Sam (Mayday) Malone once said, "I was a relief pitcher before they became famous." True enough, but old Mayday did earn a certain notoriety nonetheless. Another former Boston Red Sox pitcher, George Ruth, was the Babe, but Sam Malone was the Babe Magnet, a long-ball-surrendering ladies' man with a head of hair like a manicured hedge. Malone's little black book was as thick as the Boston White Pages; and in 1978, he only added to his Romeo reputation by requesting that the Red Sox get Call Waiting in the bullpen. Manager Don Zimmer soon informed Sammy that he had made his last call as a member of the Red Sox. And now, as Malone hears another landmark last call, this seems an appropriate time to recall his seven terrible, swift seasons in the big leagues, and his improbable life since then. Take a look back.
Or shall we say, back...hack...way back. For in Boston, the righthanded Malone was taken downtown more often than the inbound Red Line. New York Yankee slugger Dutch Kincaid homered every time he faced Malone. When SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reported on baseball's most prolific gopher-ball pitchers, Malone made the cover, his head turned toward the Green Monster, beneath the memorable billing, WHAM, BAM, THANK YOU, SAM.
"I was a small player in a big town," Malone once lamented, but his sporting legacy is a large one. Since 1982, as the man behind the bar called Cheers, at 112½ Beacon Street in Boston, he has been serving pitchers of relief. The recent announcement that the place would close its door forever on May 20 has left its regulars feeling empty. Among the many patrons who have ducked beneath the cream-and-orange awning of the bar just downstairs from Melville's ("Fine Sea Food") have been a number of noteworthy athletes, including Boston Celtic forward Kevin McHale, then Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs, late Bruin goalie Eddie LeBec, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas (O.K., he didn't have to duck) and Czech hockey great Tibor Svetkovic.
Svetkovic, you'll recall, defected to the U.S. to fulfill his dream of playing in the NHL. He dressed as a woman, hid in a haystack, crawled beneath barbed wire, swam two rivers and stowed away on a tramp steamer to reach freedom. "The next week," noted Cheers waitress Carla Tortelli, "the rest of his team came over on the Concorde. That's what he gets for not reading his schedule."
Tortelli, by the way, is one of two widows of Bruin bigamist LeBec, who drank his lucky pregame club sodas at Cheers until his untimely death in 1989. Having retired from hockey, LeBec was killed in a freak Zamboni accident while saving the life of a fellow ice-show penguin, which only goes to show you that....
Wait a minute. Where were we? Like any story told over cold ones in a neighborhood saloon, this one lends itself to a bit of babbling, one talc giving rise to another until, hours later, we all stumble out onto the street, trying to remember what the hell we were just talking about. Which was...Sam Malone. Right. Sam Malone. On this May day, we salute Mayday, as Malone was known in his heyday at Fenway. His is a remarkable story.
"Next to Sammy's life, my life looks dull," says Norm Peterson, a longtime friend who was spot-welded to his bar stool at Cheers. Then again, notes Peterson, "Next to a barnacle's life, my life looks dull."
Malone was born in....
Hold the phone. You gotta hear this one first, the story about Boggs dropping into Malone's bar. Have you heard this? It happened when Boggs was still with the Red Sox. He just burst through the front door, strode past the cigar-store Indian, bounced down the three steps to the bar area, and there he was: Wade Boggs.
Only nobody in the bar believed it was really him. It had to be an impostor, so they chased the joker out the door and into traffic, where they ripped his pants off. Back in the bar, Cheers patrons triumphantly waved the man's khakis and examined the contents of his wallet. That's when they discovered that the guy they had just de-pantsed was someone named...Wade Boggs.