Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Former major league pitcher places want ad to offer his services! "HAVE FASTBALL WILL TRAVEL. Unemployed RH Reliever seeks opp. to show he still has what it takes. 4 1/2 yrs MLS, Pete Ladd."
Is he serious?
"Why not? I need a job," Ladd explained, speaking from the 414 (Milwaukee) telephone number listed in the ad that ran three times in USA Today last week. "It's a last resort," Ladd said unashamedly. "My agent did as much as he could. He'd contacted every major league club. Some said they'd get back in touch. But spring training started, and we hadn't heard anything."
They were reviewing their options when Ladd's agent, Davis Burke, jokingly suggested the want ad and blurted out the phrase, "Have fastball, will travel." The good-humored Ladd, who was briefly a star with the Brewers in 1982 and 1983, and last pitched in the majors in 1986 with the Mariners, went along with the joke. "Then I said, well, what the heck, I've got nothing to lose." Ladd's wife wrote the rest of the ad copy, and the next day he called the classifieds.
As yet, organized baseball hasn't reached out to touch Ladd, but his phone did ring. "Mostly the press," Ladd said, grateful for small favors. Chuckling, Ladd relayed his favorite call: "Someone told me they were starting a new league in Romania, and was I interested? I told him it sounded like an awfully long way to go, and I declined. So he claimed the organizers were offering 'big bucks.' I still said no. I heard voices laughing in the background, and finally the caller identified himself: It was David Valle, one of my teammates at Seattle; he was calling me from training camp in Arizona."
Undaunted, Ladd intends to continue throwing at former Brewers teammate Mike Hegan's indoor facility in Milwaukee in case the phone rings with a legitimate offer. "It's still early in spring training," Ladd said, adding rather ghoulishly, "All I can do is wait for someone to get injured. That's a horrible thing to wait for, but what else can I do? The injuries usually happen within a month. I'll keep myself ready for the opportunity."
Ladd said he's throwing well: "I haven't had a gun on me to see exactly how fast, but I'm throwing hard enough to get people out, that's for sure." Exactly how fast may be crucial, because Ladd had shoulder surgery last October after a season of arm trouble at the Dodgers' Class AAA club in Albuquerque. "They repaired a tendon, I went into rehab, and tested my arm in January," reported Ladd. "It feels great. It's the first time I've thrown without pain since 1983."
Back then, Ladd was considered prime beef. Big and bulky (6 feet 3, 235 pounds) with a great mane of hair and a Carpathian mustache, and answering to the nickname "Sasquatch," Ladd was spectacular in the 1982 playoffs against California. Given the chance to shine with Rollie Fingers hurt, Ladd relieved in three games, saving two, striking out five and not allowing a hit or a run in 3 1/3 innings. He showed the kind of intimidating speed that general managers crave in closers, and the next season Ladd gave further testimony to his promise, saving 25 games, striking out 41 in 49 innings and posting a 2.55 ERA. But in 1984, he was moved to middle relief, and foundered. He was 4-9, his ERA swelled to 5.24. "We had a horrible club that year, and a lot of us made it look even worse. I was one of them," Ladd conceded. In 1985, the manager was reluctant to give Ladd the ball. "What could I do sitting down?" He appeared in just 29 games, had no decisions and a turbulent 4.53 ERA.
Ladd asked for his release from GM Harry Dalton. Then 29, Ladd sensed the Brewers "were committed to a youth movement," and he wasn't going to be part of it. He joined Seattle as a nonroster player and made the team in training camp. His numbers were competent: 8-6, 3.82 ERA in 52 games. But his strikeout ratio had deflated, and the Mariners released him. "Ousted," Ladd theatrically declared, "the victim of another youth movement."
Last year he was in Albuquerque, bad arm and all.
This year, who knows?
He's not proud -- that should be obvious by him placing the ad -- he'll go anywhere. "Majors, minors, wherever, I just want an opportunity," Ladd said. "I don't want to end my career on the injured list. I'm 31. I still have two or three years left. I've played 12 years of organized ball, five in the majors. I think there's a little more."
Every spurned player holds the same fantasy: George Steinbrenner, or one of the other moneybags, will phone and say, "Gosh, I'm so sorry, I forgot all about you. Forgive me. Here's a million dollars." Ladd simply provided the area code and number. It's not unprecedented. Ten years ago Earl Williams, once the National League rookie of the year, bought an ad in the New York Times announcing, "No police record. Have bat, will travel, will hustle." Unfortunately for Williams, nobody called.
Ladd spent about $260 to advertise his wants. "It might turn out to be the greatest investment I ever made," he said cheerfully, "and if not, it was fun."