Pittsburgh wrestler Lord Zoltan grapples with rise of Pirates
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You're likely aware that this remarkable voyage of the Pirates to first place or its immediate vicinity is affixed to its own functional talisman, the Z sign players flash with their hands, a tribute to the Zoltan they lifted from a happenstance viewing of the movie "Dude, Where's My Car," or, as it was originally titled, "Dude, How Is This a Movie?"
As the ballclub sails toward a critical stage in what has begun to resemble the first non-losing season around here in 20 years, the local jock punditry and all manner of national opinion functionaries are shoveling advice and dubious forecasts, but now, on this day, a great and definitive light washes into the shadows.
Yes Zoltan himself, or if you wish, with proper reverence you may call him Lord Zoltan, which happens to be his wrestling name.
"They need at least another pitcher," Zoltan told me Wednesday, "and another bat. They're using a lot of infielders in the outfield. They have to establish an outfield because their luck is gonna give out on that. Should they trade one of the prospects? That's another gamble. That's all they did in the past.
"Justin Upton? That's hit or miss because they'd have to put a lot of money up for him. I don't know if he'd even want to come here."
All right maybe not definitive, but mystically coherent, obviously.
And no wonder. Zoltan attends several Pirates games a month, but curiously, not in his wrestling robe or face paint.
"I've got a partial midweek package and I've been using a lot of Friday night tickets when there are no wrestling shows," he said. "Friday and Saturday were always the main wrestling nights, but now that's dying slowly. I mostly do fundraising events now for the cancer society, the deaf school, families of fallen policeman."
A mainstay of the region's independent wrestling scene for decades, Zoltan is by day Ken Jugan, mild-mannered administrative assistant, County of Allegheny. But, by night, he is Lord Zoltan, whose 40-year association with theatrical mayhem echoes like a wondrous walk through Pittsburgh's wrestling history.
"I used to take a PAT bus up there to Channel 11 and Bruno Sammartino's manager used to sneak me in the back door while those Ringside Rosies were lined up outside for hours," Zoltan laughed. "He'd tell me to go up in the bleachers. They only had four or five rows for studio wrestling, along with the cutouts with the faces painted on them. That's when Bill Cardille and Pie Traynor were still involved."
Zoltan was just taking photos and trying to sell articles to wrestling magazines when one night he found himself in Clarksburg, W.Va., where the wrestling promoter looked around and discovered he was exactly one wrestler short of a show.
"I said, 'I don't wrestle,' " Zoltan remembers. "They said, 'Well, we need somebody.' They got some boots, some trunks, and threw me in. I did better than some of the other guys."
Thrown into the ring without portfolio in 1975, Zoltan would eventually be thrown out of it by some of the icons of the industry, including no less a legend than Andre The Giant himself.
"I was in a tag team against Andre The Giant on television in a handicap match -- two against one," Zoltan said. "He threw me out of the ring and pinned my partner, so I always say I was undefeated against Andre The Giant."
And even today, at 54, Zoltan cuts an authentic wrestling figure, large and muscled, stately in his way. On the independent circuit, where the athletes can sometimes resemble the roster of an emptied bar (not always without reason), Zoltan stands out as demonstrably theatric, an evident veteran of great stages.
If the Pirates don't put his full-costumed figure on a dugout roof between innings at some point this summer, it'll only be because they want to protect their record of never taking any advice from me.
Who wouldn't want to see Andrew McCutchen, on second with a stand-up double, flash the Z to the Pirates in the dugout and then to Lord Zoltan himself?
The place will go nuts.
Like just about everyone, Zoltan never saw "Dude, Where's My Car." He doesn't fully remember how he adopted Zoltan as his character, but said it has something to do with him being Hungarian. Similarly, it's reasonable to say no one on Clint Hurdle's roster has ever noticed Zoltan at the ballpark, even partially in midweek.
Destiny is screaming that it's time for all of this to make sense.
I asked Zoltan bluntly if the Pirates would make the playoffs.
He thinks they will.
I asked him if he'd be willing to come out in character to conjure the proper karma.
"If the Pirates would approve," he said. "If it's just sort of a good luck thing."
Do I have to do everything?
First Published July 19, 2012 12:00 am