September 02, 2011
But how many licks of his right hand and fingers does it take Pelfrey to get through six innings? Reporter Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal counted 89 licks at his most recent start Tuesday.
For many pitchers, it would have been a remarkable total. But it was just a routine night for Pelfrey, whose propensity for licking his hand is unrivaled in baseball.
This tongue-drooping, slobbering habit has been Pelfrey's most noticeable idiosyncrasy over the years. And it has made him an ongoing subject of ridicule from teammates, opponents, fans, bloggers and radio hosts alike.
It's not so much ridicule, in my case, but amazement. As the photo collage shows, Pelfrey's got something of a Michael Jordan thing going on with his tongue. And before anyone in the comments says "all pitchers probably do this" — like one of you hipsters did with the awesome R.A. Dickey(notes) face "Cry Havoc" collage — yes, they do lick their hands and fingers. Just not to this degree. Pelfrey has an extra-frisky gecko tongue that won't stay in his mouth.
"It's something I've always done," Pelfrey said. "I think it becomes an issue where people tell me, instead of licking my hand, it looks like I'm licking my whole arm. That's why it gets brought up. Guys have talked about, 'Ahhh, you're eating your whole hand.'"
Stop doing that! You don't even know where that hand has been. Costa explains that there are two kinds of Pelflicks: A quick, two-finger version and the four-fingered dive. That one makes it look like he's checking for cavities.
Pelfrey claims it's not anxiety driven, but instead a means to an end.
The point, for any licking pitcher, is to moisturize the hand to help get traction on the ball. It's illegal to "go to your mouth" when standing on the mound, but there are ways to get around the rules.
"Do you prefer sweat or do you lick your fingers to get a little moisture, or both?" Capuano asked.
"Lick," Dickey replied. "I'm a licker."
But not a fighter. And nobody gets after it with his tongue like Pelfrey, who was even mocked by opponents — such as Livan Hernandez(notes) from across the field in the Washington Nationals dugout earlier this season.
"Mike is a little bit over the top," Dickey said.