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WILD THING
Rick Telander
August 28, 1989
Mitch Williams, the Cubs' ace reliever, is as unpredictable as the movie character he idolizes. But who cares? It works
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August 28, 1989

Wild Thing

Mitch Williams, the Cubs' ace reliever, is as unpredictable as the movie character he idolizes. But who cares? It works

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"If I've seen him load 'em up and strike 'em out once, I've seen him do it 30 times," added Cub pitcher Paul Kilgus. a teammate of Williams's at Texas. "You'd better drink a lot of milk this season, Zim. Mitch is Ulcer City."

Back in West Linn, Ore., where Williams was the winningest pitcher in state history his senior year of high school—he went 17-0, with 191 strikeouts—his teammates didn't get too many fielding chances. "There were lots of strikeouts and walks when he pitched," recalls San Francisco Giants pitcher Trevor Wilson, who went to nearby Oregon City High School. "I don't see him as the Wild Thing, just as a pitcher who throws the crap out of the ball and sometimes doesn't know where it's going."

Cincinnati manager Pete Rose wore a batting helmet in the dugout after watching Williams walk two batters, hit two and commit a balk in just one inning against the Reds. In 1986, Baltimore manager Earl Weaver saw Williams hit three of the first five Orioles he faced and said, "That guy's more hazardous to your health than cigarettes."

Williams has two pitches: fastball No. 1 and fastball No. 2, both of which could kill the Bull Durham mascot from second base. All of his pitches move, and some take off like a Titan missile with a broken homing device. "His ball runs away from righthanders," says Frey. "And I think lefthanders would rather have a root canal than face him."

"I throw a whole bunch of fastballs," Williams admits, adding that some batters just stand in the box waiting for him to prove he can throw a strike. Two years ago in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, Williams was called in with the score tied 6-6 in the eighth and the go-ahead run on first. He walked the first two batters, loading the bases. Then Wade Boggs came up with his bat almost rooted to his shoulder. As Boggs watched four balls go by to bring in the winning run, Williams yelled, "Swing the bat, you——!"

Amazingly, Williams was even wilder in the minor leagues. He was drafted in the eighth round out of West Linn High School, by the Padres in 1982. Two-and-a-half years later, he was acquired by the Rangers in the minor league deal. "The Padres thought I was a drug addict," says Williams. "They didn't think anyone sober could be that wild."

He recalls the time in the Class A Northwest League when he walked seven straight batters, and his manager left him in because, as Williams puts it, "I was starting to look better." Early on, he says, "I played a lot of catch with catchers, backstops, fans, whatever. In Salem, Virginia, one time I had a guy on third and I threw back-to-back pitches off the wall behind home plate. It was a cement wall and I fielded the ball each time, and the guy couldn't score."

In the stands at Wrigley now is Williams's wife, Dee, and her six-year-old daughter, Lindsey. They watch as Wild Thing marches in from the bullpen with the Cubs ahead 1-0 in the eighth. Dee is 34, ten years older than Williams, and she also has a 14-year-old son, Jamie, from her previous marriage. She and Williams have been married for 1½ years, and at times. Dee says, it seems as though she has two sons. "Patience is not Mitch's greatest virtue," she explains. " Wild, Impulsive Thing should be his song."

The Cub starter, righthander Mike Bielecki, walks off leaving two men on with two out and Van Slyke coming to the plate. The Cubs' organist plays Thriller as Williams warms up. At the start of the season, his theme song was Wild Thing, but pitching coach Dick Pole got it changed because it underscored Mitch's control problem.

Unfortunately, Williams pitches like Daffy Duck today. Van Slyke singles, scoring a run, and third baseman Bobby Bonilla follows with a triple for two more. The Cubs lose 3-1, and Williams is disgusted with himself. But at least he got to pitch. For him, the only thing worse than stinking the place up is having to sit and watch.

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