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Monday, September 29, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Terminator -- Enigmatic Oriole Closer Randy Myers Is Tough For Hitters - And Teammates - To Figure Out

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

He is at once icon and iconoclast, the only pitcher in baseball who keeps a hunting knife in his locker, and the reliever you'd most want on the mound with the game on the line.

Randy Myers has been called eccentric, which befits a man who dresses in camouflage, has been known to zap teammates and media with a stun gun, and reads books such as "101 Ways to Kill a Man With Your Bare Hands."

He has been called a maverick for being the first reliever to use extensive weight training, which so befuddled the Mets they traded him to Cincinnati in 1990. But Met General Manager Joe McIlvaine later acknowledged the folly of that move and traded for Myers when he ran the San Diego Padres.

Myers also has been called one of the all-time great short relievers, and even a potential Hall of Famer. He ranks sixth on the all-time list with 318 saves, including 45 (in 46 attempts) this season. He has 33 consecutive save conversions, the third-longest in history. In 1990, he saved 31 games as the closer for one of the most efficient and storied bullpens ever, Cincinnati's Nasty Boys, and helped them to a World Series championship. In 1993, pitching for the Chicago Cubs, he set the National League record of 53 saves, a total surpassed only by the White Sox's Bobby Thigpen (57 in 1990).

"He's a professional closer," Baltimore pitching coach Ray Miller said. "A lot of people are called that, but to me it's a past-tense word. I don't think you can call anyone a closer until they've saved 40 or 50 in a season, saved 300. Randall K. has done that. He knows how to finish games, pure and simple."

And guess what? You can call him a Washingtonian, too. Myers is a native of Vancouver who still lives there. In fact, Myers fully expected to be a machinist and auto mechanic, like his father, until his powerful left arm changed his plans. It is his blue-collar upbringing, he says, that has allowed him to stay at the top of an ephemeral profession for a decade.

"It's the work ethic my parents instilled in me," he said. "I treat it as a job. Barry Larkin once said to me in 1990, `I don't think I can handle your job. It would be like me being up, bottom of the ninth, second and third, two outs, one-run game, for eight days in a row. Each time, I get a hit and we win, and no one talks to me, no one comes up with a mike or anything. Yet the ninth day, I strike out, and everyone comes up and wants to know what the pitches were, what I was thinking, was I prepared and everything else.'

"That's true. In our job, when you don't succeed, everyone wants to know what's wrong. When you do succeed, it's expected."

Few have succeeded at a higher rate than Myers. While Mariner Manager Lou Piniella has labored all season to find stability and success at the end of a game, Myers has been virtually automatic for Baltimore Manager Davey Johnson. And through it all, Myers has happily fostered his image as an all-time flake.

Listen to Miller, who elaborates on his earlier description of Myers as a professional closer with a more apt label for the 35-year-old Myers: "Professional eliminator."

"Put yourself in the cinema world, and visualize a commander sending five guys out to capture an enemy soldier," Miller explains. "You take him to the back room and torture him and beat him to make him talk. Then you'd hand the gun to someone and say, `Shoot the guy.' The guy that would shoot him is probably the closer. Randall K. would be the one to do the job. He fits that mold."

Is this a baseball player or a soldier of fortune? Most teammates wink when Myers is mentioned, and talk about how all the militaristic paraphernalia he has kept in his locker - the grenade paperweight, the ammo box to store his mail, the gas mask - is for show, and that his Rambo persona is mostly an act. But then there are the stories.

Such as the time a drunken fan leaped out of the stands at Wrigley Field and charged the mound after Myers gave up a game-winning home run. Myers dropped him with a martial-arts move, then wrestled him to the ground.

Or his trip to Cleveland for this year's All-Star Game, where the sightseeing highlight for him was not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum or Jacobs Field, but rather the tomb of assassinated president James Garfield at LakeView Cemetery.

Or the time an enraged fan scuffled with a security guard in the Met bullpen, and Myers grabbed the guy by the neck and said, according to Jesse Orosco, a teammate then and now: "One false move and you're done, pal."

Asked to describe Myers recently, Orosco replied, "What's another word for crazy?"

Managers say they will put up with a few grenades in the locker for the assurance of having a guy who will take the ball in the ninth inning, no questions asked. Unlike many short relievers, who rely on pure smoke, Myers has a repertoire: A still-explosive fastball, slider and two types of changeups.

