The mad Hungarian doesn't mind if you just call him Al. That's what Alan Thomas Hrabosky goes by on the air these days in St. Louis, where he has lived for the better part of 30 years. "I'm recognized by fans, but it's like I'm just one of them," says Hrabosky, 51, a Cardinals TV color man since 1985. Broadcasters, he notes, don't need maniacal routines to get psyched up.
But certain relief pitchers do, and Hrabosky was the original artiste. For the better part of a decade the hirsute lefthander would enter games at Busch Stadium to Liszt's circusy Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and promptly put on the greatest show in baseball. Before each pitch he'd retreat to the back of the mound, turn his back to the batter, mutter beneath his Fu Manchu about his own worthiness, then pound the ball into his mitt before storming back onto the hill. The psychological value of a little personal time occurred to him while he was trying to deflect the pain of a dental visit midway through the '74 season. His pre-pitch ritual developed soon thereafter. "It wasn't an act; it was a last-ditch effort to stay in the majors," says Hrabosky, who overcame inconsistency to become the game's top stopper in 1975. "But it proved that the game was starved for color. People didn't want robots out there."
While the Mad Hungarian was thriving, however, Al was suffering through an unhappy marriage. His fastball gradually lost its spice, and he retired in 1982, at 33, with 97 saves. "I was fighting myself so much that I couldn't throw a baseball without gripping it too tight," he says.
He soon met his current wife, June. Married for seven years, they share a house in Frontenac, Mo., with June's two children, whom Al has adopted. "The Mad Hungarian is always going to be a part of me, but now I don't need him," Hrabosky says. "He was my best friend for all those years, and now my wife is. He'll just have to wait for an Old-Timers' Game."