by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEWS ITEM: Pitcher Mitch Williams, distraught over the World Series and death threats from Phillies fans, did not join the team when it returned from Toronto. Some say we never will see him in a Phillies uniform again. His whereabouts are unknown.

The year: 2018. Date: Oct. 26. Ship’s log, somewhere in the South Pacific.

A bad storm hit last night. The ship crashed against the rocks. I washed up on this uncharted desert island.

Seeking shelter, I ventured into the jungle. Huge palm trees, strange vegetation, the screeching sounds of parrots, macaws and other wildlife. Then I heard this odd voice.

“Bottom of the ninth, two on, Williams pitching to Joe Carter, here’s the pitch . . . steeeerike! . . .

“Here’s the pitch . . . steeeeeerike! . . .

“Here’s the pitch . . . steeeeeerike! . . .”

In the clearing, I saw a middle-aged man, with a scraggly beard and wild flowing hair. He was throwing coconuts at a target on a tree. The first one missed badly. The second hit the ground. The third hit a monkey, knocking it unconscious.

“Mitch Williams?” I blurted.

The man spun. “Who are you?”

Incredible. After all these years, I had stumbled upon the biggest AWOL in major league history.

“You a scout?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“You sure?” He reeled back and hurled another coconut at the target. This one missed the tree, but hit a snake, knocking it unconscious.

“I’m working on a curveball,” he said.

Still spitting mad

As everyone knows, Williams, known back in the 20th century as “Wild Thing,” disappeared after the 1993 World Series, in which he gave up the final home run in the bottom of the ninth.

He couldn’t go back to Philadelphia. So he went underground. The following spring, when the team reported, Williams was missing.

A search began. Someone discovered his car, parked at the beach, but all that was inside was a pouch of Red Man tobacco with a note.

“For Lenny,” the note said. “Think of me when you spit.”

The Coast Guard got involved. The FBI suspected foul play. Meanwhile, sympathetic callers to Philadelphia radio shows said, “Why waste money searchin’ for the bum? I hope a shark ate him.”

In the years that followed, Mitch Williams became a forgotten man.

“What happened to you?” I asked now.

“Well,” he said, offering me a cup of papaya juice, “after the Series, I shaved my head and joined the Merchant Marines. I pitched for a while in Japan, under the name Tame Thing. Nobody suspected it was me, until I hit a guy with a pitch.”

“That’s not so terrible, hitting a batter.”

“Not a batter. The president of Mitsubishi. In a luxury box.”

He sighed. “Slider, got away from me.

“Anyhow, I bummed around here and there. I became disenchanted. I landed on this island and I’ve been here ever since.

“I still can’t get that World Series pitch out of my mind. The way it cleared the wall. All those Toronto guys cheering. The horror . . . the horror. . . .”

He shook his head. How strange. So many changes had taken place in baseball, and he’d missed them all. The 24-second pitch clock. The designated bunter. The new league minimum salary for rookies, $40,000,000,000.

“So,” he said, “what happened to the Phils?”

Well, I said, Lenny Dykstra, of course, is president of Skoal Inc.

And David West, the middle relief pitcher, retired from baseball when his ERA hit triple figures.

Kim Batiste won six straight Gold Glove awards, after he discovered, somewhat late in life, that he was actually left- handed.

Larry Andersen still pitches. He is 112 years old.

Sen. John Kruk is doing well.

Still off target

“What about the other guys?” Williams asked.

The Blue Jays? Well, they broke up a few months after winning the championship. Paul Molitor retired. Rickey Henderson sold himself to the Florida Marlins, the only team willing to provide a limo to take him to the bathroom.

John Olerud took an assertiveness training seminar, and is now a shock-jock radio host.

Jack Morris was let go, and because nobody wanted him, he went to Japan, where he earned the nickname “Jackass-san.”

Williams shrugged. “What about Joe Carter?”

“You mean the prime minister?”

“Oh, great.”

I sensed I had said the wrong thing. Especially when he got up and began throwing coconuts again.

“Here’s the pitch . . . steeerike!”

He hit a parrot, knocking it unconscious.

“Here’s the pitch . . . steeerike! . . .”

He hit a turtle, knocking it unconscious.

I thought about bringing him back. Then I thought about the newspapers, the TV and the Phillies fans who were still calling talk shows, demanding that his name be deleted from all records.

I figured he was better off here. I left him in the jungle. As I headed for the ship, I thought I heard him finally hit the tree with the coconut.

Then again, it might have been the monkey.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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