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Heavy Duty
Jeff Pearlman
July 10, 2000
They said he wouldn't last, but Toronto's large-livin' lefthander, David Wells, has become baseball's most reliable pitcher—and a clubhouse wise man to boot
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July 10, 2000

Heavy Duty

They said he wouldn't last, but Toronto's large-livin' lefthander, David Wells, has become baseball's most reliable pitcher—and a clubhouse wise man to boot

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Energy Savers
One reason David Wells's stamina hasn't been an issue in 2000 is that at week's end, the Blue Jays lefty was the majors' third most efficient hurler in terms of the number of pitches needed to retire the side (minimum 100 innings).

PITCHER, TEAM

PITCHES PER PINNING

1. Gil Heredia, A's

13.2

2. Greg Maddux, Braves

13.6

3. David Wells, Blue Jays

13.9

4. Brian Anderson, Diamondbacks

14.1

5. Terry Mulholland, Braves

14.3

6. Jon Lieber, Cubs

14.4

7. Todd Ritchie, Pirates

14.5

8. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks

14.6

9. Pedro Martinez, Red Sox

14.6

10. Kevin Brown, Dodgers

14.9

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

David wells is fat. Not phat. Fat. He is not a work in progress, not a lug trying to shed some pounds, not a Weight Watchers washout. Over the past 13 years, since Wells broke in as a reliever with the Toronto Blue Jays, players and trainers and managers and general managers and owners have spent time—too much time—trying to convince themselves and the rest of the world that Wells was a fat guy in search of a skinny body. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wells is a fat guy who is content being fat, and if he is in search of anything, it is a beer: Coors Light, in a bottle, please. Everything about Wells is fat. The three likenesses of family members tattooed on his upper body are fat. The dark-brown goatee that could comfortably house a family of six robins is fat. His fingers and toes, his ears and nose, his forehead and chin(s) are fat. Even his voice sounds fat, the words spewing forth in a husky tone, with a fleshiness to them.

Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash, a mountain of a man himself, is one of those who wasted his time. During Wells's first stint with Toronto, from 1987 through '92, Ash, the assistant G.M. for four of those years, was part of the effort to whittle away at the 6'4" Wells, wishfully listed at 225 pounds. What's more, the Blue Jays condemned the pitcher's other conspicuous characteristics: his love of Metallica CDs played at ear-melting volume, a devotion to multiple brews, a sharp tongue and a Fire-starter temper. "We did everything we could to control Boomer," says Ash, who, fed up with Wells's antics and inconsistent performance, helped the team reach its decision to release him in March 1993. "We learned the hard way: The worst way to control him is to try and control him."

Wells was 7-9 with a 5.40 ERA in his final season as a badgered Blue Jay. The next year, playing in Detroit for laid-back, do-what-ya-wanna-do manager Sparky Anderson, Wells became, with an 11-9 record and 4.19 ERA, one of the Tigers' top starters. Two seasons later he was an All-Star. Three seasons after that, in 1998, he was the ace of the New York Yankees, throwing a perfect game, going 18-4 with a 3.49 ERA, winning two Championship Series games and one more in the World Series, going Manhattan barhopping with the honeys and kickin' it on Letterman's love seat. "We made mistakes with Boomer," says Ash. "They won't be made twice."

That has become Ash's mantra, what with the out-of-nowhere Blue Jays riding Wells's 14-2 record, 3-41 ERA and league-high four complete games to the top of the American League East. In fact, Ash has spent nearly 17 months repeating it, ever since that awkward day of Feb. 18, 1999, when Toronto traded righthander Roger Clemens to the Yankees and received young second baseman Homer Bush, lefthanded reliever Graeme Lloyd and a Fritosingesting Babe Ruth fanatic (now wishfully listed at 235) who loved to wear pinstripes and who greeted the news of the trade not with tears or smiles but with a look of disgust. Shortly after the deal was made, when he was able to contact Wells, Ash assured the lefthander that times and attitudes had changed in Toronto, that these were open-minded days for the Blue Jays. In other words, be the ace of our staff—and consume all the Coors and Ho Hos you'd like.

"All I ask is that you respect me as a pitcher," Wells says now. "All the other stuff doesn't mean s—-."

It was not supposed to turn out this way, and anyone who argues otherwise is either a liar or a member of the Homer Bush Society for the Betterment of the World. The Blue Jays did not want to trade Clemens. Heck, he was the best pitcher in baseball, the two-time defending American League Cy Young Award winner. Unfortunately for Ash, Clemens felt Toronto wasn't trying hard enough to win. Even more unfortunately for Ash, Clemens was contractually permitted to demand a trade—and did just that. "I know what people thought," says Ash. "They thought we had been robbed. If you go back and read the initial stories, the Yankees thought they'd pulled one over on us, too. They believed they got us good."

Ash does not snicker or chuckle, though clearly he could. Lloyd spent one productive (5-3, 3.63 ERA) season with the Blue Jays before joining the Montreal Expos as a free agent. (He has not pitched this season and is on the disabled list with a muscle tear in his left shoulder.) Bush, who was Chuck Knoblauch's understudy in New York, bettered his mentor in numerous categories last year, hitting .320 with 32 stolen bases while committing only nine errors. Although at week's end he was batting .192, Bush hasn't hit any elderly women in the seats with his throws to first base. But the pi�ce de r�sistance has been Wells.

Pitching last year with a chronically sore back and for a chronically mediocre team, Wells went 17-10 and led the American League in complete games (seven) and innings pitched (231?). Since the beginning of the 1999 season, his 31 wins are the second most in baseball, trailing only Boston Red Sox righthander Pedro Martinez's 32. "More than anybody I know, I love this game," says the 37-year-old Wells. "I take a lot of pride in what I do and what we do as a team. People make a big deal out of success. I feel like you're supposed to succeed. It's what you're paid for."

"You need people who hate to lose, and he despises losing," says Toronto manager Jim Fregosi. "Just look at his durability. Whether he's in pain or not, he wants to pitch."

In New York, this amounts to a catastrophe of the first magnitude. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that when he heard Ash's trade offer, "it made my knees buckle." In Clemens, New York was receiving not only a lock Hall of Famer but also an unflappable pitcher and workout fanatic with unmatched intensity. Wells, on the other hand, was a lard butt with a bad back who, while popular with some teammates and best pals with Yankees righthander David Cone, had grated on some upper-management types (though not George Steinbrenner) with his distaste for physical fitness. Many Yankees view spring training as vital preparation. Wells, who routinely reports to camp disguised as a weather balloon, views it as vital wiener-roasting time. "It's sort of funny how trades are remembered," says Bush. "Graeme, Boomer and I will always be known as the guys traded for Roger Clemens, no matter what happens. I don't know how good that is."

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