A mighty peculiar vehicle—a boat on wheels—is tooting about outside the Kingdome, and it begins to attract a crowd. No, it isn't a tugboat, someone explains; it's a fireboat, modeled after a vessel that still fights fires in Seattle's harbor. Seated on the bow, port and starboard, are Mariner relief pitchers Bill Caudill (pronounced "coddle"), 26, and Larry Andersen, 29. Since it's a half hour before game time, the two are in uniform. Caudill is the one with the life ring around his neck that reads RELIEF and the double-billed Sherlock Holmes-style baseball cap on his head. Both are holding pennants and programs. "Get your World Series tickets here!" they yell. "Step right up! Buy a program! Find out if this is really Julio Cruz!"
"Who are they?" one fan asks a friend.
"One of them's Caudill." A roll of the eyes. That explains it. The infamous Inspector. Cuffs.
The fireboat's bell rings—CLANG!—and Caudill winces at the noise. "It's still morning," he says to the boat's captain. "That's not really necessary, is it? Day games...." he moans.
"World Series tickets!"
"Inspector," says a middle-aged man, "bring us a World Series, will you?"
"Only if you buy a pennant."
The man buys a pennant. Business is brisk. Before a game a few weeks ago, Caudill and Andersen sold $500 worth of Mariners merchandise in 40 minutes, not a cent of which they kept. "The Inspector's the best thing to happen to Seattle since Boeing and the rain," says Craig Barrick, director of operations at the Kingdome. "For the first time, people here are actually talking baseball."
Talking baseball in Seattle isn't like talking baseball in, say. New York. Remember, this is the place where Funny Nose Glasses Night outdrew Gaylord Perry's 300th win by some 9,000 fans. Which makes it Caudill's type of town. In addition to his repertoire of pitches, Caudill possesses a genuine customs inspector's badge, a pair of handcuffs, two pink panthers, a calabash pipe, a Sherlock Holmes hat, two magnifying glasses, a Beldar the Conehead mask and, some Mariners suspect, several dozen packages of Jell-O. "I've had players on my teams as goofy as Caudill," says Seattle Manager Rene Lachemann, "...as outgoing...? No, outgoing isn't the word, goofy's the word, but none that were also as important to the team."
Important's not the word, either. Essential is. Billy Martin's All-Star selections notwithstanding, Caudill—a/k/a Cuffs, a/k/a the Inspector—is statistically the top relief pitcher in the American League this year with a better ERA and winning percentage, fewer hits allowed per inning, and more saves per opportunity than All-Stars Rich Gossage, Mark Clear, Rollie Fingers and Dan Quisenberry. Caudill is the primary reason the Mariners are involved in their first pennant race in their sorry six-year (344-521) history. He leads the Mariners with a 10-4 record and a club-record 19 saves. In fact, the entire Seattle bullpen, which tops the league in appearances with 209, has been sensational. The Mariners are 23-16 in one-run games, and 43-11 in games in which they have been tied or ahead entering the seventh inning. Caudill is the short man; he has made only two appearances before the eighth inning since April 21. Nearly as effective as Caudill have been the middle men, lefty Ed Vande Berg (53 appearances, 2.41 ERA) and righthander Mike Stanton (44 appearances, 2.48 ERA), who have the job of holding things in line until Caudill comes in. "Every team has to start somewhere," Caudill says, "and the Mariners started with a great bullpen—the best in baseball, I think. Hey, we're not that far out. We're for real."