The world champion Cincinnati Reds sat around their locker room at Al Lopez field today and told bad jokes.
"I walked past the Mad Hungarian yesterday," said Dan Driessen, now the Reds' regular first baseman, "and I didn't even know it was him. Without his Fu Manchu mustache and all that hair, he looks like another bad St. Louis pitcher."
"Ssshh," said Ken Griffey, runnerup for the batting title last year. "If he hears you say that, then he'll be a Very Mad Hungarian, and you know what that means."
"Yeah," said Driessen, "those darn fast balls hurt."
The Mad Hungarian is relief pitcher Al Hrabosky of the St. Louis Cardinals and he is very mad these days.
"Relief pitching is 75 per cent mental," Hrabosky fumed earlier this week, furious that 48-year-old rookie mananger Vern Rapp has ordered all Cardinals to be clean-shaven and short-haired. "How am I going to scare hell out of the hitters with my new image? How am I going to convince them I'm a dangerous madman if I look like a golf-pro?
"I've never been blessed with great ability. My mystique was what made me successful," said the disconsolate Hrabosky.
Hrabosky has caused such a stir this week - talking about Cardinal team dissension, his anger and threatening to file a grievance with the Major League Players Association - that Rapp called a team meeting.
After more than an hour behind locked doors, during which Ted Simmons and several other Cadinals defended Rapp. the Mad Hungarian emerged chastened and apologized. Sort of.
"I'm man enough to admit I was wrong, but I'm learning. I don't plan to file a grievance at this time; I may later.
"It's a dead issue with Rapp, but it's not a dead issue with me. I'm going to keep my mouth shut for the time being and do what I have to do.
"I just wanted to clear the air. I offended Vern. I had no right to say some of the things I did."
Today, in a move to lighten tension, Hrabosky was excused from attending the Cards-vs.-Reds game. He was the topic of conversation.
"Vern Rapp is a fine man," said Reds' manager Sparky Anderson, who had Rapp as his AAA manager at Indianapolis from 1969 to 1976, "but any first-year manager breaking in this season is going to get one heck of a test.
"You can't manage like a czar anymore and treat the players like peasants. I have some stature in this game and I'm tested by my players every day. Yes, the big-name players. They bitch, moan and agitate me constantly. I wish one day I could come in and od nothing but smile. But everyday is a game of trying to keep them inside some kind of manageable borders.
"I think Vern can get away with this (the hair code) and I think he's doing it," said Anderson."But it's just one example of how hard it is now to be a manager."
Harbosky, 27, is in many ways a typical prosperous young major league star of the '70s. The major league Firemen of the year in 1975, Hrabosky is on the second season of a fat three-year contract. St. Louis is dotted with "I Hlove Hrabosky" bumper stickers. The lefthander makes many public appearances and is also a sportscaster.
In short, Hrabosky is not crazy, merely crafty and ambitious. In the age of glitter rock stars, he is the baseball equivalent, a relief pitcher who pretends to be a borderline psychotic.
"This hair business doesn't really have anything to do with his pitching," said Griffey. "He doesn't want to have that lucrative, popular image taken away. He can't by the Mad Hungarian anymore. We all have an interest in public exposure. I went on the TV superstars show to get it."
Hrabosky is not likely to be teased about his naked chin by fellow major leaguers.
"I'm on his side, get that clear," laughed Griffey. "Hard as he throws . . . he's definitely the type of person who would get back at you if you said something about him. He may not be mad, but he's definitely mean. That much is not jive."
Rapp learned the strict dress and hair codes during his years in the Reds organization; the clean-cut edict stretches from rookie league to majors.
"It's a lot easier to install something like this if the system begins in the minor league," said the Reds' RBI champ, George Foster, a friend of Hrabosky's in the minors. "It's like your parents molding you early. You're willing to go along with the show.
"Now Rapp is trying to put in the system at the major league level with grown men. It's bound to meet resistance.
"I grew a mustache in the offseason that I thought made me look like Kunta Kinte," said Foster. "But I cut it off becuase that's always been the Reds' consistent policy for years. I can deal with that. But if they suddenly said, 'George, shave your sideburns,' hey, I wouldn't be too happy We'd have a problem."
The Cardinals hope that the Hrabosky affair is finished. "I think it'll disappear and get quiet now," said Rapp yesterday. "Anyway, I certainly hope so."
But Anderson knows it may not be easy. Nothing seems to be any more when it comes to handling players with long-term contracts and union leverage.
"Needling is just part of the atmosphere on a good club," said Anderson. "Everybody agitates everybody. In that setting, authority is not attained by screaming or trying to prove that you have it. You have to learn to be a story-teller, a con man. You have to sugar-coat your orders, sometimes."
The Reds' ancient third-base coach, George Scherger, reflecting on Mad Hungarians, free agents, million-dollar contracts and union grievances, simply shook his sage old head.
"Sugs," said Anderson looking at his old minor-league friend from a different era, "it just ain't the same."