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The Unvarnished Ruth
Franz Lidz
September 08, 1997
Free-spirited lefthander DAVID WELLS may get tattooed by hitters every now and then, but he's fulfilling his dream—pitching for the Yankees, the team of his idol, the Babe
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September 08, 1997

The Unvarnished Ruth

Free-spirited lefthander DAVID WELLS may get tattooed by hitters every now and then, but he's fulfilling his dream—pitching for the Yankees, the team of his idol, the Babe

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Palmer objects to the bit about Baltimoreans. "Go around in tank tops and tattoos," he says, "and you'll get hassled anywhere."

Self-discipline is what Palmer found wanting in Wells. "I've always loved Boomer," he says diplomatically. "If he doesn't get the gout or get hassled too much, he's gonna give a team a lot of innings. But they might have been better innings. If you're talking about perfection or even the pursuit of perfection, I get the feeling sometimes that he's not as well prepared or conditioned as he could be." Palmer invokes Key, for whom Wells was essentially swapped. "Jimmy is steeped in self-discipline," Palmer says. "He's always in shape, he can field his position, he can hold runners on. You can't say any of that about David. If Jimmy gets shelled, you think, Hey, he had a bad game. But if David gets hit around, you think, Hey, maybe this guy should make some lifestyle changes and lose a few pounds."

Wells doesn't burden himself with such weighty issues. "You don't run the ball up to the plate," he says. "Besides, how can somebody who's not me determine what's comfortable for me? He's not in my body. Nowadays, the concern is more how you look in the lobby than how you pitch. Nobody bothered Mickey Lolich about how fat he was."

Hearing Wells's gut reactions, Palmer, remarks, "Yeah, but Lolich was a 25-game winner. David's never had more than 16 victories in a season. I can't help wondering how great he really could be. He might not wonder about that. Which is O.K. Some guys don't ever want to find out."

YANKEES PITCHER HAS DOUBLE LIFE AND DOUBLE WIFE

Wells's night-crawler ways may explain why, during day games, his pitching arm sometimes goes as dead as a hooked wiggler. His nocturnal ERA is so much lower than his daytime run allowance that Torre has considered tweaking the starting rotation to give Wells more late-shift work. "David can handle New York," Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said recently, "but I don't know if New York can handle him."

Can David handle another David? Seven, maybe eight wars ago, somebody went around the country passing himself off as Wells. "He didn't really resemble me," says Wells. "Well, maybe if you just glanced at him."

Who was handsomer?

Wells narrows his eyes. "Who do you think, man?"

The Wells impostor was not nearly as benign as the Genuine Article. "That knucklehead was a bad cup of tea, man. And everything bad he did, he did in my name. It was kind of scary. I could have shown up somewhere he had pulled something and had the crap beat out of me."

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