Oh, he’s a knucklehead all right. The Wacky One. Your buddy and mine. Joaquin Andujar.
You remember Joaquin from last October, when he single- handedly trashed the World Series, the umpires, and most likely the rest of his career by throwing a tantrum in Game 7? Take it away, Joaquin. Go nuts.
Put on a show. And what did it get him? A one-way ticket, a new league and a new uniform — green and yellow, with an “A” on the cap. He was shipped out, traded to Oakland, a place where good quiet men such as Al Davis, Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin had all tried to make a buck.
Good company, I figured. But deep down I knew we hadn’t heard the last of the Wacky One. He would be back.
I had knocked Joaquin last October, and I never regretted it. Not really. What can you say about a guy who spits at reporters all year, then calls a press conference at the World Series to tell the media how much he likes them? No one really knew what was boiling beneath the skin of that self-proclaimed
“One Tough Dominican.” But I remember a moment in that St. Louis clubhouse when Joaquin told a group of writers: “You ask any of my teammates. They love me. Just ask them.” I looked around, and it seemed as if all the Cardinals were quietly moving their chairs as far away as possible.
I knew right then that Joaquin wasn’t playing on the same board as the rest of us. He’s not a mellow fellow
But OK, I figured. Bury the hatchet. The A’s had hit the beach here in Detroit on Friday, and a visit with the Wacky One seemed like a good idea. Andujar, a 20-game winner the last two years, had already quietly built a 4-2 record. Maybe, I thought, those California winds, the amber sunsets, and the splash of the Pacific breakers had cooled his hot blood. And maybe not. You never know with a knucklehead.
I walked into the Oakland clubhouse. And there he was. I recognized him immediately by the cut of his profile, that sharp nose, the jutting chin, the brooding eyes. He was dressed in a polo shirt and turquoise jeans, as tight as a teenager’s, and he didn’t look happy.
“You tell me one pitcher who throws faster than me, man,” he was yelling.
“Tell me one!”
Obviously I had walked in on something.
“One?” said teammate Dusty Baker. “OK. There’s one.” He pointed to Jose Rijo.
“You bleeping crazy man. Can he throw 98?”
“When do you throw 98?”
“Never in my life,” said Joaquin.
It was a strange scene. Several Oakland players sat by their lockers laughing. Ricky Peters, Tony Phillips, Dave Kingman. Andujar circled like a hawk, they swung back and opened fire.
“You are a bleeping bleep,” he said to Peters.
“No man, you’re a bleep,” Peters answered.
“You tell lies behind my back,” Andujar said. “You are a bleeping bleep bleep. Don’t bleep me.”
“Bleep,” said Peters.
“Ah, bleep,” said Andujar.
Then it started coming from every locker. Too fast to record verbatim. Allow me to paraphrase. ANDUJAR: “Stay the bleep away from me. I am warning you, you bleep.” TEAMMATE: “Who the bleep are you talking to?” ANDUJAR: “Don’t bleep with me. You are bleep.” TEAMMATE: “You don’t bleep with me I don’t bleep with you. You bleep.” ANDUJAR: “Don’t bleep with me.” Doesn’t talk in the clubhouse?
After a few minutes of this, Andujar stormed into the trainer’s room, then came back out. Peters had a bat in his hand, and I wasn’t crazy about the way he was squeezing it.
Andujar finally dropped into his locker, across the room from the seething mob. I eased over, giving him a few minutes to let the smoke clear. It didn’t seem like the time for the heart-to-heart chat I had hoped to have. But what the heck?
I asked anyhow.
“I don’t talk in the clubhouse,” he said.
I could have pressed it, I guess. Told him I had a plane to catch, or a sick relative. But why risk it? The man could have a weapon.
Besides, I had seen enough. The wild man lives. Forget that mellow rubbish. You can’t kill a knucklehead by sending him west. Uh-uh. This breed knows how to survive.
I headed for safer ground. Maybe next time Joaquin rolls through we’ll have that heart-to-heart. Until then, he remains a hot-tempered mystery. Even his teammates, obviously, don’t know what to make of him as he pulls on his new green and yellow uniform.
But they can tell you what the “A” stands for. CUTLINE Joaquin Andujar