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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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"The guy's a little weird."

Rock bobs his head in agreement. "Like that time at Comiskey Park when he wore the black wig on the bench. Steinbrenner saw it on TV and let Boomer know he wasn't happy."

"That boy's sick." It's unclear whether Big Daddy means Boomer or the Boss.

BOOMER TO BOSS: DUCK

Steinbrenner got Wells by default. The Boss had been pursuing another free-agent pitcher, Roger Clemens, but the Rocket took off to Toronto. (Clemens's 20-4 record at week's end suggests he has yet to come down.) Steinbrenner had deemed Jimmy Key, his own free-agent starter, too fragile for a two-year contract, so Key bolted to Baltimore, where he's a hardy 14-8.

That left Wells, a 33-year-old southpaw who had spent the previous five seasons connecting the dots on a map of the big leagues. He had played for Toronto, Detroit, Cincinnati and, lastly, Baltimore, where he was uneven (11-14, 5.14 ERA) but durable (224⅓ innings). Still, Wells's lifetime numbers in the Bronx were staggering: 9-1, a 2.84 ERA and a .218 batting average by opponents. Ruth may have built Yankee Stadium, but Wells owned it. "David's got that Yankee mystique," says Steinbrenner. "He goes out there thinking, Ruth played here. DiMaggio played here. He understands Yankee tradition. That's hard to say about a guy who looks like a beer-league softball player."

The Boss, it turns out, was one of Boomer's biggest boosters. "There's a lot to like about him," says Steinbrenner. "He's a pitcher who wants the ball, who'll come out on two days' rest. He's sometimes outrageous and disruptive, but on balance, you take him."

Before offering Wells a contract, Steinbrenner huddled with him for nearly an hour. "We talked about everything but baseball," Wells says. "It was more of a personality check. George wanted to see if I was a sane person or the crazy son of a bitch he'd heard about." Though Steinbrenner concluded that Wells was sane enough to be a Yankee, the Boss's sanity didn't much concern Wells. "I'd heard good things and bad things about George," he says. "He's a generous man and a crazy man. He says things now and then that are uncalled for, but he's human. With me, he's been very nice and patient. But I like to have fun, and if he doesn't like that, I'll deal with the consequences. On the other hand, I'm not going out of my way to piss the guy off. What he gets out of me is a 110-percent genuine person who's not afraid to fail."

A mischievous grin spreads across Wells's face. "I might punch George before I leave," he says. "We'll see."

GHOST OF BAMBINO FEEDS WELLS

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