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Bob Tewksbury is the seurat of St. Louis. The Cardinals righthander isn't an expressionist like Roger Clemens nor a surrealist like Pascual Perez. He's more of a pointillist, painting the corners of the strike zone. His brush-work was so precise last season that he issued only 15 walks in 145 innings.
A dugout doodler, Tewksbury has drawn nearly everyone on the Cardinals, from shortstop Ozzie Smith to manager Joe Torre. "Michelangelo, Tewks ain't," says Smith of his teammate's watercolors, which glow with nonchalant playfulness. Tewks pictured teammate Joe Magrane, who has a reputation on the club for both male chauvinism and vanity, in a " Jane Fonda Women's Rights" T-shirt, a beer in one hand, a mirror in the other. Rex Hudler, the team's sometimes frenzied utilityman, is depicted getting psychoanalyzed in the clubhouse. "There's no hope for this guy," writes the shrink while eyeing a strait-jacket in Hudler's locker.
Hudler, perhaps the game's greatest gamer, is a sketch in himself. Tewks designed a "Headfirst Hudler" T-shirt that's all the rage in St. Louis. Tewksbury and Hudler have donated the proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts to a children's hospital. The two players roomed together on the Class A Fort Lauderdale Yankees in 1983. Tewks, Hudler recalls, daubed zinc oxide on the lips of their pet, a dead lizard named Murray (after the sunburn-prone Murray Cook, who at the time was director of player development for the New York Yankees). But the showpiece of the apartment was a Tewks cartoon of Pete Rose, which sneered from the foyer wall. Whenever Hudler played well, he spat on Pete. "Purely out of respect," says Hudler. Hudler keeps the saliva-stained doodle enshrined in his scrapbook. "Spit or no spit, Tewks's work has character," he explains.
The son of a Concord, N.H., mechanic, Tewksbury began making art at age five by tracing pictures in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. His first masterpiece as a pitcher was a one-hitter in American Legion ball: He struck out 24. But true artists must suffer, and Tewks has done his share during his 11 seasons in pro ball. Elbow surgery in 1982 slowed his fastball and his arrival in the majors. He finally made the Yankees' big league roster in '86, going 9-5 with a 3.31 ERA. But he struggled early in '87, and the Yanks dealt him to the Chicago Cubs for Steve Trout. After shoulder surgery in '88, he was sent to the minors, and he bobbed around the bushes until last June, resurfacing with St. Louis. Tewks had 10 victories for a team that won only 70 all year. This year he's been almost picture-perfect with a 4-2 record. "Who knows what I'd be making now if I had stayed healthy," says Tewks.
At $160,000 a year, he's not exactly starving in a garret. Yet he won't go to pro basketball or football games unless he has free tickets. "They cost too much," he says. Tewks is concerned about the price of baseball, too. "As a fan, I wonder if games will be affordable in five years." He thinks ballplayers are as overpriced as Van Goghs. "Of course, it's not the players' fault that salaries are ridiculous. The owners are responsible. George started it."
George, of course, is George Steinbrenner, baseball's ultimate caricature. Playing for Steinbrenner produced the kind of misery that inspires great art. "George never gave me a chance," says Tewksbury. "If he had, I might not have had to go through all I did. Not that I'd want to do it all over again."
He's an artist, he don't look back.