Cliff Lee: Wild and Crazy Guy

Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

The most dominant postseason pitcher of his era, Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers might like to tell you his success can be traced to serious introspection in a thinking man's game. Sounds feasible enough.

He could make that case, except for one catch. He's given it no thought.

"I don't really dig that deep into what I think or why I think it," said Lee, whose playoff record is one for the history books even with the San Francisco Giants delivering a comeuppance in Game 1 of the World Series.

Some guys make pitching sound like string theory. Lee is not one.

Things turned around for him when he stopped trying to jam righthanded hitters, when he started using both sides of the plate and commanding all his pitches.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

He's made it look so easy, conspiracy theorists began studying the smudge spots on the bill and back of his cap during these playoffs thinking there had to be something else at work.

It's not as if he developed a potion that makes the ball allergic to wood as Ray Milland's character did in the old Disney-style baseball classic, It Happens Every Spring. The substance on his cap is a perfectly legal rosin residue.

You can't blame people for wondering, hitters especially. Before his loss to the Giants, Lee was 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight postseason starts. He'd struck out 34 hitters and walked just one, unheard of in an era of the Incredibly Shrinking Strike Zone.

In Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays, Lee struck out 11 hitters to win his second game of the series. Against the Yankees in Game 3, he threw eight shutout innings with 13 strikeouts.

That series never reached Game 7. But the specter of the Yankees needing to beat Lee in a deciding game to reach the World Series led exasperated New York outfielder Nick Swisher to say, "You guys are talking about Cliff Lee? [Expletive], who cares? I can't wait to hit against his (behind)."

Everybody's talking about Lee in this postseason, except, as usual, Lee.

YOUNG AND DUMB

Reticence wasn't always the case with him. He was what baseball scouts call a "tough sign" mostly for his sense of self-worth. He also gave scouts reason to worry about him for his off-field issues as a high school and college pitcher. He was arrogant and stubborn on the field. Primarily a strike thrower on the mound except for when he purposely plunked someone, wildness ruled the day elsewhere in his life.

In 2006, when he was pitching for the Cleveland Indians, I asked him about his reputation as a Major League prospect. He offered descriptions like "flamboyant" and "hellion." I looked at this flat-liner standing before me. This was a character out of Animal House?

"I was young and dumb," he said then. "It's not like I was completely stupid, selling drugs or anything. When I figured out I was going to be pretty good at baseball, I figured I'd better get my act together and make something of myself.

"I just wasn't a very good kid. Yeah, I've been to jail, and it's not a fun place to be. I really don't deserve to be where I am right now."

In a recent Sports Illustrated story, Lee's wife, Kristen, mentioned "crazy stuff" in her husband's life when they were growing up in Benton, Arkansas. But that sense of invulnerability had its place on the mound. Scouts thought his fastball was just OK. What they noticed then, what they still notice now, is a supreme confidence bordering on disdain in how he uses that fastball.

"A lot of young pitchers give hitters too much credit," said Mark Shapiro, the man who stole Lee for Cleveland from a desperate Montreal organization. "That's not Cliff."

Acquiring Cliff Lee, in part, cemented Shapiro's reputation as a GM. Trying to make a pennant push, the Expos traded Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips to Cleveland in a deal for pitcher Bartolo Colon.

HOT IN CLEVELAND

The one glitch for the Indians -- a turn of events still rued in the city of Cleveland -- is that Lee suffered a disastrous 2007 season. After one start in which fans booed him, he mockingly tipped his cap and was sent to the minors the next day. He wasn't even on the playoff roster when the Indians came within one win of beating Boston and going to the World Series.

That's officially an "Only in Cleveland" sports moment. Not quite like never winning a NBA title with LeBron James, but given that Lee won the AL Cy Young Award the very next season and given what he's done since...well, no wonder people in the city I call home feel cursed.

Lee had a 6.38 ERA in 2007. The next season, he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA.

NOT IN CLEVELAND

In a rebuilding mode and knowing they couldn't sign him, the Indians traded Lee to the Phillies in 2009. That's where his postseason legend began. In Manhattan for the World Series opener against the Yankees, Lee's cab got stuck in traffic going to the stadium. He hopped out, got on a subway not knowing where he was, placed a call to the visiting clubhouse to get directions, and arrived an hour later than normal.

