I'm not mad at Roger Clemens for throwing a jagged bat fragment at Mike Piazza. I'm not mad at him for beaning Piazza in July. I'm not even mad at him for pitching brilliantly of late for a team I despise.
I'm mad at him because he's a big, hulking wuss.
In case you were engrossed in that Paul Reiser vs. David Arquette "Celebrity Death Match" Sunday night: Clemens' meeting with Piazza was much-anticipated because Clemens had knocked Piazza unconscious with a fastball to the helmet in an interleague game on July 8. The Mets said he'd thrown at their star on purpose. The Yankees' Clemens maintains he was just pitching inside.
In the first inning Sunday, Clemens threw a good inside fastball. Piazza swung and fouled it off, literally shattering his bat in the process. The fat end of the bat bounced toward Clemens, who fielded it as he would a grounder as Piazza, not sure where the ball had gone, jogged toward first base with the bat handle still in his hand. After catching the bat, Clemens immediately turned and flung it, with some fury, in Piazza's general direction.
The bat bounced past Piazza, maybe five feet in front of him. Looking genuinely puzzled and a little mad, Piazza started walking, slowly -- baseball players don't like to fight, and they often "charge" each other in slow enough motion to ensure they'll be restrained before reaching their destination -- toward Clemens. Both benches emptied, words and dirty looks were exchanged, Clemens wasn't thrown out of the game, order was restored and Clemens went on to pitch eight dominant innings as the Yankees won Game 2.
The next 47 times you see the video clip, watch what Clemens does as Piazza strides, turtle-like, toward him, asking the very reasonable and still unanswered question "What's your problem?" Clemens ever so slowly and ever so subtly glides over toward home plate, a maneuver that puts intervening catcher Jorge Posada and home plate umpire Charlie Reliford between him and Piazza.
What a wuss! Clemens wouldn't even stand up to a guy who clearly wasn't that interested in fighting. What kind of representative for New York is this guy? He should have let Piazza walk right up to him, bumped chests with him and said, "What's my problem? What's your problem?" only with an extra word or two before "problem."
Instead, Clemens appeared to say, "I thought it was the ball." He agreed at the postgame press conference that he might have said that. Let's examine that statement: Roger Clemens has pitched in 528 major league ballgames, not counting spring training and All-Star Games. He picks up a jagged piece of broken baseball bat and thinks it's a baseball? My baseball career was short, brutal and over before I turned 12, but I'm pretty sure I can tell the difference between a baseball and a broken piece of bat, even if I were in an emotionally charged state, as Clemens insists he was.
When Piazza was told after the game that Clemens had claimed he thought the bat was the ball, Piazza giggled.
By the time of the press conference, Clemens' story had changed. Now he had a mantra: "There was no intent." He repeated it six times. See, he was just tossing the bat to the Yankee bat boy. He had no idea that Piazza -- 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, dressed in light gray, blue and orange and 30 feet away -- was running in the path of his bat toss.
Have you ever seen a baseball player throw something to somebody when time is out? He'll hold it up and kind of wave it. "Hey," he's saying, "I'm about to throw this to you. Are you looking at me?" Have you ever seen a player throw a bat to someone? He'll toss it softly, underhand. Clemens picked up the bat and immediately whipped it, overhand, hard. If he was throwing it at the bat boy, you gotta wonder: What did that bat boy do to him?
Look, he threw the bat at the guy. It was an asshole move. I don't pretend that I can psychoanalyze Clemens from afar, so I don't know why he did it -- much has been made of the Mets being intimidated afterward, but they looked more overpowered than intimidated to me -- but he clearly did it.
It seems to me that at that point there are two honorable courses of action: Puff out your chest and say, "Yeah, I did it. So what?" or fall on your sword, say, "That was stupid. I'm sorry." Clemens chose instead to hide behind a series of lame excuses and weak denials -- after first having hid behind his catcher and the umpire.
Clemens is a great pitcher who right now is pitching as well as anyone ever has in October. I'm not one of those who disputes a pitcher's right to throw inside, to try to intimidate or overpower the other team by whatever means he can. But he ought to at least have the guts to stand behind his actions, even his gutless ones, instead of punking out like Clemens did.
We ought to expect more of our World Series heroes.