David Wells, the un-scandal

If the Yankees ace pitched a perfect game while hung over, then how about a bottle for everyone on the staff?

Topics: George Steinbrenner,

I am shocked, shocked by David Wells’ new book. I haven’t read it yet, and I fully intend not to read such trash unless they send me a free copy or I am forced to go buy one. Who, having followed David Wells’ career over the last five or six years, would have had an inkling that the man drinks, brawls and carouses? How does he hide it so well? Who would have guessed from looking at Wells that conditioning isn’t the one thought uppermost in his mind?

I haven’t read such shocking revelations since the last biography of Babe Ruth. Just think about the things that these guys have in common: left-handed, drinking to excess, staying out all night, driving recklessly, playing 30 pounds overweight (at least). About the only thing these two couldn’t agree on is whether to sneak back into the hotel at 5 or 6 a.m.

David Wells pitched a perfect game while suffering from a hangover? And someone in the Yankee front office thinks this is a bad thing? Perhaps they should follow Lincoln’s lead and send a case of what Wells was drinking to everyone else on the pitching staff.

What sin has David Wells committed that Babe Ruth did not? Well, for one thing, he wrote a book, “Perfect I’m Not! Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches & Baseball.” Well, let’s say he participated in writing a book, which is probably a great deal closer than he ever got to reading one. I would have thought this issue had been dealt with 30 years ago with the overreaction to Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four,” which told about Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Whitey Ford, and even Bouton himself committing just about every cardinal and venal sin, even some that Mick Jagger didn’t think of. But no, for some reason the sports press has chosen to treat all this as a revelation. Four years after Dennis Rodman’s autobiography, is there anything David Wells could say that would truly shock us about the lives of professional athletes? Why the outrage?

And now the Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman, wants to discipline Wells? How, exactly? And why? For exercising his right to free, if somewhat incoherent, speech? What will the punishment be — no ketchup on the Philly cheese steaks in the clubhouse after each game? Tip a cop to shadow him and ticket his motorcycle? Levy a purely monetary fine? If he does that, it had better be for more than he’s being paid for the book or what’s the point? Cashman knows very well he can’t suspend Wells without pay because the Players Association will let him know in very short order that he has no such power. Suspend him with pay? What a terrible thought for Wells. While the Yankees start the season in a cold, blustery New York, he’ll be forced to spend the first week in April slamming down strawberry daiquiris while lying on a beach in the Bahamas.

Of course, the Yankees could simply swallow his contract and cut him loose, but shouldn’t that consideration be made on the basis of whether or not Wells can still pitch? After all, that was the criterion that the Yankees went by in acquiring Wells in the first place, knowing full well that Boomer wasn’t exactly a Christy Mathewson as regards his personal life and work habits.

How about, as some have suggested, a suspension for drug use? After all, alcohol, consumed in the quantities that Wells has been known to consume it, certainly qualifies as alcohol abuse. Well, there are some problems with that, too. First of all, alcohol is legal. Second, we need to understand that baseball owners are no more anxious to have their player suspended for using drugs than the Players Association. The position of the players’ union on this is rather complex, and I won’t go into it now. Suffice it to say that from the owners’ perspective there are two kinds of drugs, those that devalue their property — recreational drugs and heroin easily fit into this category — and performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids, which bring more fans out to the ballparks. As long as Wells continues to win baseball games, alcohol — that is, the alcohol that David Wells drinks — will be considered part of the second category.

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Along with “Total Baseball,” one of the two best baseball stat books, year in year out, is the “Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball” from St. Martin’s Griffin press by David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen and Michael L. Neft. What I find indispensable about the book is that it chronicles every team in every season since 1901 with their individual statistics as well as ranking each team, each year by every available offensive and defensive category. I can’t think of any other baseball book that does something like this. The 2003 edition should be available in your bookstores as you read this.

Allen Barra cowrote Marvin Miller's memoirs, A Whole Different Ballgame. His latest book is Mickey and Willie: The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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