Starting pitchers are creatures of habit. Lee's routine was greatly compromised. No big deal. He threw a complete game with no walks, no earned runs and 10 strikeouts.

With Philadelphia working to bring pitcher Roy Halladay to town, it dealt Lee to Seattle last December for payroll reasons. The Mariners' season quickly fell apart, prompting them to trade Lee to Texas in July.

WILL HE STAY OR WILL HE GO?

Why so much movement for such a great pitcher? Follow the money. As the top free agent on the market, Lee is about to become a "tough sign" again once the World Series ends.

Texas is the closest major league team to Lee's Arkansas home town but the Yankees, as usual, are considered the favorites to secure his services.

That's as long as Lee doesn't put too much thought into the rough treatment his wife got from some Yankees fans during the ALCS. They spit and threw beer in her direction and yelled obscenities.

Will he stay in Texas?

He does have a chance to do something truly historic, something that has nothing to do with matching Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson or any of the great postseason pitchers in baseball history.

He has a chance to say no to the Yankees as the ultimate free-agent prize, something his good buddy, former Indians teammate C.C. Sabathia, couldn't do.

For a guy who likes to keep things simple, turning down the Yankees won't be easy given that they're expected to give him $150 million reasons not to.

Cliff Lee has forced himself into the discussion of the greatest postseason pitchers in modern baseball history. There is one disclaimer: Pitchers like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson didn't pitch against wild card or division winners. They did their damage exclusively in the World Series against the best of the other league. Still, it's worth seeing how Lee stacks up against some other top postseason pitchers:

Josh Beckett 7-3, 3.07 ERA, 14 Games
*
Whitey Ford 10-8, 2.71 22 games
*
Bob Gibson 7-2, 1.89 ERA, 9 games
*
Sandy Koufax 4-3, 0.95 ERA, 8 games
*
Cliff Lee 7-1, 1.96ERA, 9 games
*
Andy Pettitte 19-10, 3.83 ERA, 41 games
*
Curt Schilling 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 19 games

Amazon Customers Are Swearing by a $102 Mattress

Linenspa
Linenspa

Before you go out and spend hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars on a new mattress, you may want to turn to Amazon. According to Esquire, one of the most comfortable mattresses on the market isn’t from Tempur-Pedic, Casper, or IKEA. It’s a budget mattress you can buy on Amazon for as little as $102.

Linenspa's 8-inch memory foam and innerspring hybrid mattress has more than 24,000 customer reviews on Amazon, and 72 percent of those buyers gave it five stars. The springs are topped by memory foam and a quilted top layer that make it, according to one customer, a “happy medium of both firm and plush.”

Linenspa

Perhaps because of its cheap price point, many people write that they first purchased it for their children or their guest room, only to find that it far exceeded their comfort expectations. One reviewer who bought it for a guest room wrote that “it is honestly more comfortable than the expensive mattress we bought for our room.” Pretty impressive for a bed that costs less than some sheet sets.

Getting a good night's sleep is vital for your health and happiness, so do yourself a favor and make sure your snooze is as comfortable as possible.

The mattress starts at $102 for a twin and goes up to $200 for a king. Check it out on Amazon.

[h/t Esquire]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

8 Facts About "Rowdy" Roddy Piper

Matthew Peyton/Getty Images
Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

It takes a strong personality to stand out in a sport full of them, but Roderick George Toombs, otherwise known as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (1954-2015), managed to sustain a career as one of the most colorful characters in the history of professional wrestling. For more on “Hot Rod,” including his martial arts background and his unlikely turn as a big-screen hero, keep reading.

1. Roddy Piper was a very accomplished bagpipe player.

Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada on April 17, 1954, the future “Rowdy” Roddy Piper earned his nickname early in life. According to Piper, he was “too much” for his parents to handle and wound up leaving home at the age of 13. Piper lived in youth hostels and hitchhiked. Despite his nomadic lifestyle, he was an accomplished bagpipe player and claimed he played in the Rose Bowl at age 12 before being nationally recognized for his abilities on the instrument at age 14.

It was the bagpipes that led to Piper’s career in wrestling. Playing with a band one night at the Winnipeg Arena when he was still a teenager, Piper—who was also an amateur wrestler and boxer—volunteered to step in for a wrestler who didn’t show up for a scheduled bout against Larry Henning. Piper came to the ring in a kilt and was announced as “Roddy the Piper.” Though the bout lasted just 10 seconds, he had found his calling.