"I enjoyed Randy. I really did," said Piniella, who installed Myers as the head Nasty Boy in 1990. "He has his idiosyncrasies, but I'll tell you, he's been very, very successful for a long time. He's gotten better and better. He's a very competitive kid."

"He's pretty much hard-core," said Mariner reliever Norm Charlton, a teammate of Myers with the Reds. "He goes about his business. He's real honest, calls a spade a spade. He works real hard, goes out and pitches each day. He feels he deserves to win because he's worked harder than anybody else. He's a blue-collar guy, down to earth. His philosophy is, `Let's get dirty and let's get it done.' "

Myers likes to call himself "Mr. Mellow," which is roughly akin to the quiet man teammates refer to as "Gabby." With the Mets, they had a different name for him: Psycho. He protests that his militaristic image is largely the result of a gentrified New York press that simply couldn't relate to a Northwest outdoorsman.

"The city slickers from New York kind of made that image up," he said. "I'm from Washington state. I'd say over half the people there hunt or fish. If you're hunting or fishing, you wear camouflage clothes. They're comfortable. You're raised in the outdoors. When I was in New York, it was `Oh, gee, what's this.' "

Whatever one says about Myers, he has an undeniable passion for his specialty, and he is dead serious about it. Myers has a pregame and postgame workout regimen (complete with samurai headband), and he keeps intricate records of his appearances. Most of all, he knows how to get the final out.

"In baseball, you have one stat that is dictated upon everyone's contributions, and it's also the one stat where you know you won the game," he said. "A guy can go 4 for 4 with three homers, but you don't win. But when you get a save, it correlates directly toward wins and losses.

"Knowing that, you have to go out there and be successful eight out of 10 times. You get booed when you don't do good, and no one says anything when you do. That's why you don't have a lot of closers that can handle that pressure."

Just when you think you have Myers pegged as some kind of fruitcake, he throws a curve that makes you swing wildly and miss.

Wanting to raise the level of women's athletics, he has helped coach the women's basketball team at his alma mater, Vancouver's Clark Community College, for the past nine years (although that gig is likely over with the recent forced resignation of Coach Ken Trapp). He is widely involved in charities in Vancouver through his Randy Myers Foundation. In 1990, when he made the first of four All-Star teams, he skipped the workout to fulfill a commitment for a fund-raiser to aid his former American Legion team in Vancouver.

"I can tell you from the inside, he's one of the more intelligent people on the team," Miller said. "He's very learned, very studious. He can probably tell you every pitch he's thrown every hitter for the last 20 years. It's written in a book somewhere.

"The mercenary part - look, that's part of his persona. That's what a good closer is, a mercenary, a hired assassin."

Myers' fiancee, Jody Hoskins, has talked of his generosity ("I've seen him just hand out money to people who needed it") and his sense of humor. And yet this year, Myers incurred scorn in Baltimore for declining to join teammates in handing out roses to moms on Mother's Day at Camden Yards and for advocating the firing of an Oriole employee who accidentally played music while he was pitching.

It made a juicy target for the media - what kind of cad would diss a mother? - but Myers asserts there's more to the story. He said he boycotted the flower function as a protest against the team's refusal to let Oriole wives pass out fliers at the gates for their "Hits for the Homeless" campaign. And he was so angered by an unfavorable column on the incident, he dashed off a long letter that was published in the Baltimore Sun in which he chastised the reporter for being out of touch with "working class" families and their concerns.

"Whether it's working in the hay fields, working as a machinist, auto mechanic, salesperson at K Mart, a dishwasher in a restaurant, being a floor sweeper at a company or many other jobs I've held in my life, I know what the working-class family goes through," he wrote.

History indicates Myers doesn't wear particularly well. He never has shied away from criticizing his manager - including Piniella in the year after the World Series. The Orioles are his fifth team, and he has not been with any of them for more than three full seasons. He is a free agent at the end of this year, and with Armando Benitez and Arthur Rhodes waiting behind him, there is a chance he will move again, particularly if Johnson does not return.

If so, Myers will pack up his hand-grenade paperweight, his cattle prod, his gun magazines, and move on. And, no doubt, keep blasting out of ninth-inning pressure situations.

"We prepare for 9:30," he said. "Everyone else prepares for 7:30. Everyone else works hard for three hours, and we can screw it up in 10 minutes. So we've got to be prepared."

No one prepares quite like Randall Kirk Myers.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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