Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Clemens incident hot topic for Mets

But some players close-mouthed on controversy

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — Baseball wasn't played Monday. Nobody would have paid attention, anyway.

        The scheduled off day in the New York-New York World Series allowed reporters and players to analyze the focal point of Game 2 Sunday night, when Yankees right-hander Roger Clemens threw a shard of Mike Piazza's broken bat at the feet of the Mets catcher with apparent fury.

        The controversy obscured the Yankees' 2-0 Series lead.

        “I think you guys are getting away from the big picture,” said Mets outfielder Darryl Hamilton.

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        “The story is the World Series; the story is who wins every night,” Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill said in an almost pleading tone.

        Even the identity of the Yankees' Game 4 starting pitcher, previously a burning issue, became a footnote, especially when manager Joe Torre continued to waffle on his choice.

        But a shred of genuine news emerged: Major League Baseball officials said it would investigate the incident to determine whether Clemens should be disciplined. Umpires, chose not to eject Clemens from the game.

        A precedent exists for an equipment-throwing incident. In the 1972 American League Championship Series, Oakland's Bert Campaneris threw his bat at Detroit pitcher Lerrin LaGrow and was suspended for the rest of the postseason, as well as the first seven games of the 1973 season.

        “This is the kind of situation we'd review on a routine basis,” said Sandy Alderson, commissioner Bud Selig's executive vice president in charge of baseball operations. Frank Robinson, baseball's chief of discipline, contacted Mets general

        manager Steve Phillips and Yankees manager Joe Torre on Monday, among others.

        “They can look into it,” said an unconcerned Clemens.

        Piazza, who called Clemens' action “idiotic,” and Mets manager Bobby Valentine endorsed a probe.

        Piazza: “I believe his actions should be looked at by Frank Robinson.”

        Valentine: “I support my catcher totally.”

        Clemens sounded ready for an official interrogation. He stuck adamantly to the explanation he gave after Sunday's game.

        “I told y'all exactly what I felt,” he said before the Yankees' workout at Shea Stadium. “I thought it (the bat bounding toward him) was a ball coming at me; I reacted. I think I charged it. Then once I had a bat in my hand, I threw it to the on-deck circle and I tried to get a ball from the umpire (Charlie Reliford). I went over and told Charlie the same thing ...

        “I told Charlie, "Listen, I'm a little fired up, as you can see.' He said, "Yeah, this is the World Series.' I go, "Yeah it is.' I said, "Do you understand there was no meaning behind it?' He said, "I'll make sure I tell (Piazza).' I said, "Good, would you do that?'”

        Piazza has nothing to fear from an investigation. All he did after hitting his fateful broken-bat foul grounder was to approach Clemens and ask him, albeit angrily, to explain himself. But Piazza sounded as if he had heard the critics who said he and his teammates should have reacted more angrily.

        “You could argue left and right,” Piazza said. “You're damned if you do, damned if you don't. We punch him, guys get thrown out, we're selfish. We back down ... We look gutless. It's a no-win situation either way.”

        The Yankees, halfway toward securing their third world title in a row and fourth in five years, seemed desperate to move past the Clemens-Piazza issue. Short stop Derek Jeter's comment was typical: “I think you should let it go.”

        But several Mets remained hostile toward Clemens.

        “I felt he should have gotten tossed (ejected from the game),” said Rick Reed, tonight's starting pitcher against Yankees right-hander Orlando Hernandez. “It was just uncalled for ... Let's reverse the role. If Mike throws his little piece of the bat at him, he's gone.”

        “I think it was dumb, professionally,” said utility player Lenny Harris, a former Red. Harris implied that he would have fought Clemens: “If it had happened to me, I definitely would have been kicked out of the game.”

        But though Valentine said retaliating violently would have been a “farce,” left-hander Mike Hampton, the Game 2 losing pitcher, contradicted his manager. Asked if the Mets' restraint — they left the dugout but threw no punches — demonstrated their character, Hampton said, “I guess that's the good side. Or the bad side, I don't know.”

        Why was it bad?

        “It's a challenge, man. Different people react differently. If somebody throws a bat at me, I'm going to fight.”

        Hampton, a former Astro who plays off-season pickup basketball with Clemens, a Houston-area resident, also theorized the confrontation helped his buddy throw his eight-inning, two-hit shutout.

        “I think after that incident, we wanted to score some runs and knock him out of the game so badly that it played into his hands,” Hampton said. “I saw it for three years with Jose Lima dancing on the mound. Teams wanted to hit him so badly that he was just walking through them because they were so overly aggressive.”

        The best retaliation, said Reed, would be to become only the 12th team to win the Series after falling behind 2-0.

        “That would be the payback,” Reed said.
       “For now.”


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