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It Took Him Tirade After Tirade to Obtain a Trade : Candelaria: Silent Unless Provoked

March 31, 1986|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

What's that line about life? The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat.

Not so with John Candelaria, the California Angel pitcher, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who has managed to make it this far without tail and fur.

Oh, he's had his moments. There was the time he called then-Pirate General Manager Harding Peterson a "bozo," later amended to include "idiot." Candelaria also is the same guy who, after Peterson added his son to the Pirate coaching staff, said: "It's the biggest joke in baseball."

Other memorable Candelaria tirades include:

--"Horses travel better than we do." (That one in response to the Pirates' practice of traveling by commercial airline rather than charter service. No small coincidence that Pirate President Dan Galbreath also owned thoroughbred race horses.)

--"I'll probably get in trouble for this, but the fans here are (bleep)." (Said after a Pirate game for which the announced Three River Stadium attendance was 5,207.)

--"I've busted my butt. If they want to boo, (bleep) 'em." (Same game. The Pirates, who managed three hits, lost, 2-1, Candelaria's third one-run defeat of the 1983 season.)

All Candelaria wants out of baseball is a place in the starting rotation, a left arm that stays hinged, a fair wage and a team without a death wish. He'll do the rest. If there were a time clock in the Angel dugout, Candelaria would be the first to punch in. Give him a game that matters and Candelaria most likely will deliver.

And so what if Candelaria wears his mind on his jersey sleeve? There are worse things in life to endure. Candelaria knows, since he's endured them.

Just last November, Candelaria attended the funeral of his 2 1/2-year-old son, John Robert Jr. On Christmas Day a year earlier, John Jr. had fallen into the family swimming pool at the Candelaria's winter home in Sarasota, Fla., and nearly drowned. He had been in a coma since the accident.

"My son's fine," Candelaria says now. "He doesn't have to worry about anything anymore. I guess you can say he's a real angel, huh?"

As if it mattered, Candelaria also had the misfortune to play for the Pirates, a team that finished the 1985 season with the worst record in baseball, 57-104, and 43 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, winners of the National League Eastern Division.

That was also the year the Pirates decided to turn Candelaria, a starter with a 122-80 record and 2.90 earned-run average, into a reliever.

In a season's time, Candelaria went from 28 starts, 12 victories, a 2.72 ERA and 185 innings pitched, to 0 starts, 2 victories in relief, a 3.64 ERA and just 54 innings of work.

"They were too cheap to pay the price for a relief pitcher," said Maria Candelaria, her younger brother's agent and attorney. "They gave him five days' notice of the switch."

Each day Candelaria would arrive at the ballpark, not so secretly hoping for a trade that would rid him of the Pirates. He had given up trying to talk his way out of Pittsburgh. After all, there are only so many times you can call someone a bozo before it loses its bite. Anyway, Candelaria's priorities had shifted from baseball to his son.

"You keep on going," Candelaria says. "If I had the choice, I would have been home every day, but I didn't have that choice.

Said Maria Candelaria: "This past year he had his personal difficulties. His child was in a coma and he was in the limelight. He had to go out there and pitch, and every day his mind was on his boy."

One night in early August, Candelaria arrived at Three Rivers Stadium for a game against the Montreal Expos. By then, about the only suspense left in the dreadful season was whether the Pirates would finish in fifth or sixth place. Even Manager Chuck Tanner, the original Mr. Happy, was hard-pressed to find something nice to say.

As the Pirates finished their pregame batting practice, General Manager Joe Brown, who had since replaced Peterson, approached Candelaria and whispered in his ear: "I may have good news for you by the end of the day."

Candelaria didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He returned to the bullpen and waited.

Late in the game, the phone rang. Close score, so Candelaria figured to be Tanner's choice. Candelaria began to reach for his glove. But wait, Tanner didn't want Candelaria.

"That's when I knew I was gone right then and there," Candelaria says.

How interesting it must have been to look down at the Pirate bullpen in time to see the 6-foot 6-inch, 225-pound Candelaria jumping up and down, screaming: "Out of here! Out of here!"

"It was wonderful" Candelaria says. "The bullpen coach was just laughing at me."

What do you know, a victory in the rat race.

"I didn't save anything," he said. "I took my gloves and my stuff and left everything there. I was just heading west."

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