Each day when Whitey Herzog got to the ballpark written reports already were waiting for him. They told him what was happening to the Cardinals' minor league players, who was looking good and who wasn't, in the event that Herzog was thinking of going shopping for something. The reports on one particular player, a right-handed reliever in Louisville, intrigued Herzog. Day after day the reports were terse and encouraging: "Throws 95. Throws strikes." It seemed the guy was shredding Triple-A batters: 11 appearances, 1.17 ERA. So on Aug. 27 -- the intent being to assure his eligibility for postseason play -- Herzog put in a call to Louisville and said, "Get me Todd Worrell." Or, as he affectionately was called there by his manager and teammates, "Poopsie."
The very next day, in Cincinnati, Worrell got into his first major league game, and Herzog certainly didn't baby him. There were runners on second and third, and one man out. Worrell yielded a run-scoring single to Ed Milner, and, as if that wasn't bad enough, saw that the next two hitters were Pete Rose, at the time just five hits short of Tying Cobb, and Dave Parker, the top RBI man in the National League. Your scorecard will show that Worrell got them both without further damage, beginning a climb that has been fast and steep enough to make people wonder if there isn't a, shall we say, more aggressive nickname than "Poopsie."
Your World Series souvenir program will show that Worrell has been semi-impressive lately. In 5 1/2 weeks Worrell pitched in 17 games, didn't blow a lead, didn't lose a game, won three and saved five. (Not to put too fine a point on it, Orioles fans, but in six months Tippy Martinez won three and saved four.) In the playoffs, Worrell won another game. And in Saturday night's World Series opener, Worrell came in for John Tudor, got Willie Wilson to pop up with bases loaded, got away with a flaps-up fast ball to George Brett, and got the last seven outs and the save. Not only hasn't Worrell been roughed up yet, his hair hasn't been mussed.
Now here's today's quiz: When did Todd Worrell first become a reliever?
July 18, 1985.
Up until then he was a starter, a minor league starter, mind you, 3-10 in Double-A in 1984, by his own admission, "1,000 miles away from the majors and going backwards."
He was a fast ball-slider pitcher with a live arm, but no third pitch and no staying power. Three times through the lineup and the opposition had him timed, measured and showering. And as big as he was, 6 feet 5 and 200 pounds, he was rather placid, too placid for some tastes, which explains why his manager at Louisville, Jim Fregosi, stuck him with that awful nickname, and one even more awful, "Mrs. Worrell." (And may also explain why the first thing Worrell did when he reached the majors was grow a mustache.)
But if Fregosi was clubhouse-nasty on one level, he was penthouse-nice on another, for it was Fregosi who told Worrell that the majors always were looking for a few short men.
"We were in Oklahoma City before a game," Worrell recalled. "Batting practice was over, and I'd finished my running. I was out there alone, and Fregosi walked up and we sort of wandered to the left field bullpen, talking about me becoming a reliever. He said I had too good an arm to be in the minors. He said he could get me to the majors as a reliever. He'd joked about it a couple of times before, and we'd laughed, and I'd thought about it a little on my own. I don't know, maybe he wasn't joking, maybe he was serious and I didn't realize it. But neither of us ever really pursued it. Anyway, that night I got up during the game and threw on the sidelines, just to see how long it would take me to get loose; it took me about 20 pitches.
"I guess I decided to do it because of the way he presented it. He was so positive he could get me to the big leagues. We'd agreed that eventually I could be a .500 starter in the majors. But what good is that? Everyone in the minors feels the same way: you do whatever you have to do to get to the majors as soon as you can."
So Worrell, his college degree from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, put his trust in Fregosi, and Fregosi put his mark on Worrell. "Fregosi led me along real slow," Worrell said appreciatively. "The first time he put me in, it was to start the seventh inning. No one on. We were down, 2-0. I struck out seven guys. From then on, each time I came in it was under progressively more difficult circumstances. And I picked it up real fast." Worrell said, smiling incredulously. "I got out there and from the start it all came together for me. I mean it was right there."
Matt Keough, once a 16-game winner with Oakland, played in Louisville this season, and he saw Worrell's transformation up close. "It was amazing; the minute he hit the rubber as a reliever, we'd score. I mean every time," Keough said with some good-humored envy. "I'd work my tail off for two hours as the starter, and he'd come in for five minutes and get the win. Instead of coming off the mound after an hour and one-half and having people disappointed in him, he'd go out for five minutes and get a save or a win. He probably felt it was a pretty good way of earning a living."
On a 25-man team you have 25 different stories. One Cardinal, 37-year-old Mike Jorgensen, is in his first World Series after 17 seasons. Another, 26-year-old Todd Worrell, is there after 50 days. "I'm a rookie, I haven't been anywhere," Worrell said. "It's hard to know what to do."
Throw 95. Throw strikes.