All right, students, the name of the game today is: "What Did You Say the Name Was Again?" or "Exactly What Is it You Do for a Living, Mr. Er, Ah . . . ?"
The name Mark Langston mean anything to you?
No, it's not the real name of the Shadow in the old radio serial. He's not running for President and it's not the name of a popular American poet.
Look, you've heard of Dwight Gooden, haven't you? You bet you have! Dr. K! The Arm. The Franchise. He owns New York. On his way to Cooperstown. Old 1-2-3 Strikes You're Out, himself!
What if I told you Mark Langston struck out 114 more batters last year than Dwight Gooden? What if I told he won four more games?
What if I told you he did it without Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter?
Suppose I told you he did it not pitching in Shea Stadium, where the foul lines are 338 feet and the power alleys are near 400, and where the atmospheric conditions are such that the wind blowing in off Flushing Meadow makes curveballs curve and fly balls die in flight?
Suppose I told you this guy pitches in a hatbox with a roof on it, where the foul lines are 316 feet and the power alleys 357 and you can get home runs off handle hits?
Well, you'd say, "Yeah, but he's got to do it in the big leagues."
Well, he does do it in the big leagues. He struck out 262 batters last year. That's more than Roger Clemens and more than any other pitcher in the American League. It would be more than any pitcher in either league if Nolan Ryan--41 years old and 270 strikeouts--would start acting his age.
Dwight Gooden has won the Cy Young Award, the rookie-of-the-year award and gets several million dollars a year to pitch. Mark Langston couldn't even beat out a teammate, a .284 hitter, for rookie of the year in 1984, a season in which he won 17 games for a last-place team and led the league in strikeouts. And he had to go to arbitration to get over half a million bucks.
Dwight Gooden has to fight his way to his car at night. He has to wear dark glasses and hide from the public. Mark Langston had to hire a high-powered Hollywood publicity firm to get his name in the paper.
Mark Langston must wonder what he has to do. He got into the All-Star game last year and stole the show. He struck out Eric Davis, Jack Clark and Tim Wallach, and didn't allow a base runner. Nobody noticed.
Langston must sometimes feel like saying, "Look, these are the jokes, guys. This is as good as I get."
He's as good as anybody gets. Mark Langston is a power pitcher. He may be the best left-hander in the league, if not the game. But he's a state secret. An inside job in more ways than one.
He got no first-place votes in last year's American League Cy Young balloting. Toronto's lefty, Jimmy Key, who struck out 101 fewer and won 2 fewer games--playing with a team that has George Bell, Jesse Barfield and Lloyd Moseby--got 57 more votes than Langston, including 4 for first place.
Langston averaged 7.48 strikeouts a game. He pitched the third-most innings in the league and he had 14 complete games. Key had 8.
It isn't as if he has warts or eats with his fingers at dinner parties or spills drinks on the carpets. He has these California outdoor good looks, he went three years to college--San Jose State--he doesn't smoke, supports his local police and never stole so much as an apple in his life. All he does is stand there and strike people out.
What's the problem?
Well, you have to guess it's Seattle. Seattle is a lovely place. All those fir trees and snow on the mountains and salmon in the streams. Calendar art come to life.
But it's 3,000 miles from the Great White Way and 1,200 from Hollywood and Vine. Nobody writes kiss-and-tell books about the Seattle Mariners. Nobody would know who they were talking about. George Steinbrenner is nowhere to be seen. The Mariners are just kind of baseball's straight man. They just hang out and say, "How hot was it?" on cue.
Langston got off to an anonymous start this season. He gave up five home runs in one game but you don't have to be Babe Ruth to get a home run in the Kingdome. You can even be half-fooled on the pitch.
But, Sunday, the Angels knew who it was right away when he began busting fastballs in on the hands. He struck out 10. It was the third time this year and the 24th in his career he struck out 10 or more batters.
No one is apt to start calling him the Doctor, or Marvelous Mark. In fact, they're not apt to call him anything. As in "What's the name of that left-hander up in Seattle now--Cranston?" Only the Shadow knows.