most guys arrived in spring training as "partially-formed people" who were "big stars in their hometown" and thus "centers of their own universe." Huge training camps, many times larger than those today, would create tension, and tension (oddly enough) often created comedy.
"They combined an ignorance of the world with arrogance and confidence and talent," Bouton says. "One of the things I found fascinating, here I was playing D ball, my first year of pro baseball, you got a guy from Brooklyn, you got a guy from Alabama. You got Brooklyn, you got Alabama. You got extremes from those locales. Then you throw them together in the same locker room and have them compete for jobs. It was combustible, it was fun."
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
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