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by Graham Meyer
THEN Pitcher, Chicago Cubs (1993–97)
A career reliever, Turk Wendell saved 18 games and posted a 2.84 ERA in 1996, his best season for the Cubs. But his eccentricities on the field were what captivated fans. Before leaving the dugout to pitch, he’d stuff five pieces of black licorice in his cheek; then he would leap over the foul line on his way to the mound. Once there, he would draw three crosses in the dirt, slam down the rosin bag, and point to the center fielder until the other guy waved back. Returning to the dugout, he’d jump over the foul line again. He brushed his teeth between innings. Oh, and he never wore socks.
His antics inspired Men’s Fitness to name him the most superstitious athlete of all time. “We as humans are very habitual,” he explains. These days, his habits involve daily chores at Wykota Ranch, a 210-acre spread in Larkspur, Colorado, that he named after his children, Wyatt and Dakota, and calls “the Redneck Country Club.” Wendell, 43, grows millet, sorghum, corn, alfalfa, and sunflowers, among other crops, which he does not harvest—instead returning their nutrients to the soil to promote land conservation. He breeds game birds such as pheasant, quail, and chukar partridge—future quarry for when he hunts. He also raises goats, chickens, and turkeys. At first glance, it might appear that the ranch is a going business concern—on its website is an elaborate pricing schedule for hunting trips. But closer inspection reveals that only the connected need apply—the bottom of the page says that the trips are solely for family, friends, and friends of friends. And the price for them? According to the site: “What kind of asshole would charge his family and friends?” Grooming and manicuring the land, shoveling and plowing in winter, and general maintenance are all Wendell’s responsibility. “I’m busier now than when I played, for sure,” he observes. Sometimes he gets calls from former teammates who complain about insomnia in retirement. “You can’t sleep? That’s ’cause you ain’t working hard enough,” he tells them.
Photography: (Wendell, now) James Chance
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