If you think about it, it’s remarkable that, after nearly 40 years of playing side by side in the same city, all it took was one (errant or well-placed; pick one) 92-mile-per-hour fastball from Roger Clemens to turn one of the healthiest natural rivalries in all of professional sports into the kind of psychodrama best suited for an installment of WWF Smackdown. Indeed, as Mike Piazza lay prone at home plate in Yankee Stadium last Saturday night, my first thought was of the “Wrestling vs. Baseball” cover story in USA Weekend a few Sundays ago, pitting Piazza against the Rock in a “debate” over which, er, sport is truly America’s pastime. After suggesting that baseball could use more “story lines in the dugout,” the Rock addressed the question of whether activities in the squared circle incite copycat violence by contending, “For a parent to blame what their kids have done on me is ridiculous. That’s like kids playing baseball on the street and getting hit, then saying it happened because they watch Mike Piazza on TV.”
Unlike wrestling, of course, baseball is bound by real tradition (as opposed to conveniently located metal folding chairs). So, instead of instructing Glendon Rusch to plunk designated take-one-for-the-team Yankee Tino Martinez in his nice, round rump, perhaps Mets manager Bobby Valentine should have consulted his father-in-law, old Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca, on the most effective way to retaliate for a beanball. Branca could tell him that back in the 1950s, when people on the mound literally did stick it in the batter’s ear, you’d get even for one of your players’ getting decked by having one of your next hitters lay a bunt down the first base line and then steamroll over the pitcher as he went to field the ball. And if he was too chicken to move, you’d run over the first baseman instead (sorry about that, Tino). And the beauty is, it eliminates the entire he-never-comes-up-to-hit DH factor!
Oh, well. Sure, the Mets would have preferred to win more than one game out of the four against the Yankees this time around. Still, the Boys of Flushing have hit the All-Star break with a record of 48-38, which, if the season ended right now, would indeed put them in the playoffs once again—and, once again, just barely—as the NL Wild Card team. Are they the teeny-weeny two wins better than they were last year that will get them to a World Series berth? Can Piazza go more than two weeks, let alone three months, without a concussion? Can Rick Reed stay in one piece? Will Jay Payton ever get a hit when it really counts? Will Robin Ventura get an actual day off this century? Will Turk Wendell not be allowed anywhere near the mound in any ninth inning with the score tied? Will Bobby Valentine have one non-gray hair left on his head come September? And will the 2000 Mets finally find that happy recap in the sky? Stay tuned.