Sports

BATTERED UP

The fines have been levied, but there's still plenty of blame to go around after Saturday's Beantown Beanbrawl, and most of it has to fall at the feet of Major League Baseball. The game's policy on chin music is flawed at best, and it was only good fortune that kept this Don Mossi-ugly scene from turning tragic.

The current rules virtually invite a pitcher to throw at a batter—as long as he's the first pitcher to do it. Knowing there was no chance that he would get ejected, Pedro Martinez plunked Karim Garcia. Martinez also knew that the resulting warning to both benches would affect Roger Clemens as much as it did him. This brand of preemptive defense—used so effectively by Clemens against Mike Piazza—is worthy of the Bush Pentagon.

Once a warning is issued, umpires have to police intent, a slippery slope given their difficulties with simple safe/out and fair/foul calls this post-season. Complicating matters is baseball's version of frontier justice, in which players are afraid of looking like wusses in front of their teammates.

Then there was the melee. Sure, Manny Ramirez overreacted. But before he could complete his halfhearted charge to the mound, both dugouts had emptied. It may seem strange to say it, but baseball has to take a page from the NBA: zero tolerance for leaving the dugout. Consider the alternative: a reprise of the near-fatal punch landed decades ago by Kermit Washington on Rudy Tomjanovich.

The flare-up between 72-year-old plate-in-head Don Zimmer and 31-year-old Pedro Martinez had that kind of potential. CSI: Boston? We shudder to think. Surely the Curse-addled Sox sages had told Martinez about a 1976 scrum between the Yankees and the Red Sox that ended with Graig Nettles doing his best Bruno Sammartino impression on Bill Lee. The ace lefty hurt his arm, and his season was over. —Allen St. John


IF LOOKS COULD KILL

Win or lose, this year's scruffy Red Sox team will go down in the books as one that managed to seriously get under the skin of the Yankees. And we don't just mean the bridge of Don Zimmer's nose, either. It's not often that you hear baseball owners discussing—let alone dissing—the sartorial habits of other clubs, yet before this series even started, there was George Steinbrenner blathering that the Yankees had to understand that they owed their fans not only by "how we play on the field," but "by the way we dress." The implication being, from King Turtleneck's angle at least, that even if they could play like champions, the Red Sox didn't look like champions. So there!

For their part, these Bostonians have worn their blue-collar image with both pride and irreverence—a combination that's perhaps more historically associated with the Bruins than the Red Sox, but which somehow suits this mostly ragtag bunch of (in the words of "Cowboy Up" Kevin Millar) "idiots who just go out and play baseball."

Millar, of course, was the one who led the way with the buzz cuts, going from looking like Harry Shearer in This Is Spinal Tap to looking like Harry Shearer in A Mighty Wind. Then again, as The Washington Post's Tom Boswell noted, you could think of the 2003 Beantown Boys as a kind of updated Animal House gang, with Steinbrenner their Dean Wormer. That would make Millar this frat's John Belushi—and turn Bernie Williams into Stephen Bishop. Think the Yankees carry guitar insurance? —Billy Altman


BENEDICT ARTHUR

Call us old school, but when one of New York's leading voices declares an allegiance to the Cult of Ted Williams's Permafrost Cranium, we're ready to get out the mob and flaming torches. No, not Mike Bloomberg—his Massachusetts roots are old news, though of late he's insisted his heart really bleeds Boston Brave navy-and-red—but the city's other gray eminence, The New York Times, which last week declared its "Dream Series" to be a Sox-Cubs tilt. "We find it hard," wrote Times editorialists, "to resist the emotional tug and symmetrical possibilities of a series between teams that seem to have been put on earth to tantalize and then crush their zealous fans."

Equally hard to resist: the smell of greenbacks. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., after all, is also CEO of the parent New York Times Co., owner of The Boston Globe—and of a minority stake in the Red Sox themselves. According to baseball business guru Andy Zimbalist, a trip to the Fall Classic could land an extra three million Sox bux in the Team of Record's corporate coffers—a fact the Times neglected to disclose. (It fell to Daily News gossips Rush and Molloy to alert the masses.)

On one level, this seems best left to the journalistic ethicists who swarm around the Times like flies to Jeff Weaver's right arm—if the Times brass wants to piss off readership, more power to them. But conflict-of-interest issues could loom large in another Times dual role: that of landholder on Manhattan's West Side, where Dan Doctoroff's multi-billion-dollar Olympic-stadium plan remains on life support, and where the Times is raking in tax breaks for a new Eighth Avenue HQ. Toy with New Yorkers' hearts and minds if you must, Art, but keep your hands off our wallets. —Neil deMause

 
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