David Wells is one of only two players in the entire history of major league baseball to appear in the postseason with six different teams. None of those appearances came as a Detroit Tiger, but the man known as “Boomer” made his mark on Detroit in his 2 1/2 seasons as a Tiger.
Wells was a goofy left-hander with a potbelly and a strange sense of humor and independent streak. He had a dazzling looping curveball that dropped out of the strike zone and allowed him to pitch 21 seasons in the big leagues – long after his fastball was pedestrian.
Like Dave Rozema before him, Wells was the silly sidekick to the intense Kirk Gibson in the Detroit clubhouse. The polar opposites were fast friends when they teamed up in 1993 for the first time as Tigers. Gibson was in his second stint with the Bengals, making a triumphant return to his hometown team. A former Blue Jay, Wells had been yanked back and forth between the rotation and bullpen in Toronto. Sparky Anderson welcomed the left-hander and planted him in his starting five. Wells went 11-9 in ’93 in his first season with the Tigers, but the following season he missed time with a tender elbow in the strike-shortened season. In 1995 he did his finest work as a Tiger, going 10-3 with a 3.03 ERA and earning a spot on the All-Star team. It was Sparky’s last season in the dugout, and with Gibby, Wells, and Alan Trammell all in uniform, it seemed like a fun and nostalgic bon voyage. The team stunk, so at the July trade deadline, Wells was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for the stretch drive. Boomer pitched a masterpiece in the first round of the playoffs for the Reds against the Dodgers, the first of many fine starts he’d have in the postseason. While Wells may have been sad to say goodbye to his buddy Gibson and Sparky, after he left Detroit he went to the playoffs in eight of the next 12 seasons, with five different ballclubs. He became postseason insurance annually.
Wells was 10-5 in 17 postseason starts, and he won his second championship ring with the Yankees in 1998 as a member of one of the greatest teams in history. It was that season when he fired a perfect game at Yankee Stadium, duplicating the feat performed by Don Larsen, who also graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego.
There are a number of things that make Wells unique, most of them with a twist:
– According to Boomer, when he tossed his perfect game as a member of the Yankees it was accomplished with a severe hangover.
– In 1997, Wells took the mound for the Yankees wearing an authentic Babe Ruth cap that he’d purchased at an auction for $35,000. Manager Joe Torre made him take the cap off because it wasn’t “uniform” and Wells promptly coughed up a lead and the game.
– When Wells won his 200th career game late in 2003 (during his second sting with the Yanks), the game was managed by teammate Roger Clemens, who was supposed to be retiring after that season. Manager Joe Torre allowed Clemens to manage the game as a tribute to his great career.
– The only time Wells ever collected two hits in a game came when he was 44 years old and was off Greg Maddux, one of the best pitchers of his era.
– Wells was such a fan of Babe Ruth that when he joined the Yankees he requested Ruth’s #3, which of course was not possible. Instead he wore #33 on his back.
Wells was popular in nearly every one of his stops during his 21 year career, mostly due to his self-effacing demeanor and his everyman look. He never considered himself an athlete and he didn’t think of himself as a star.
“I’m not even close to those guys,” Wells once said about his star-studded Yankee teammates Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, “but I don’t think anyone loves the game more than me.”
When things were going well for Boomer, as they often were, he was a joy as a teammate, which is why so many guys, including Gibson, became his pal. But when he stunk it up, he admitted it, though he was known to break his share of water coolers in the dugout. After one particularly terrible outing as a member of the White Sox, Wells ripped his jersey off before he even got to the foul line. Buttons popped in every direction and the fans were treated to his big belly covered by a t-shirt.
Wells was matter-of-fact and candid, which is why it’s no surprise that he’s gone on to a career as a TV analyst. as he said many times during his playing career, Wells played the game for the love of it and he had fun. In 1999 when he had a banner season with Toronto in his second stint with the Blue Jays, he summed up his success rather simply, admitting that he let loose in Canada after being somewhat constrained by the conservative Yankees for the previous seasons.
“I drank beer and had a career year.”