I was pretty sure the highlight of Tuesday night's All-Star Game was going to be a pregame clip of managers Jack McKeon and Joe Torre chattering away like old bridge partners in an interview, with Marlins boss McKeon playfully reminding Torre that home-field advantage, won at last year's All-Star Game, didn't help the Yankees skipper much in the World Series.
But then the American League hung a six on Roger Clemens in the first inning. It just doesn't get any better than that.
The American League cruised to a 9-4 win, which means the A.L. champ will open the World Series at home. This was the end of the two-year experiment of having the All-Star Game decide that. Predictably, because it's such a dumb idea, commissioner Bud Selig said this week that he likes it and wants it to continue.
I love it when the preordained story line of a big event -- in this case, Houstonian Clemens retires, then changes his mind to pitch for the hometown team and pitches so well he's picked to start the All-Star Game, held in Houston -- gets blown to smithereens. Clemens was supposed to dominate Tuesday, take curtain calls, maybe even well up during one of the standing ovations.
Instead, showered in pregame cheers from the Minute Maid Park crowd, he gave up a leadoff double to Ichiro and then a triple to Ivan Rodriguez before he got an out. Then Manny Ramirez launched a rocket into the left-field seats for 3-0. After an error at second base by Astros teammate Jeff Kent -- it wasn't a shining inning for the Houstons -- and a Derek Jeter single, Alfonso Soriano hit a three-run homer and it was 6-0.
It was the biggest first inning in All-Star history, the biggest inning period since the A.L. pounded Atlee Hammaker of the Giants for seven runs in 1983. For the first time ever, it became apt to mention Roger Clemens and Atlee Hammaker in the same sentence.
And listen, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, maybe the greatest, but he's also a first-class punk. He has a way of coming up spectacularly small at the biggest moments, dating all the way back to his stupidly getting himself thrown out of a playoff game in 1990. (He shouldn't have been thrown out, but he also shouldn't have put himself in position to be thrown out.)
And maybe even dating beyond that, depending on whose story you believe about why he came out after seven innings of Game 6 in the 1986 World Series. John McNamara, then the Red Sox manager, has always claimed that Clemens asked out because of a blister. Clemens, who is more believable in this argument, has maintained he was yanked for a pinch hitter.
At any rate, A's fans who remember that era look back fondly on Clemens losing again and again in big games to Oakland ace Dave Stewart, a good pitcher but not a Hall of Fame candidate.
He flashed his trademark petulance in the 2000 World Series when he threw a bat in the general direction of nemesis Mike Piazza, providing one of the major hype points for Tuesday's game since Piazza was the starting catcher Clemens had to throw to.
And he flashed his punkness when he immediately hid from an enraged Piazza behind the umpire, and then later double-talked his way through a refusal to admit that he'd thrown the bat at Piazza, that he'd thrown the bat, that he'd known Piazza was in the ballpark or the object in his hand was a bat, or that he'd been in the Bronx on the night in question.
In 26 postseason starts, Clemens is 8-6 with an earned-run average of 3.47. In the regular season, he's averaged a 13-7 record and a 3.18 ERA per 26 starts, which is about three-fourths of a season's worth. And that includes his lousy late Boston period in the mid-'90s. Of course it's tougher to pitch in the postseason, where all opponents are good teams, but we're talking about arguably the greatest pitcher of all time. For someone who could have been expected to put up Bob Gibson numbers in October, 8-6 with a 3.47 doesn't cut it.
But we were talking about the All-Star Game, which was interrupted in the fourth inning so that Selig could give Clemens some sort of lifetime achievement award. Clemens had the good sense to look a little abashed, given his performance, though he didn't look as embarrassed as you or I might have. He ratcheted his expression down to a kind of "Yes, I realize I'm great but this might not be the best time" thing.
It was for me, though. It was the best time I've had in quite a while. Call me irrational. Call me petty. Just don't call me late when Roger Clemens is pitching in a big game, because I love to watch him punk out, and I love my chances.
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Bob Feller slams Muhammad Ali [PERMALINK]
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller spoke out against Muhammad Ali assisting in the first pitch ceremonies because Ali avoided service in the Vietnam War. I couldn't disagree more with what Feller had to say, but good for him for saying it.
I don't know about you but I get tired of people boasting about their brave defiance of political correctness when what they're really doing is parading their racism, sexism or homophobia. It's nice to see someone be "politically incorrect" by saying something that's going to be unpopular for actual political reasons.
"A man who turned his back on his country shouldn't be honored this way," Feller told the Boston Herald. And he knows his view isn't a popuar one: "You can print that," he said.
"This is a man who changed his name and changed his religion so he wouldn't have to serve his country, and, to me, that's disgusting." Feller, 85, one of the greatest pitchers ever, lost almost four years of his career to service in World War II.
Feller's wrong about Ali, who changed his name and religion in 1964, the year before American combat troops arrived in Vietnam. Avoiding service just wasn't the issue it became for young men over the next few years. There's no evidence that Ali's embrace of Islam was a ploy to escape the draft, and his remaining a famously devout Muslim three decades after the end of the Vietnam War is a compelling argument that his conversion was real.
I also disagree with Feller politically. I don't believe Ali turned his back on his country by refusing to fight in Vietnam. I believe standing up for your beliefs, political, religious or otherwise, is what this country is all about. This country's highest court found in Ali's favor, that his status as a conscientious objector was legitimate.
Changing times and political fashions have turned Ali from a near-pariah to someone you're just supposed to love and revere. As it happens, I do love and revere him, but I'm also glad to have Bob Feller around. (Feller and I also disagree about Pete Rose and, I'm guessing, everything else.)
Sometimes it seems like the level of public discourse in the sports world runs the gamut from A to B. Everything that isn't bland is hateful and vice-versa. It's ridiculous that my heart cockles can be warmed by a cantankerous octogenarian who's still mad about the Vietnam War protests, but there you go.
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Hey, kids! The Blues Brothers! Kids? [PERMALINK]
The lame-as-usual opening sequence to Fox's broadcast of the All-Star Game clued me in that those commercials the network has been running with players driving around in old cars and passing out campaign buttons had a tie-in with "The Blues Brothers." Who knew?
Of course it makes sense to tie in the All-Star Game with the Blues Brothers, since the Blues Brothers were a Chicago thing and the All-Star Game was in ... Houston. But wait, it was in Chicago last year, so it made sense because ... because ...
Hang on a minute! I'm thinking!
I guess the whole thing was another effort to capture that elusive youth demographic. I'm puzzled as to how a tie-in to a 24-year-old movie does that, but then, I didn't major in marketing or anything. Maybe Fox and baseball were just playing it safe. After all, there's little danger of a wardrobe malfunction improperly revealing a large, naked breast with a Blues Brothers act.
On second thought. Wasn't John Goodman a Blues Brother?
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Where do I enter? [PERMALINK]
Before the game, some guy won a million bucks from a taco chain for throwing five balls in 30 seconds from the pitcher's mound through a hula hoop-size hole in a board at home plate. The guy looked at first like he couldn't hit Texas with a thrown ball, but he eventually got five through the target with a few seconds to spare. Jeez, that was the easiest money ever made on a pitcher's mound in that state by a guy who couldn't pitch.
Wait, I forgot about Chan Ho Park.
Previous column: Gay teammates
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