Since then, Smith has been a productive member of the Indians' bullpen. At age 28, he is a fresh-faced, almost innocent who now faces left-handed hitters, too.
The Indians were in town. As my car pulled into the Yankee Stadium parking lot Tuesday afternoon, Joe Smith was in my thinking. I hadn't seen him since the inglorious end of the Mets' 2008 season, and he had changed his cell number before the 17-club, 63-player trade that exiled him from the Big City in December '08.
Anyway, as I thought of Joe Smith, it struck me that all the other guys I've covered who threw similarly were good guys, too. Don't think it's a DNA phenomenon, but rather that guys who throw an unconventional pitch -- see R.A. Dickey -- have been humbled by the game at some point. Otherwise, why would they throw from over there or throw pitches that move like Frisbees? Failure can be an effective tutor if the student is willing.
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The late Dan Quisenberry was a terrific guy, mench in every way, a guy with a sense of humor as tilted as his body when he released the pitch most responsible for the 212 saves he produced in a six-year sequence with the Royals that included the abridged 1981 season. He could get outs and he could be uproariously funny. Our paths crossed for the first time the day before the 1980 American League Championship Series.
An early question in what proved to be an entertaining Q&A was, "What kind of name is Quisenberry?"
His response: "Puerto Rican, of course."
Dozens of subsequent interviews and a few dinners prompted hundreds of funny responses. Quiz attended the January 1984 dinner staged by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Numerous mentions of Yankees pinstripes were made from the podium that night. When Quiz spoke, he referenced the stripes.
"I have teammates whose stripes are horizontal," he said, allowing the audience to connect his comment to four incarcerated Royals teammates.
And, my favorite: In the course of interviewing Quisenberry, a St. Louis reporter said, "So that was like apples and oranges?" Quiz paused, rubbed his chin as if lost in deep thought. "No, it was a greater difference," he said. "More like elephants and glockenspiels."
If these fingers ever produce a baseball smorgasbord book, "Elephants and Glockenspiels" is the leading candidate for the title.
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Jeff Innis threw from over there as well. He pitched in relief for the Mets for seven seasons and routinely recognized components of life that others often missed. His sense of humor was a treasure. One of the Port St Lucie, Fla., newspapers published an odd, somewhat unflattering headshot of Innis during Spring Training in 1991. When he saw the photo, he applied the dog-ate-my-homework explanation players often use when they're not comfortable with what they said the previous night. "This picture was taken out of context," Innis said.
Sadly, a reader thought Innis was serious.
Innis also provided me with enough one-liners -- most of them self-deprecating -- that I could publish one each day at the bottom of the notes from the Mets' Spring Training camp. They were entitled "Innis in the Morning." And at least one of them was read on "Imus in the Morning."
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Terry Leach also was a sidewinder, one who produced an 11-1 record for the 1987 Mets and pitched a 10-inning one-hitter for the Mets of '82. He was a fine Southern gentleman from Alabama who could flummox any batting order. Leachy, as teammates called him, also was an effective peacekeeper. Though he was not a big man, he stepped between Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez to defuse a potential brawl in Spring Training in '87. If Strawberry's arms were longer, a genuine fight would have ensued.
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Tekulve, who tutored Quisenberry, was a good guy, too. He took his baseball -- but not himself -- seriously. I recall how pleasant he was after he had surrendered a late-inning, September home run by rookie Lee Mazzilli in 1976. The resulting loss essentially eliminated the Pirates from contention. And years later, after a grotesque performance by Tekulve had cost his team a game, his characterized his pitching as "rank doo-doo."
And who can forget the first words Eckersley spoke after Kirk Gibson had changed the 1988 World Series? Eck entered the A's clubhouse, removed his cap and placed it and his glove in his locker, turned sat and said, "Boy, that was something. Huh?"
Judging from guys who throw from over there, "over there" must be a pretty good place.