Sports

SEVERAL BOBBLEHEAD NIGHTS FOR RIVERA

It may have been Mariano Rivera Bobblehead Night at the Stadium on August 27, but most of the head-shaking was being done by the Yankees, who saw their lead over Boston shrink to four games before last weekend's crucial series. Despite recent losses by David Wells, the club's real Achilles' heel remains the bullpen. (If only it were as easy to fix as Cliff Floyd's.) Rivera's newfound fallibility—his ERA ballooned from 0.82 for June and July to 3.77 for the month of August (through the 27th)—casts a pall of nearly existential doubt over the ninth inning, while the ever changing gaggle of setup men (19 have taken the mound to date) lack stopping power. Gee, this must be how the other half (or rather, 29/30ths) lives.

It's too soon to tell whether the latest additions, ex-Reds Gabe White and Felix Heredia, will be winners or simply fresh versions of Armando Benitez, especially with White coming off a two-month DL stint. Long coveted by the Yanks, the aggressive lefty "pounds the strike zone," according to former/current teammate Aaron Boone. "I go right at guys," says White, "and make something happen."

Unfortunately, that something, in Cincinnati, must have been the other team crossing the plate, because his ERA this season was 3.93. The journeyman Heredia may turn out to be the better catch. Claimed off waivers from always helpful Cincinnati in a surprise coup by general manager Brian Cashman, the 28-year-old held opponents to a .205 batting average in his last 22 games as a Red. Overall, his record was 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 57 appearances.

Heredia's police record, on the other hand, is considerably less savory. Almost precisely a year ago, Toronto cops charged the then Blue Jay with assault with a weapon, following a 5 a.m. dispute with the mother of one of his children. (She was treated for minor injuries at a hospital.) After spending a night in jail, Heredia was released on a hefty amount of bail, and at last report he was still awaiting final disposition of legal action. The Blue Jays didn't re-sign Heredia after that incident, and he bounced around to the Reds, whence the Yankees plucked him. The Yankees like to talk character and integrity, but when it comes to winning (cf. David Justice), they're full of hot air. —J.Y. Yeh


LET PIAZZA HAVE A BLAST

Owing to the severe groin injury that caused him to miss half the season, Mike Piazza entered the Labor Day weekend still needing a handful of homers to dethrone Carlton Fisk as the sport's all-time leading home-run-hitting catcher. And damned if the baseball gods hadn't arranged it so that the record-setting blast No. 352 was (at press time) likely to happen right in the neighborhood of Mr. Mike's much ballyhooed shouldn't-be-catching-anymore-at-this-age 35th birthday on September 5.

With the Mets out of contention, you'd think Piazza would be allowed to finish this season simply enjoying what he can of it, and reflecting with deserved pride on an 11-plus-year career that's already ensured him a plaque in Cooperstown. The 2003 season will be his first in which he drove in fewer than 90 runs, but it also stands to be his 10th in which he's hit over .300.

Instead, the pressure continues to build on him to field grounders rather than hosannas, as the Mets try to pry him out from behind the plate and turn the reluctant slugger into a first baseman. They're thinking that perhaps he'll even play a game or two there before the end of the year. We think that's a risk the Mets shouldn't take. Since Jason Phillips has proven he can play first and catch (in other words, they're covered either way), it'd be far better—especially for Piazza's psychological health—to leave him alone until next year, when he can get a full spring training's worth of practice in at the position, preferably with the help of, say, Keith Hernandez. The old Gold Glover, still prominent locally as a baseball color analyst, has said he'd be happy to help—although, curiously, the Mets hadn't, as of last week anyway, asked him to.

The Mets tried to do this sort of thing once before, of course, and ironically it was when Piazza came here in '98. The team tried to make an overnight left fielder out of the all-star catcher he was replacing. Or don't you remember "Clod" Hundley? —Billy Altman


TAKING STOCK IN BUD

Who doesn't like Bud Selig? You and 1,925,203 other people—or at least the people who own that many shares of the Marcus Corporation, a Milwaukee conglomerate run by the baseball commissioner's lifelong pal Steve Marcus. Buddy and Stevie have a cozy thang goin' on: Buddy's on Stevie's board of directors, and Stevie heads the "blind trust" of Buddy's ownership share of the Milwaukee Brewers. That latter thing is a technical arrangement so that Selig can claim he has no conflict of interest being both an owner and a commissioner.

In the Marcus Corp.'s last election of directors—the typical Soviet-style maneuver in which everybody runs unopposed and gets 99 percent of the voted shares of stock—every Marcus director got at least 99.38 percent. Except for Selig, who got a measly 98.23 percent. —Ward Harkavy

 
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