John Wetteland is taking over the Texas Rangers’ bullpen and he’s bringing a whole new set of rules with him.
From now on, relievers must ask fellow pitchers if they would like some water before getting a cup for themselves. In return, a player must say “Thank you” before taking a sip - or else suffer physical punishment.
The guys also better keep their heads in the game. Anyone caught asking how many outs there are will receive an icy glare - and worse.
“Then he must assume the position to receive his physical pain,” Wetteland said, grinning devilishly.
While Wetteland has an arsenal of antics that can make him the life of any bullpen, the 30-year-old closer also has the emotional, moral and mental grounding to make him the heart and soul of any team.
“Every pen I’ve been involved in has been extremely successful, if not the best in baseball every year,” Wetteland said. “I really don’t take inventory of what I bring to that, or even if I’ve been a part of it at all. All I know is that there’s a way I go about things, and it’s right.
“In no way am I a dictator out there. I’m a lot of fun. But first and foremost, your job is to help someone else out.”
Coming off a season in which he saved 43 of 47 chances - including a record 24 straight - and was the World Series MVP with the Yankees, several teams were willing to make him the highest-paid closer in history.
So when he chose Texas, it wasn’t as much for $23 million over four years as it was for reasons like the proximity to his wife’s family, the team’s “air of professionalism” and a hunch he’d fit in with the guys.
Wetteland’s wife Michelle lived in the area for a few years while growing up and still has plenty of ties. Most of her family lives within a 4-hour drive, which helps when you’re raising 15-month-old twin girls.
On road trips to The Ballpark with New York the last two seasons, Wetteland paid close attention to the other dugout, as he does in every stadium. He wasn’t thinking about his upcoming free agency, just trying to get a feel for the other team.
“I was always very impressed playing against this club,” said Wetteland, whose performance against Texas in the playoffs convinced the Rangers they needed a top-notch stopper. “The way these guys go about business fits me. This is the way I am.”
The only Ranger he had ties to was pitcher Ken Hill, a starter in Montreal when Wetteland began blossoming from 1992-94. Mike Devereaux, Wetteland’s rookie ball teammate with Los Angeles, joined the team later.
But through his bullpen observations, Wetteland felt he also knew Rusty Greer, the outfielder who plays every game as if he’s trying to prove himself worthy of being a big-leaguer.
“I notice a guy’s work ethic and attitude, how he can be great and still maintain humility,” Wetteland said. “Guys like Barry Larkin, Ken Caminiti, Matt Williams. You marvel at their guts and the plays they can make. Rusty was like that for me on this club.”
By describing what he likes in other players, Wetteland also was describing the kind of player - and person - he tries to be.
“I don’t think of my successes, but I know my failures,” Wetteland said. “When I get in the car to go home I always ask myself, ‘Is there something I could’ve done that would’ve been better? Is there some way I could’ve worked harder?’ That’s really where my mind is.”
Wetteland doesn’t get caught up in numbers. He has no idea how many saves he had last year. All he said that matters about the 1996 season was that his team won the World Series.
Locally, Wetteland is expected to do it again.
Fans who ached through 16 blown saves last season and wasted leads in all three playoff losses to the Yankees are convinced he’s the missing piece to the puzzle. General manager Doug Melvin even called him that at the news conference announcing the signing.
Not enough pressure? The team sold more season-ticket packages the day after Wetteland signed than any other day in franchise history.
“Really?” he said, leaning back and rolling his eyes as if bowled over by the news. “It’s, uh, wonderful.”
While many players would either add to the hype or try dousing it, Wetteland shrugs and says he understands the expectations, realistic or not.
“I know what I expect of myself. Really, that’s the bottom line. That’s what I have to keep my focus on,” he said. “Those things are going to happen.
“I don’t want to lambaste that because that’s part of the beauty of baseball and big-time sports. Everybody has to have something to talk about,” said Wetteland, admitting he does the same about hockey.
Now that Wetteland has experienced the agony and ecstasy of a World Series, it’s almost expected that he’d have a burning desire to do it again.
But he said his intensity is no stronger than it was before last season.
“It’s not, because if it was, I would have to question where my head and heart were before,” Wetteland said. “I can’t imagine a player saying ‘Now, I really want it.’ Well, what were you doing all the other time?”
Wetteland isn’t all about deep thoughts. Like any closer, he has a zany side.
He’s been known to don hockey pads and in-line skates to swoosh through ballpark tunnels, slapping shots past invisible goalies in front of imaginary goals the rest of us see as walls.
And, there’s the hat. First slapped on in spring training, it survived the summer with a salty sweat ring above the brim. He refused to trade it in for a World Series model, instead agreeing to glue on a patch. The cap became a symbol and was even written up in fashion magazines.
Such a refreshing personality - especially one with a fastball in the high 90s and an uncanny ability to change speeds - will be welcome additions to Texas’ bullpen.
Practically the entire relief crew is new. Mike Henneman, Jeff Russell, Dennis Cook and Mike Stanton are all gone. Left-hander Ed Vosberg, the lone holdover, is among a pack vying for setup roles.
“The bullpen isn’t going to be the John Wetteland Show because I’m not going to allow it to get that way,” he said. “We’re a unit down there and every person is as important as the next.”
Yet, as the closer, Wetteland is willing to make sure everyone else stays in line.
“My attitude is that you lead by example,” Wetteland said. “A lot of people don’t need to be shown the ropes. Some do. That’s part of my job. If every one of us isn’t on the same page, then none of us benefit.”
Of course if someone isn’t on the same page, they’ll probably be forced to assume the position.