Thursday, October 25, 2012

Unorthodox Deliveries

Inspired by my last post, in which I became fixated upon unusual batting stances, I feel compelled to discuss the most unique pitching styles I've ever seen. Here are a few of my favorites:

LUIS TIANT: Reggie Jackson once commented that Tiant was the "Fred Astaire of Baseball." The Cuban-born right-hander used a quirky wind-up (which featured a series of head bobs and glove wags) with a pirouette dielivery, turning his back completely on the batter before wheeling around for the release. "The motion depends on how I think the batter is thinking," Tiant told writers one day."You can't use it too much or they will get used to it." Immensely popular among teammates and fans, Tiant won 229 games, mostly for the Red Sox, between 1964 and 1982.

MARK FIDRYCH: Rookie of the Year in 1976, Fidrych was one of the most unusual characters ever to pitch in the majors. Sensitive to the plight of each ball, the Tiger staff ace would often request new ones from umpires, believing that the old ones still "had hits in them" and needed to mix with fellow baseballs to "get right" again. Tall and lanky with blonde curly hair, he was nicknamed"The Bird" after a Sesame Street character. On the mound, he exhibited a host of odd behaviors, talking to balls and grooming the dirt with his bare hands.  An arm injury in '77 reduced his effectiveness and ended his career prematurely. An unfortunate farm accident ended his life prematurely in 2009.

AL HRABOSKY: Nicknamed "The Mad Hungarian," Hrabosky was an intimidating figure on the hill. Before facing each batter, he would walk to the back of the mound and meditate. When he was finished, he would slam the ball into his mitt as if he were furious with the hitter. Primarily a relief pitcher, he won 64% of his lifetime decisions and saved 97 games. "My goal when I'm on the road is to get a standing boo," he once said.

HIDEO NOMO: 'Fluid' is not a word to describe the pitching motion of Hideo Nomo. During the windup, he raised his arms so far above his head he resembled a contortionist. He would then twirl around with his back to the plate before feeding hitters a steady diet of heaters and forkballs. The entire routine was a series of abrupt starts and stops--as if someone were controlling him with a TV remote. Nomo became the second Japanese hurler to make it to the majors (after Masanari Murakami in 1964) when his agent exploited a loophole in his contract with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1995, but paid the price when his family disowned him for "shaming them" by defecting to the States.

KENT TEKULVE: Out of uniform, Tekulve would scarcely have been recognized as an athlete. At 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, he looked like a contemporary version of Ichabod Crane. Appearanes were deceiving as the gangly fireman with the tinted glasses kept hitters on their heels for 16 seasons with his unique slingshot delivery. What I remember most about him is that he threw from such a low angle, his knuckles appeared to scrape the ground on every pitch. By the time he retired in 1989, the durable side-winder had saved 184 games and led the Pirates to a World Championship.

FERNANDO VALENZUELA: A lefty screwball specialist, Valenzuela became famous for gazing toward the sky during his windup. His delivery was puncuated with a leg kick that appeared awkward because of his husky build. A Mexican import, Fernando didn't speak much English, but his appeal was universal. He smiled a lot and when he did, his pudgy face seemed almost cherubic. By the time he received Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors in 1981, the jovial southpaw had given birth to a craze known as "Fernandomania."

ORLANDO HERNANDEZ: Anyone attending a game in which "El Duque" was the starter hopefully had plenty of time on their hands. The Cuban defector and former Yankee star was a notoriously slow worker, holding up games with a variety of tactics that included shaking off signs, throwing repeatedly to first and fixing imagined wardrobe malfunctions. If that wasn't enough to throw off a batter's timing, he would request new balls from umpires and ask to speak to his catcher. When he was finally ready to throw, he would bring his knee all the way up to his chin before releasing an assortment of sloppy curves and sliders. At one point, he was among the most successful pitchers in postseason history with an 8-0 record and a microscopic ERA.

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