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Jewish World Review July 18, 2000/ 15 Tamuz, 5760

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Consumer Reports


No roots for the home team, but a lifetime spiced up by baseball


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LAST THURSDAY night was a magnificent one on which to spend a few hours at Yankee Stadium: the sky was clear, the temperature was in the mid-70s, the concession lines weren't too long and, most importantly, the Bombers lost, 11-9, to the Florida Marlins. Junior and I attended the game, sitting in box seats about 20 rows back, between the Yanks' dugout and first base, with my niece Zoe Smith and her boyfriend Andy Jaye, a fellow Red Sox devotee. The official paid attendance that evening was 33,324, but the ballpark wasn't nearly that full, and having watched two capacity-crowd Bosox games in the last six weeks, I could see how many season-ticket holders opted out on the Marlins, a subpar National League team that's lucky to draw even 10,000 fans in their Miami stadium. There were some Yankee comebacks during the contest, but the result was essentially decided by the third, after Orlando Hernandez-El Duque to you, bub-gave up three-run homers to Mike Lowell and Derek Lee.

Which tickled the four of us. You see, Andy's from New England and is as passionate a Red Sox fan as I've met in years; Zoe, even though her father is a Yanks booster since '49, has switched allegiances. And Junior, aping his dad, is so deep in the tank for the Sox that, at seven years old, he's already steeped in Sox lore: the Curse of the Bambino; Jim Lonborg and Carl Yastrzemski's "Impossible Dream" season of '67; Freddy Lynn and Jim Rice, as rookies, dominating the American League in '75, the same year that Carlton Fisk, one of the most uptight baseball players in history, hit that famous home run against the Reds in the sixth game of the World Series; and Bucky Dent's playoff homer in '78.

Not to mention the Nightmare of '86, when the Mets took advantage of the curse and stole an almost-certain first Series championship for Boston since 1918. I'll relive that horrible hour in the sixth game for Junior's benefit, just to toughen him up for a lifetime of Sox-worship/-masochism, and he covers his ears and says, "Please Dad, don't remind me!" And this utter disaster, unfairly pinned solely on Bill Buckner, occurred six years before he was born.

Andy and I kept our eyes glued on the outfield scoreboard, following that night's game at Fenway, where Pedro Martinez was pitching for the first time since coming off the disabled list. Neither of us thought the Mets' Bobby J. Jones had a chance against Pedro, but watched dispiritedly as each inning showed the same score, the Bosox losing 1-0. By the time Junior and I left the Stadium at the top of the seventh-it was late for him and I was feeling the effect of two hotdogs-the Mets and Sox were tied at two apiece.

Pedro
(By the way, one of the most enduring, and irritating, myths in American pop culture is that a hotdog always tastes better at the ballpark. What a bunch of hooey. As it happens, there's not much else to eat at Yankee Stadium, which has the worst food selection of any sporting facility I've ever been to, so you choke down a boiled dog or two out of desperation. I can remember from my three years as a vendor at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium how those pig-snout delicacies are prepared: a big vat of semi-bubbling water, maybe given the spice of a pissed-off worker's spit, and then it's off to the stands, to feed the suckers what they want.)

Junior and I haggled with a livery driver outside the gate-the guy wanted $50 and I whittled it down to $30, feeling for a minute like I was in Cairo rather than the Bronx-and listened to the Mets-Sox game on the radio while going home. We were racing down the FDR when the Mets' Mike Piazza singled; the visiting team took a one-run lead in the eighth. Off the highway, the car crawled along Houston St., due to the collapse of that building at 2nd Ave., where the scene was full of cops, ambulances, rubberneckers and nosy pedestrians. When we got home, I tucked in Junior, flipped on the iMac and decided to confirm the Sox's loss-as penance for what, I wasn't sure.

As it turned out, on the AOL scoreboard, where you can "watch" any Major League game with 30-second updates, it was the bottom of the ninth, two outs and two on, with slumping Brian Daubach at the plate. He doubled, scoring the go-ahead runner Jose Offerman, who'd reached base on an error by Melvin Mora, and the FINAL sign was flashed on my computer, Sox winning 4-3. What a weird way to follow a baseball game, I thought, but happily logged on to the Drudge Report for the last time that day, read 25 pages of Joe Eszterhas' hilarious, if outrageously self-indulgent, American Rhapsody, and quickly fell asleep.

