If someone told you there was a man nicknamed “The Mad Hungarian,” what would you picture? A solitary writer sitting at a typewriter all day with gray hair moving in every direction? A chef who took chances by experimenting with all kinds of weird meats and spices? How about a major league relief pitcher with one of the most distinct and infuriating pre-pitch routines in the game’s history? The real answer is a major league pitcher. His name is Al Hrabosky, and he was indeed the Mad Hungarian.
Based on his appearance alone, there was no mistaking that Hrabosky was someone of Hungarian descent. He had long hair and a thick, dark beard, often times sporting a Fu Manchu mustache that made him look downright menacing on a big league mound. But there are other reasons why Hrabosky was called the Mad Hungarian and not the Regular Hungarian.
“How can I intimidate batters if I look like a golf pro?”
Al Hrabosky, after being forced to shave his facial hair
Over the years, Hrabosky developed a routine on the mound that was as memorable as it was ridiculous. Typically doing so with runners on base, in between pitches Hrabosky would walk off the mound towards second base, turning his back on the batter. He would take a deep breath, rub the ball with his palms quite thoroughly, and then slam the ball into his glove. Only then would Hrabosky step on the rubber and stare down the batter as if he were challenging him to a duel. Fans loved the theatrics, but as one can imagine, opposing batters despised such histrionics from the Mad Hungarian.
Naturally, Hrabosky’s antics earned him the reputation of a mad man with opposing team’s fans. During a game in Chicago in 1975, one fan tested just how mad Hrabosky was by leaning into the visiting bullpen at Wrigley Field and placing a live cockatoo on The Mad Hungarian’s head. Hrabosky snatched the bird from his head and threatened to literally bite its head off. His teammates talked him out of it, but the mere threat only added to his purposefully-constructed reputation as someone who may have a few screws loose.
“I want batters to think I’m crazy. I want them to know I’m crazy.”
In fact, it was this madness that Hrabosky believes made him the pitcher he was. He personalized every at-bat as a one-on-one battle with the hitter. He wanted the batter to be afraid and he wanted to punish him for the threat he posed to his own team. It was that attitude and “the Mad Hungarian” persona he so carefully crafted that once made him one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.
“People may think I’m a weirdo when they see me, but it’s something I’ve got to do. I consider my fastball only average, but when I psych myself I’ll put it against anybody’s. It’s positive thinking. I visualize myself throwing to a certain spot. Then I see the batter swing and miss.
I make it a personal battle between the two of us by thinking about something he’s done against my team. Too many pitchers look like they are scared to death on the mound. Not me. I try to turn the situation around. I want the hitter to be afraid, to wonder if I am a little crazy.”
When all was said and done, Hrabosky pitched 13 seasons in the majors, winning 64 games, saving 97, and posting an ERA of 3.10. Aside from winning the 1975 NL Fireman of the Year award after leading the National League in saves that year, there’s little hardware on his trophy case. On paper, it’s not a career that stands out. But if you saw the Mad Hungarian pitch, few baseball players have ever stood out more.