SAN DIEGO — Al Hrabosky will never be confused with Al Michaels in broadcasting circles.
Hrabosky, a former relief pitcher known as the "Mad Hungarian," admits the main reason he's where he is today--color analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals' television network--is the color he brought to his 13-year major league career and his popularity among fans.
The former Savanna High and Fullerton College star was a crowd favorite in St. Louis and Kansas City, where he was as much showman as competitor.
Fans loved to see him go behind the mound, turn his back to the plate, work himself into a fury, pound the ball in his mitt, glare at the batter and unleash a 90-m.p.h. fastball.
Of course, considering opponents' disdain for Hrabosky's antics, he's somewhat lucky to be doing anything today.
Seems whenever you turned around, someone was trying to put his fist through Hrabosky's trademark Fu Manchu mustache, break his Cardinal number in two or kick his Royal you-know-what. Hrabosky fought more often during his prime than Evander Holyfield.
"There were a lot of stories about my lack of sanity," Hrabosky, 43, recalled last week in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, where the Cardinals were playing the Padres. "Most of them were true."
Hrabosky's first major brawl was probably his most memorable. The Cardinals were playing the Cubs in St. Louis in 1974, shortly after Hrabosky adopted what he called his "controlled hate mood" routine.
Bill Madlock was up, and just as Hrabosky was set to pitch, Madlock returned to the on-deck circle to put pine tar on his bat. He came back to the plate smiling, thinking he had upset Hrabosky's concentration.
When Madlock was ready, Hrabosky walked behind the mound to do his routine again. But when Hrabosky went back to the rubber, Madlock returned to the on-deck circle, bent on winning the battle of wills.
Plate umpire Shag Crawford then ordered Hrabosky to pitch, he fired, and Crawford called Strike 1 with no one in the batter's box.
That brought Madlock, on-deck hitter Jose Cardenal and Cubs' Manager Jim Marshall out to argue, with Madlock and Cardenal in each batter's box and Marshall near the plate.
"My next pitch separated all three of them," Hrabosky said, grinning. "For some reason that started a fight. And it was a good one."
So was the 1978 brawl against the Angels in Kansas City. The Angels had hit Hrabosky hard all season, and Carney Lansford had just hit a three-run homer off him when Lyman Bostock came to the plate.
"I wanted to send a message that next season would be a different story," said Hrabosky, who played eight seasons in St. Louis (1970-77), two in Kansas City (1978-79) and three in Atlanta (1980-82).
Hrabosky sent a pitch right at Bostock's head, which sent the batter sprawling into the dirt.
Bostock looked toward on-deck batter Don Baylor, and both charged the mound. Hrabosky tackled Bostock, and Baylor tackled Hrabosky, as dozens of players and coaches stormed in.
With the pile separated and order seemingly restored--amazingly, no one was ejected--Bostock continued to scream at Hrabosky. Whitey Herzog, then the Royals' manager, told Hrabosky he was out of the game, so Hrabosky charged Bostock, sparking Round 2.
"Dave Chalk was on the bottom of the pile, and afterward he asked me, "Who were you whaling on?' " said Baylor, now the Cardinals' batting instructor. "I got in a couple good shots on (Hrabosky's) back. It was crazy."
Baylor said he and Hrabosky have laughed about the incident over the years.
But not so funny was a bizarre footnote to the story, which proved Hrabosky had plenty of company in this mad, mad world.
Hrabosky said shortly after the brawl, he went to visit a friend at a nightclub and was introduced to another man Hrabosky described as a bouncer/hitman type.
"He said he was at the game and got so mad during the fight that he wanted to come out and help me," Hrabosky said. "Then, he said, 'As a matter of fact, if you want, he (Bostock) is dead.' I told him to forget about it, that he was blowing it all out of proportion."
Word of the conversation eventually spread through the Royal clubhouse, and a few days later, as Hrabosky rode the elevator in a Minnesota hotel, he overheard people saying Bostock had been killed.
At the time, Hrabosky was unaware of the circumstances surrounding Bostock's death--the former Angel was in the back seat of his uncle's car in Gary, Ind., when he was hit by a shotgun blast apparently intended for the woman seated next to him.
When Hrabosky got to the park that day, Herzog told Hrabosky there were a couple of detectives there who wanted to talk to him. Hrabosky's jaw dropped.
It was a joke.
"That was some sick humor," Hrabosky said. "But the bottom line is we were in Yankee Stadium that year for the playoffs, and I got a telegram that said, 'Wishing you were here, Lyman Bostock,' a month after his death. There are some weird people out there."
Of course, Hrabosky wasn't extremely normal, either.