The way Steve Stone, the Baltimore Oriole righthander, was poring over the wine list in a Milwaukee restaurant the other evening, one would have thought that he was examining an opponent's lineup card. Shaking off one entry as "frivolous" and a Pouilly-Fuissé as "so acidic that it sits on your tongue like an Alka-Seltzer," he opted for his own enological batting order.
"We'll lead off with a nice white, the 1975 Puligny-Montrachet," Stone told the sommelier, reeling off the French with just the right nasal intonations. "Then we'll have a 1974 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve—all the Cabernet out of the Napa Valley was outstanding that year. And finally, please open a bottle of the 1970 Gevrey-Chambertin. A good Burgundy needs time to breathe, sort of like a reliever warming up in the bullpen."
Fresh from a seven-hit, 5-2 win over the Brewers, Stone was clearly no slouch when it came to savoring the victor's spoils. As is his wont, while the rest of the Orioles were pigging out on the deli spread in the visitors' clubhouse, he had slipped off with a lovely lady for a "dining adventure" at one of his favorite retreats, the English Room in the Pfister Hotel. And now, resplendent in a brown velvet jacket and discussing sauces with the maître d', he was one with the heady, rippling strains of the resident harpist. Eating, Stone allowed, ranks right up there with his two other great passions, pitching and wooing.
Though he eschews the major league heartburn circuit, Stone is no gastronomic snob. On road trips he rents a car and drives far afield to partake of the boiled lobster at Bishop's in Lawrence, Mass. and the rack of lamb at Le Francais in Wheeling, Ill. But he also delights in sampling the souvlaki at the sidewalk stands in Detroit's Greek Town, and back in Towson, Md., where he owns a town house, he has it his way at the local Burger King—double patty, hold the lettuce and tomato. "You have to be flexible," he says.
Stone, who is in his 10th season of wining and dining his way around both leagues, doesn't take his role as baseball's galloping gourmet lightly. For him, it is a livelihood and a way of life. "I've always loved to eat," he explained, offering a forkful of shrimp à l'étouffée to his lady friend, "but I didn't get serious about food until one day in 1973 when I was throwing in the bullpen for the White Sox. My ERA was 4.24 that season, and when I took a look at my stuff, I thought, 'Steve, old buddy, in the interest of your future well-being, you had better develop an alternate source of income.' "
Today, Stone is part owner of eight Chicago-area restaurants, including the elegant Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel. And with plans to open an exclusive eatery of his very own in Scotts-dale, Ariz. this fall, he views his culinary rambles as market research rather than mere indulgence. Once, upon encountering an "exquisite" shrimp sauce at Vito's Scampi in Scottsdale, he spooned a sample into a plastic bag and then rushed it in a jet's refrigerator back to Chicago, where the chefs at one of his restaurants, working over their stoves like chemists, broke the sauce down into its ingredients for inclusion on their menu.
In addition to his interest in food, Stone is also a published poet, a chess player, a pool hustler, a table-tennis whiz and an inveterate dabbler in the occult. Before a game against California in Anaheim three years ago, he was greatly concerned when Ruth the Psychic, a Los Angeles seer who advises him about his baseball fortunes, sought him out in a restaurant. "Ruth, how did you know where to find me?" he asked. "I had a feeling," she said. She also had a warning: "If you pitch tonight, you'll hurt your arm."
Pausing over his lobster bisque à l'armagnac, Stone recalled, "I couldn't get loose in the bullpen that night. But then, just as Ruth entered the ball park—boom!—a transformer short-circuited and knocked out the lights on the first-base side of the field. They had to call the game, and I was saved."
Though a strong believer in self-reliance, Stone is not one to ignore the influence of "outside forces." Indeed, as a pitcher who spent a decade struggling to boost his career won-loss record over the .500 mark, Stone suggests that it is only natural to ascribe mystical qualities to most anything that might relate to pitching, especially diet.
Last season, for example, when he defeated the Texas Rangers 4-3 after breakfasting at a Baltimore pancake house with Peter Pascarelli, a sportswriter for the News-American, Stone proposed that they repeat the flapjack ritual before every one of his starts. And so they did, generously laying on the maple syrup, although Stone soon found that the strategy was more effective at home than away. He won six straight in Memorial Stadium. Last month, before a start in Baltimore against the Minnesota Twins, Pascarelli couldn't make it for breakfast and, in a weak moment, Stone switched to steak and eggs—and got bombed out in the fifth inning to end his home victory streak at eight games.