Joaquin Andujar: a colorful character and a top pitcher
Pitcher Joaquin Andujar of the St. Louis Cardinals, the gold chains around his neck firing off bursts of glitter in the late afternoon sunlight, riveted his eyes on a reporter standing just in back of the batting cage at Dodger Stadium.
''Sutter, yes Sutter, he put you up to asking question; he the one,'' Andujar said, shattering the air with his broken English. He was referring to Cardinal relief pitcher Bruce Sutter, who likes to tease Joaquin about the fact that he collects rocking chairs - 25 at last count.
''Sutter, he cannot understand a man collecting rocking chairs,'' Andujar continued. ''He think everyone should collect stamps. But I have nice collection; mostly wood but some metal and several from different countries. I buy them because I like how they look, not because I know anything about them.''
While Andujar's reputation as a character has grown over the years, aided by teammates like Sutter, he probably thinks it is all a mistake. But once Joaquin showered with his uniform on after a hard-to-take defeat; stepped out of the batter's box to chase butterflies; and began ''shooting'' opposing hitters with his index finger after striking them out, it was too late to stop the legend.
One thing this 30-year-old right-handed native of the Dominican Republic does know about is setting up opposing hitters and then taking the bread out of their mouths by throwing his fastball right by them.
Last year Andujar won 15 games during the regular season plus two more including the decisive seventh game in the World Series. He registered almost three times as many strikeouts as walks; finished with an impressive 2.47 earned-run average; and (including postseason play) was 17-1 in games in which the Cardinals scored first.
When the Houston Astros traded Joaquin to St. Louis partway through the 1981 season, his pitching motion was badly out of sync. For some reason he had abandoned his over-the-top motion for a three-quarter delivery that just wasn't working. Even .200 hitters were teeing off on him.
However, that trade also reunited Andujar with Cardinal pitching coach Hub Kittle, who had known him since he was 15 years old. Kittle is obviously one of the few people in this world who understand the many-faceted personality which has earned Joaquin his ''hot dog'' reputation. Between them they constitute a formidable mutual admiration society.
''Kittle, he notice something about me that is wrong,'' Joaquin explained. ''He change my delivery back to what it used to be. He tell me to keep the ball down. He yell at me if I don't stay ahead of the hitters. The rest I do with my fastball, which is very good. When I throw my fastball down and away, hitters they swing and miss.''
After winning 12 consecutive games between the latter part of 1982 and the beginning of the current season, Andujar went through a dry spell this spring when everything seemed to be working against him.
''To be effective, a pitcher has got to get himself into a groove and stay there,'' said Cardinals' Manager Whitey Herzog. ''If he knows he is going to pitch every three or four days, he is able to plan ahead; do his running; throw just enough between starts to stay loose; and try to peak on the day he is going to work.''
''What set Andujar back were a number of rainouts in St. Louis in April and early May that caused him to go eight days without pitching in a game,'' Herzog continued. ''While pitchers can always throw and exercise under the stands at times like that, it's never the same.
''His first game back, I think it was, he was doing OK until bloop hits began falling safely all over the place. Then he worked three games for us in which we didn't get him a run. But I'm sure that by the end of the season, things will have evened up for him.''
While the 1982 World Series didn't exactly belong exclusively to Andujar, he did get unlimited TV coverage in the third game when Milwaukee's Ted Simmons rifled a ball off his right knee. Joaquin had to be carried off the field on a stretcher; his victory saved by the St. Louis bullpen.
Five days later Andujar came back to win the seventh game, although he needed help from Bruce Sutter to close out the Brewers in the eighth and ninth innings. At the time he whooped it up with friends and teammates. But the real celebration, as far as he was concerned, didn't come until Christmas, when he spent $5,000 on gifts to underprivileged kids who live in his country.
Some hot dog!