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This Dodger Dieter Cleans Plates With a Clear Conscience

February 17, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

As far as the Pittsburgh Pirate management was concerned, Bill (Mad Dog) Madlock was a potential substance abuser.

The substance he was suspected of abusing was food. Rumor had it Mad Dog was hooked on potatoes and gravy, that he fooled around with ice cream and cookies.

Yond Madlock, who is 5-10 and has a roundish face, has never had a lean and hungry look.

A couple of years ago he boasted, "You don't have to be in shape to play baseball . . . I have the highest fat level of anybody on the team, but I know guys in shape who hit .180."

His point was valid, but his timing was lousy. This was not the age of Babe Ruth, baseball's original tub of goo, nor was it the age of Ted Williams, who outgrew his Splendid Splinter nickname and kept his .400 wrists in tune by fishing.

No, when Madlock made that boast it was the dawning of the age of the Nautilus. Thin was in. Baseball owners, general managers, fans and writers worried if a player was chubby, even if the player was hitting .340, as Madlock was.

So the Pirates put a weight incentive clause in the contracts of 23 of their 25 players. The fattest--pun intended--bonus would go to Bill Madlock.

He was required to weigh in at six specified times during the season. If he made weight (206 pounds) each time, he would receive a check at the end of the season for $125,000. If he was an ounce over 206, even once, he would blow the whole pot. Winner take all.

This led to Madlock taking diet pills, which led to his being mentioned in the infamous Pittsburgh drug hearings, which finally led to his being cleared of any wrongdoing and praised by commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

For Madlock, this was a tough way to get an official clean bill of health. It was like Jimmy Piersall, who was once institutionalized with psychiatric problems and now brags, "I'm sane, and I've got the papers to prove it."

The problem at Pittsburgh, Madlock explains, was that the Pirates didn't conduct random, surprise weigh-ins on suspected fatties, as the Atlanta Braves do with Bob Horner. The Pirates' weigh-ins were scheduled for the first Tuesday of every month that the team was home.

Instead of having to starve himself constantly to stay at 206, Madlock knew he could let his weight skip up a pound or two, for a month or more. When weigh-in time neared, he would quickly slim down.

Only he had a bad knee and he hated to jog, and he didn't want to sap his strength by lifting weights during the season.

So he got himself some prescription diet pills, through the ballclub, to take when a weigh-in loomed.

"You think I was going to miss out on that $125,000 check?" Madlock asks.

At the drug trials, Dave Parker and Dale Berra accused Madlock of giving them amphetamines. Madlock denied the charge, and Ueberroth, after long investigation, said last Friday, "Bill Madlock's reputation on and off the field is above reproach."

This was good news for the Dodgers, who had visions of a .360-hitting third baseman sitting out a month, or an entire season, on a drug rap.

Madlock, a four-time batting champion, came to the Dodgers from Pittsburgh for the last 34 games of last season and hit .360, or 109 points higher than he had been hitting for the Pirates.

The Dodgers like their third basemen to hit .360. Their only worry was whether or not being a Dodger star would go to Bill's head or his hips.

The Dodgers do not give incentive clauses. If the 35-year-old Madlock decided to balloon up to 250 or so in the off-season, all they could do would be to trade him to the Rams for Dieter Brock, a promising relief pitcher.

But Madlock isn't about to eat his way out of this job. He has been the most faithful Dodger at winter workouts, showing up at the Stadium three times a week to be cruelly driven by trainer Bill Buhler.

Having played in Texas, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and for the Chicago Cubs, Madlock knows a good situation when he falls into one.

"When you play against the Dodgers, you hate them," Madlock explains. "They got it so easy . Forty thousand fans every night, nice weather, they win all the time. Everyone knows how well the players are treated, from the top star down to the batboy.

"This is the best-run franchise in the world. Little things. In Pittsburgh, some players didn't even have their own bats. Here you always have two or three dozen. We have three trainers. We fly charter everywhere.

"The players have it made. Guys on other teams are jealous. They want to beat you. My highest lifetime average was against the Dodgers. Playing in front of a full house, your concentration level is up."

Madlock is not getting fat. In fact, Mad Dog insists that he never was a dog when it came to conditioning, even in pre-incentive-clause days.

"I said you didn't have to be in shape to play baseball," he clarifies. "I didn't say I wasn't in shape. I've always kept myself in shape."

Especially now. The world's greatest sports organization will pay him almost $800,000 this season, and three million fans will show up to cheer him on.

He and his wife and four children have settled into Pacific Palisades, and he bought a pair of season tickets to watch his favorite performers, the Lakers.

And now the commissioner has given Madlock a gold star and his good name back.

Saturday, when the news of Ueberroth's statement broke in the morning papers, Madlock motored down to his favorite neighborhood restaurant and abused an order of French toast.

This was no time to risk coming down with a case of malnutrition.

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