Clemens: The Jerk?

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Monday, October 23, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Message to all Little League baseball coaches: The next time you want your pitcher to intimidate the opposition, have him toss a bat at their top hitter.

None of this prissy stuff of buzzing a guy’s head with a fastball.

Nope. Have your boy take a bat or even a piece of one and fling it at the other team’s star player.

It’s guaranteed to work.

It passed the ultimate test in the World Series Sunday night when Yankee starter Roger Clemens threw some wood at Mets hitter Mike Piazza in the first inning.

Here’s the good part. Clemens didn’t get ejected. And it scared the bejabbers out of the Mets. They got only two harmless hits off him in eight innings.

If it’ll work against major leaguer hitters, think what it’ll do against a bunch of 10-year-olds. Spook ‘em into taking up badminton.

If the opponents get on your pitcher’s case, just have him do what Clemens did. Say he meant no harm.

The umpire will buy it every time. Especially if it’s a big game. And this was a biggie. Game 2 of the World Series in Yankee Stadium.

Piazza, the No. 3 hitter, stepped into the batter’s box with two out in the first inning. He then splintered his bat on an inside fastball, the barrel of it landing at the pitcher’s feet. The ball went foul, but Piazza started to run anyway. Clemens picked up the bat and tossed it a couple of feet in front of him.

Which got his attention. And his ire up. He took a couple of steps towards Clemens before umpires intervened.

A lot of jawing went on, but no jaws were broken.

Which is fortunate.

The unfortunate part: That Clemens didn’t get kicked out of the game. Not only that, he should have been banned for the rest of the series.

He knew exactly what he was doing. He tossed that bat to put fear in the Mets.

Maybe he wasn’t trying to hit Piazza. That doesn’t matter. That he threw it in his direction should have gotten him booted.

“There was no intent,” Clemens said. “I had no idea Mike was running.”


How could he help but not see him?

Clemens is not stupid. He understands the art of intimidation is part of a pitcher’s repertoire. Some of the great pitchers were masters of these little psychological wars. Bob Gibson. Don Drysdale. And, yes, Roger Clemens.

In his previous start in the playoffs, Game 4 of the ALCS, Clemens twice came in high and tight on Mariner star Alex Rodriguez in the first inning. Tone set. The Mariners got one hit. The Yankees got the win.

If it worked in that game, why not try it again?

So Clemens did.

It wasn’t altogether unexpected. Last summer, in an interleague game between the New York teams, Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a pitch.

Now they were facing off against one another in the biggest showcase in baseball. A Subway Series. Would Clemens come head-hunting again?

He didn’t have to. He got his point across with another weapon.

When Clemens threw at Rodriguez, Mariner manager Lou Piniella said it was too bad the pitchers didn’t bat in the ALCS. It would have been open season on Mr. Clemens.

But Sir Roger knows he can get away with it. Oh, one of his teammates might have to take a fastball in the ribs, but if that’s the only price that’s paid, it’s a heckuva deal for the pitcher.

Clemens is a Hall of Fame pitcher. He’s the only pitcher ever to win five Cy Young Awards. He has six ERA titles and only one pitcher (Lefty Grove) has more.

At 38, he’s supposed to be coming to the end of his career, but in his last two starts, he’s been awesome, giving up no runs and three hits in 17 innings.

The end?


There is nothing wrong with a pitcher backing a hitter off the plate. That’s part of baseball.

But what Clemens did Sunday night was wrong.

To claim he meant no harm is weak. Maybe he meant no bodily harm, but the act itself was reprehensible.

And, yes, there were millions of kids watching.

Kids who may want to set a tone the next time they step on a field.

Throw a bat? Why not? Roger Clemens did it. And got away with it.

Nice, Roger. Nice example.

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