2. Roddy Piper once wrestled a bear.

Before Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (later World Wrestling Entertainment) organized pro wrestling in the United States, various regional organizations would do whatever they could to garner attention and fans. While performing in Fresno, California, a young Piper got an offer to wrestle “The Bear.” Piper believed this was one of wrestling’s theatrical nicknames. It wasn’t. The promoter, Roy Scheiers, wanted Piper to grapple with a real Kodiak bear that had been declawed. Though Piper was expected to try and pin the bear, the animal maintained a dominant position until its handler used a tranquilizer to end the match. Piper later discovered a friend had smeared honey in his trunks to make the bear more aggressive.

3. Roddy Piper was a black belt in judo.

Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka look on as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper battles WWE Superstar Chris Jericho during WrestleMania 25 in 2009.Bill Olive/Getty Images

When Piper moved to California in 1973, he wrestled frequently at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The promoter for the territory was Mike LeBell, who had a half-brother, Gene LeBell, a renowned martial artist who practiced judo. Piper and Gene LeBell became friends. LeBell taught him judo and eventually awarded Piper a black belt in the art.

4. Roddy Piper suffered permanent hearing loss as a result of wrestling.

While wrestling may sometimes be dismissed as fake, injuries are a very real and common occurrence for its athletes. In 1983, Piper agreed to wrestle a “dog collar match” with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. In the bout, the men would be connected via a chain attached to their respective neck collars. When one wrestler had enough slack on the chain, he would use it to assault his opponent. Having the chain smashed into his head broke Piper’s left eardrum and cost him a 50 percent loss of hearing in that ear. Owing to the nature of wrestling tours, Piper and Valentine wrestled the same dog collar match dozens of times over the next two months.

5. Roddy Piper did not get along with Mr. T.

When McMahon had consolidated a number of wrestling territories in the 1980s, his next move was to create a large-scale event with a lot of hype behind it. WrestleMania debuted in 1985 and featured Hulk Hogan and Mr. T taking on Paul Orndorff and Piper in the main event. Mr. T was a celebrity thanks to his performance as Clubber Lang in 1982’s Rocky III as well as the NBC television series The A-Team. But Piper was wary of losing a bout to someone who was only making a passing appearance in the wrestling world and told McMahon he wouldn’t allow Mr. T to defeat him in the bout. It was Orndorff who was pinned. For WrestleMania 2 the following year, Piper and Mr. T faced each other again, this time in a simulated boxing match. Piper lost by disqualification after body-slamming Mr. T, a clear violation of the rules.

6. John Carpenter cast Roddy Piper in They Live because the wrestler walked funny.

Roddy Piper stars in They Live (1988).Shout! Factory

In 1988’s They Live, a drifter with the enigmatic name of John Nada (Piper) discovers a subversive alien plot to control humans via subliminal messages. Director John Carpenter cast Piper after meeting the wrestler following his match in 1987’s WrestleMania III. “Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him,” Carpenter told Starlog in 1988. “He has been hit so many times, that he is really broken up. He even walks funny, because his pelvis was shattered and his back was wrenched. He is definitely not a pretty boy. He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever met. You could run a truck into Roddy, and he would still be standing.”

Piper’s shopworn physicality won him the role. They Live went on to become a cult classic, in part due to a ridiculously long fight scene between Piper and actor Keith David.

7. Roddy Piper became a member of G.I. Joe.

In 2007, Hasbro unveiled a limited-edition G.I. Joe figure of Piper as an Iron Grenadier Trainer from the Scottish Army for their annual International G.I. Joe Convention. He joined fellow wrestler Sergeant Slaughter, who debuted as a Joe in the 1980s. Piper also appeared at the convention to sign autographs.

8. Roddy Piper released a pop song in 1992.

Along with Hulk Hogan and other wrestlers, Piper helped popularize the WWE in the 1980s by appearing alongside singer Cyndi Lauper in music videos and on MTV. Lauper even got in the ring on occasion. In 1992, Piper got out of his own comfort zone by recording a single, “I’m Your Man,” that was released in the UK by Epic Records. You can watch Piper croon in the video above.