Relief pitching has always been about intimidation.

Even if not an overt threat, the sight of a fresh arm walking to the mound late in a game has to toy with a hitter’s mind. You know, beyond the obvious shock of seeing a walking arm.

Most times, though, the intimidation is more palpable than a vague notion of rested muscle fibers. I mean, what sorts of visions does the phrase “lockdown closer” conjure for you?

Hulking, steaming, hairy dudes ready to saw their opponents bats off, right?

Goose Gossage, Lee Smith, Billy Wagner, Dennis Eckersley.

Or precision killers, ready to dissect their foes right there in the batter’s box … Mariano Rivera, Rollie Fingers, Dan Quisenberry.

But when you’re talking about intimidating looks from firemen, nobody ever did it better than Al Hrabosky.

There he stood, just sixty feet, six inches away, honked off, hair and beard and mustache flowing in the diamond breeze like fire, glowering at you like you just ate the last donut, spilled your morning coffee.

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The Mad Hungarian, they called him, and you weren’t really sure if “Mad” indicated his demeanor or his mental state. You figured it was probably both.

You watched him go 13-3 with the 1975 St. Louis Cardinals, locking down a league-leading 22 saves and a minuscule 1.66 ERA in the process.

And then … he started popping out of your wax packs, and you were afraid to look.

And then … he invaded your morning cereal box.

“Hungo for breakfast?” the slogan might have gone (but didn’t, for some reason). “Then sidle up to a bowl of Frosted Flakes with Al.”

You hoped you’d snag a 1976 Kellogg’s Al Hrabosky, but …

You couldn’t bear to look at the little slip of 3-D cardboard you pulled from the box that Bicentennial summer. And then you slipped, had a glance.

And breathed a sigh of relief, because Al Hrabosky, the Mad Hungarian, was looking the other way.

You reveled in its glory for just a moment, then slid it under your place mat, because you knew the man might catch you gawking at any moment … pivot … turn his wrath on you.


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