“Was it or was it not intentional?” that was the question which New York baseball fans were all asking last Sunday regarding the beaning of Mike Piazza in the head from a fastball thrown by Roger Clemens.
Mets manager Bobby Valentine and Piazza both stated in a press conference prior to Sunday’s series finale that they thought that Clemens’ actions were deliberate. Of course, Valentine had an ulterior motive. The Mets had dropped the first three games of the four-game set, including losing both ends of that historic day-night doubleheader, to the Bronx Bombers and you can be sure that Bobby V. was hoping to light a firecracker under the feet of his demoralized troops. Piazza’s reaction was understandable. You wouldn’t be so forgiving if you were drilled in the head with a fastball coming in at nearly 100 mph.
Clemens vehemently denied that he was trying to scalp Piazza. He is one of the best pitchers of our generation and is certain to be enshrined in Cooperstown. He is well aware that his fastball is a lethal weapon. Like many pitchers, Clemens likes to pitch high and inside as a way of intimidating batters. You would hope that he would not want to forever be remembered as the man who was trying to maim Piazza. Joe Torre, unlike say the late Billy Martin, is not the kind of man who would tolerate having one of his pitchers deliberately injure an opposing player. The bottom line is that we’ll probably never know the truth.
Even the most ardent Mets fan had to be happy for Dwight Gooden. He returned to Shea as an opposing player for the first time in his career. After having been released by both the pitching-poor Houston Astros and his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays this year it looked as if Doc’s career was over. The Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap in time for the Mets series. Gooden pitched five innings to pick up the win against the Mets. Gooden was lucky in the fact that his mound opponent was Bobby Jones, a pitcher whose career defines the term “mediocrity.” Jones kept up his streak of never having won an important game for the Mets.
On Friday night the happiest guy in a Yankees uniform was first base coach Lee Mazzilli. Mazzilli was a star for the Mets during those awful years from 1978-1981 when Torre was managing them. He remains one of the most popular players to ever don a Mets uniform. Maz enjoyed a warm greeting from the fans who arrived early to watch batting practice. He also enjoyed catching up on old times with former teammate, and his counterpart as Mets first base coach, Mookie Wilson.
By all means catch HBO’s latest installment of its baseball nostalgia documentary series, “When It Was A Game.” It shows rare color footage of such legends as Mantle, Mays, Banks, Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal, Oliva, Clemente and Kaline, just to name a few players who need no first names to jar memories of baseball fans. The documentary doesn’t sugarcoat some of baseball’s problems back then such as the fact that players were bound to a team for life which limited their bargaining power, and the fact that many teams were very slow to integrate. A highlight of the show is Mets broadcaster (and Bayside native) Howie Rose’s recollections of Bat Day held at Shea Stadium in 1968. Rose talks of how he was teased mercilessly by his friends for receiving a Jerry Buchek autographed bat. The show’s nadir was Kevin Costner’s monotonous reading of dull poetry designed to evoke “Fields Of Dreams” images.