SI Vault
Bob Ottum
May 05, 1980
Batters dread facing Reliever Kent Tekulve, whose sidearm pitches arrive by way of third base, but in Pittsburgh he's earned the stamp of approval
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May 05, 1980

Here It Comes, Special Delivery

Batters dread facing Reliever Kent Tekulve, whose sidearm pitches arrive by way of third base, but in Pittsburgh he's earned the stamp of approval

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Now Tekulve starts pulling on the rest of his uniform, layering up, as baseball players do. He shoulders into the top half of an old gray T shirt—the bottom has been hacked away raggedly so that it leaves a bare midriff. This shirt, too, is full of tiny holes. In fact, all of the other half-dressed players around him look like this. It is now clear that the Pittsburgh roster carries 25 players and 10 million moths. Tekulve thoughtfully tapes on his long socks and gaiters. Everything has No. 27 stenciled on it. On the little finger of Tekulve's right hand is a chunky gold signet ring with 27 emblazoned in diamonds. "My new Z-car has a No. 27 license plate," he says. "Our family station wagon has a TEKE-27 license plate. I'm planning on getting Linda a new car, and the plates will say MRS 27. Egads, I've lost my identity."

Tekulve rises, coming off his stool in one streamlined motion, and shuffles in his shower slippers over to the training room. He peels off the half T shirt and holds it in one hand, then does a slow turn in front of Trainer Tony Bartirome.

The trainer circles Tekulve, looking him over and shaking his head mournfully. He has the look of a sculptor who can't quite figure out where to chisel next.

"All right," Tekulve says. "You think perhaps you can put this marvelous body back together for just one more game?"

"Jeez, I don't know," Bartirome says. "Listen, are you sure you're a big league ballplayer?"

"You know the rules," Tekulve says. "If I save the game, it's because I'm in such wonderful condition. If they shell me, it's the trainer's fault."

Bartirome stretches Tekulve out on the table and artfully arranges his limbs, as a mortician might. Then he forcefully pulls Tekulve's right shoulder and arm around and tucks the shoulder under Tekulve's chin. "There's not another pitcher in the big leagues who can duplicate this move," he says. "Tekulve's body is all loose and supple, not musclebound." Then he massages Vita Oil into the shoulder.

"I think the Pirates are the only club in baseball that use this stuff," Tekulve says. "It's got liniment in it and maybe 11 secret herbs and spices, plus a shot of baby oil. The action of the baby oil serves to gradually release the heat from the liniment. And between games, we fry chicken in it."

And Tekulve rises, his shoulder shining and smelling fiercely pungent. "Time for the world's ugliest pitcher to get suited up," he says.

Tanner has come around to watch this operation, and now he waits until Tekulve has shuffled out of earshot. The manager leans over confidentially. "Y'know what?" he says. "That Tekulve. He ain't really ugly. You've seen him pitch. Man, he's beautiful."

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