Monday, February 17, 2014

FACE TIME: 1981 TOPPS AL HRABOSKY




Not all Hungarians are perpetually pissed off.

Illusionist Harry Houdini wasn't. Nor was actor Tony Curtis. Not even drummer Tommy Ramone, and all stickmen have a screw loose. But actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was. And so was Al Hrabosky

The Mad Hungarian was certified psycho, a fireman so crazy he's rumored to have once carjacked the bullpen cart in between games of a doubleheader.

He looks positively penitentiary on this 1981 Topps card, the face of late-inning mayhem. Batters got a good look at this mug but not before his choreographed antics. He'd go to the back of the mound, face the outfield, frantically rub the ball, take a deep breath and fire it into his mitt. I'm surprised the cops never stormed the hill and detained him as "a person of interest.''

The lefty live-wire with the live fastball said the pre-pitch shtick helped him focus. He credits it for saving his career. After not doing a whole lot for the Cardinals in his first four seasons, Hrabosky saved nine games in '74 and added eight wins in 88.1 innings. The next season, he was all the rage. He saved an NL-leading 22 and won 13 with a 1.66 ERA, finishing third in the Cy Young voting. 

He went on to post double-digit saves the next four years with the Cardinals and Royals and rankled many more batters from coast to coast. A mound meltdown always seemed a pitch away.

The 5150 act played well in the ratings. In one memorable ABC Monday Night Baseball game from '77 against the Reds, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound bundle of TNT walked the bases loaded in a tie game in the ninth. He then struck out George Foster, Johnny Bench and Bob Bailey. The Cards won 6-5 in the bottom of the 10th on a Ted Simmons homer as Hrabosky got the W and an Emmy nomination.

He was the yin to Mark Fidrych's yang during a period when free-spirited characters began to emerge. Nowadays, The Mad Hungarian probably would be remanded to 90 days of anger management and heavily medicated. 

The Medicated Hungarian wouldn't be nearly as entertaining.





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