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Jewish World Review July 12, 2000 / 12 Tamuz, 5760

Mile Lupica

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Consumer Reports

Under Rocket fire: Too high & tight for Bombers -- DAVID WELLS started the All-Star Game and for good reason, because he is the best pitcher in the American league this season, maybe all of baseball. There isn't a Yankee fan anywhere who wouldn't send Roger Clemens back for him tomorrow. The Yankees managed to win with Clemens, same as they did Wells. It would have been easier with Boomer Wells, the way it would be easier to root for the Yankees if he were still here.

I was one of the people who thought the Yankees had made a good trade, just because I thought Wells was more likely to break down. I was wrong the way George Steinbrenner and Joe Torre were. And all the Yankee fans who didn't want to lose Boomer were right. He was high-maintenance, he liked late night and loud music. He was more a Yankee than Clemens is or will ever be, no matter how long Steinbrenner is stuck with him.

Wells loved Babe Ruth and meant it. Clemens goes out to Monument Park before his starts and rubs Ruth's monument for luck, and looks as phony as he sounded Saturday night after he tried to stick one in Mike Piazza's ear.

"We don't do things that way,'' Joe Torre said, defending Clemens after he hit Mike Piazza.

Actually, he was right. His Yankees don't do things that way. But Clemens, who came here for money and an easy championship ring, does.

All you can hope for the rest of the way is that the Yankees and Mets do play again before the season is over, that we finally get our real Subway Series. That way Piazza and the Mets get one more crack at Clemens, who threw a fastball right where he aimed it Saturday night.

A few years ago the Yankees acted as if Armando Benitez had robbed a church when he stuck a fastball in Tino Martinez's back. When Clemens was picking off Yankees in the old days, people like Derek Jeter screamed bloody murder. Now he's just establishing himself on the inside of the plate.

That is part of the macho culture of baseball. So is the part about the manager backing his player. As Torre, the most respected sports guy in town, kept doing that all weekend, he finally talked too much. I was listening to him on the radio before Sunday's game and heard him actually say something about the media "fanning the flames.''

Excuse me?

I like Torre a lot. But he must be kidding. So does anybody else going into the tank for Roger Clemens. The media had nothing to do with this. The people calling the radio to properly call Clemens a bum, they had nothing to do with this. Clemens did this. He started this fire with his cheap, dangerous shot.

Take one more good look at the replay the next time it is shown. Clemens's mechanics were a thing of beauty. The ball ended up where he aimed it. If Piazza got out of the way, good for him. If not, let him try to hit another grand slam -- the way he did last month -- while lying flat on his back.

I talked to a former teammate of Clemens's on Sunday, and told him what I thought about what I had seen the night before. That Clemens was tired of Piazza beating him the way he would an old rug, humiliated by that grand slam, the one that got him booed off his own mound at Yankee Stadium, and this was his way of fighting back, putting Piazza on his back.

There was a pause and then the friend said, "You're right.''

So Clemens, less a Yankee than anybody in the room, is the first guy in the history of Yankees vs. Mets to actually make this a rivalry that feels as deep as the old Dodgers against the old Giants. They played all the time. The Mets have to make the World Series to see him again, or wait a whole year. At least Piazza had the grace to tell the truth about what happened to him, of what he saw before the lights went out.

Now comes the sight of Boomer Wells getting the ball from Torre in the All-Star Game. Whatever Torre says now, he wasn't sorry to see Wells go. And Wells, for all his talent, was a lot of work, no question. He was also someone for whom you could root. I loved listening to Yankee fans say how the sight of Sammy Sosa in pinstripes would have made it hard for them to root for their team. Roger Clemens doesn't?

The lasting mark he has made in New York is the one he made on Piazza's batting helmet the other night. Maybe Jeter, who acted outraged that anybody would think Clemens did it on purpose, forgot saying, "(Clemens) throws at everybody,'' after Scott Brosius got it from Clemens two years ago.

And Joe Torre has forgotten the depth of his own outrage when Benitez gave it to Tino. "How can I say this without cursing?'' Torre said at the time. "The guy throws 100 miles an hour and came within a foot of hitting Tino in the back of the head.''

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman, another one defending Clemens the other day on the radio, had said this about Benitez hitting Tino Martinez: `That was the most chicken---- thing I've seen in my whole life. ... That's the main reason there shouldn't be a DH. He could've killed somebody. He should be suspended for a long time.''

If you only wait one batter to retaliate -- Bernie Williams had just hit a big home run against Benitez that night -- you're a criminal. You wait a month, the way Clemens did, you're apparently just a rough, tough Yankee, pitching inside. Putting on the pinstripes is better than going to Lourdes.

JWR contributor Mike Lupica is author, most recently, of Summer of '98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America. To comment, click here.


06/29/00 Deal with it, Bombers will
06/19/00: Sosa whine is not fine
06/16/00: Even for Sammy, can't afford to throw this one away
06/15/00: Go for gold, George. How does Sosa help Yanks? Let us count the ways
06/12/00: Thirty-three is the loneliest number
06/12/00: For starters, Yanks up in arms & age

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