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The Big Easy

Dodgers' 44-year-old left-hander is iconoclastic, anti-establishment and can turn a clubhouse into a fun house with his hang-loose personality, but he's all business between the lines

August 31, 2007|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

Which isn't to say Wells' career has been all giggles and practical jokes. There have been fights off the field and suspensions on it -- including a seven-game penalty from July he is still appealing. The stately Yankees were so upset with some of the things that appeared in Wells' 2003 book "Perfect I'm Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball" -- including claims that he developed his pitching arm throwing rocks at homeless people and was hung over from a "Saturday Night Live" cast party when he threw his 1998 perfect game -- the team fined him $100,000, then let him go at season's end.

For his part, Wells claims he was misquoted. In his autobiography.

"You know what?" Wells asks. "I'm happy and content with my career. I went out, I spoke my mind. I backed my words up.

"I've eaten a lot of my words. But the thing is I'm not afraid to apologize. I'm not afraid to fail. I don't think there's too many things in the game that can hurt me."

But if Wells' loose-cannon personality is among his weaknesses, one that helps explain why he's pitching for his ninth team in 21 years, it's also among his strengths and helps explain why teammates and ex-teammates still follow the fun-loving Wells around.

"You have to have that type of mentality to go out there," he says. "Don't take it personally. Just give them 100%. Do your best. That's all we ask.

"Yeah, we're serious. But I'm not serious until I cross the line or when the game starts."

Wells, then, will be very serious shortly after 7 tonight when he takes the mound at Petco Park to face the team that gave up on him a month ago, designating him for assignment after four poor outings.

The Dodgers didn't think he was done. Neither did Wells. So despite everyone's promises that tonight's matchup is just another game, it's clear there's more on the line than a game in the standings.

"I have mixed emotions because I'd been there almost the whole year," Wells says. "Now all of a sudden I'm trying to ruin their [postseason] chances and help mine. They all know it. I know it. It's mixed emotions.

"[But] I'm the enemy now and I've got to go out there and try to beat them. When the game starts and you go between the lines, I'm trying to win."

And that, Martinez says, is all anyone should focus on. Because who's to say Wells is the one who's a little off-center? Maybe the game of baseball would be better if everyone was like David Wells.

For the time being, the Dodgers are gambling that one beer-drinking iconoclast in the clubhouse is all they need.

"If there's anybody to prove the critics wrong it's David Wells because he's been anti-establishment his whole life," Martinez says. "He knows how to get out of situations because nothing's that big a deal to him. It's not life and death.

"That's the kind of guy David Wells is. [A person who] doesn't need to take himself too seriously. We need more David Wellses."

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