It's always a pleasure to view a ballgame with someone who's in full command of the sport. Andy, in his mid-20s, not only has the Sox's history embedded in his brain, but also is knowledgeable about the other 29 teams in the Major Leagues today, an awesome feat if you ask me. As a semi-old-timer, I grew up when each league had just 10 teams-my brothers scoff at that, since they remember Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, eight teams to a league and seeing Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in their primes, and a 154-game season-and there were no playoffs, designated hitters or wild card tickets to the World Series. I don't read the sports pages during the winter, so the Sox's roster is always a surprise-like every other team's-when I start to focus on the upcoming season at the end of March. It seems like half the names are different, and it's a chore to keep up. With the rare exception of a Cal Ripken Jr. or Tony Gwynn, say, there are few franchise players left, men who forsake a million or two on contracts because they've established homes and families in their communities.

The Mick
I always thought Roger Clemens, following the lead of Williams, Yaz, Rice, Dwight Evans, etc., would start and finish his career with the Sox. Clemens, one of the five best pitchers of the past generation, was always a throwback player. He threw a deadly fastball, was a strikeout king and seemed to enjoy the game as much as when he was a teen. It was clear Roger wasn't too bright-I mean, it's pretty weird to give all your kids names starting with the letter K, for strikeout-but he played hard and seriously.

I didn't mind a bit when he wore war paint and gold chains in the playoffs against the Oakland A's in 1990; the guy was out of his mind, but he sure was colorful. When Clemens, having satisfied most of his personal goals, and assured a spot in the Hall of Fame, defected to the Blue Jays in '97, I was initially pissed. (He also demonstrated his Maxine Waters-like IQ by signing with Toronto instead of the Yanks that year.) But Clemens was, after more than 10 years in Boston, treated with ingratitude by the Sox's young general manager Dan Duquette, who claimed Clemens was washed up. When he went on to win two consecutive Cy Young awards with the Jays, that was evidence enough to the contrary.

So, unlike my friend Andy, who turns on a Sox player as soon as he departs Boston, I kept rooting for Clemens, even when he signed with the Yankees in '99 (except when he pitched against Boston). But on the night of July 8, after Clemens hit Mets superstar Mike Piazza in the head during the second inning at Yankee Stadium, my former favorite player meant nothing to me anymore. What a jerk.

Look, I love baseball players today who resemble those of another era, who play even while injured and razz the opposing team from the dugout instead of using a cellphone to gab with their agent or broker. The Bosox's current number-one draw, Pedro Martinez (with shortstop Nomar Garciaparra close behind), isn't adverse to plunking another player as a warning to the other team. But when Clemens beaned Piazza, laying him out on the ground, and showed no remorse, that was it for me.

Unlike Andy, and about 99 percent of Mets fans, I don't think Clemens intentionally hit Piazza in the head. It's inconceivable. If you throw a ball at 90 mph and aim straight at the batter's head, you might as well have a gun in your hand. I'm sure he meant to nick him, but the ball just got away. If Clemens intended on ending Piazza's career, and possibly his life, that would create a real crisis for me-and create a homicide case for the cops. (I wonder how Number One Yankees Fan Hillary... I mean Rudy Giuliani would react to that.) I can't believe it. The Yankees pitcher, responding to criticism, merely said, "I wasn't trying to hit him. I was trying to pitch him inside." Sure. As many fans have said, Clemens' strategy probably would've been different at Shea, where he'd have to bat against a Mets pitcher, not to mention face the wrath of the fans.

Cochran
An Angryman.com poll showed that 57.14 percent of respondents believed Clemens deliberately nailed the Mets' catcher. In the July 11 Boston Globe, sports columnist Michael Holley wrote: "So, where do you stand? Did Roger Clemens bean Mike Piazza intentionally? If this were a court case-and I were Roger-I'd be calling Johnnie Cochran this morning."

And the Daily News' Mike Lupica, a smart guy gone to intellectual seed, did hit it on the button on July 16: "The Yankees say, 'Let's stop talking about this, we're tired of answering all these questions.' Fair enough. Then they should stop trying to make Clemens out to be the injured party here. He wasn't. Piazza was. Steinbrenner sounded as if he's the one who took one on the batting helmet when he suggested that the Mets' reaction to Piazza's beaning was a way to cover the embarrassment of losing three of four to the Yankees. Good grief."

A friend e-mailed me the next day about the incident, saying: "Don't forget that Roger Clemens is a mean [monster]. No more talk about what a great Red Sox legend he was. He's in his doddering years. Beaning Piazza? Pathetic. And oh, he got his championship, all right. He bought it, tracking onto the Yankees. He's a coward."

I don't know that Clemens is a coward, but if the Mets face the Yanks in the Series this year, there will be more cops at Shea Stadium on the day he pitches than there were when John Rocker was in New York a few weeks ago.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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