While the Yankees may well win their fourth championship in five years, the organization once revered as perhaps the classiest in all of sports has disappointed this season with divergences from that well-earned ideal. If Roger Clemens‘s beanball and bat-chucking incidents were indeed unintentional, his inability to show sincere contrition for his actions belies the dignified stature of the pinstripes he carpetbaggingly dons. You’d expect the puerile George Steinbrenner to disavow culpability here, but shame on the once regal Joe Torre for defending the indefensible, strategically shifting the starting rotation to help Clemens avoid Shea Stadium retribution (thus failing to hold Rocket accountable), and lashing out at the media for questioning what was obviously an obscene display of discomposure by Roger in Game 2.
Consider this: When John Rocker had his problems with New York earlier in the season, manager/class act Bobby Cox publicly chastised him, had him lay in the bed he made, and boldly inserted him into the first game the Braves played at Shea. But with Torre’s surprising lack of backbone this season, and a looser ship navigating Yankee waters, it should come as no surprise that the classless Yankee subs brandished bush-league “Mets in 3000” signs during Game 2’s telecast. For the Yankees in 2000, it seems that class has been dismissed.
One of the stranger sidebars to this year’s baseball postseason has been the near-epidemic outbreak of showbiz personalities suddenly turning up for photo ops disguised as “die-hard” Yankee or Met fans. And no, we don’t mean Jerry “Single Loogie Theory” Seinfeld.
When the Mets beat the Cardinals to clinch the NL pennant last week, clubhouse revelers included Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, who kept giddily uncorking bottles of champagne and spraying everyone in sight. This even though not a single beat reporter we talked to could recall ever seeing the two anywhere near Shea Stadium all year, and in spite of the obvious unwritten rule that nobody except players and team personnel is supposed to touch the bubbly, let alone douse anyone with it.
Then again, we did come to the sobering realization that it really is a new sports-entertainment millennium when the packet of Major League Baseball press releases we got for Game 1 of the Subway Series included a sheet titled “A NIGHT FOR CELEBRITIES.” The document listed everyone from filmmakers Cameron Crowe and Spike Lee (who just happen to have new movies out) to Jack Nicholson (who just happens to be in the market for a new cradle to rock now that he and Lara Flynn Boyle have broken up) to just about the entire cast of Ally McBeal (which just happens to be on the World Series-broadcasting Fox network). Noticeably absent from the roster (though his significant other, Goldie Hawn, made it) was the only legitimately vested celeb in the house: onetime minor leaguer Kurt Russell, who in real life just happens to be the uncle of Mets pinch hitter Matt Franco.
The book giveth and the book taketh away. That’s what Bobby Valentine learned in his World Series managerial debut. On Saturday, pinch-hitting Bubba Trammel paid big dividends, but the “closing with his closer” call to Armando Benitez in the ninth morphed into a full-fledged Jeffery Maier flashback. “We’re here because that closer closes. It’s like an airplane ride,” he explained later. “You never hear about the safe landings. You only hear about the one that the wind gets and the wing touches the ground or catches on fire when it hits the runway after 2,633,000 safe landings.” Still, there’s a reason why John Franco has 320 more saves than Mr. B.
Sunday wasn’t Valentine’s day either. His first intentional walk to Jorge Posada, combined with a slow hook for stuff-less starter Mike Hampton, made the hecklers from the left field handicapped section seem prescient: “You smell like Kenny Rogers.” Later, Bobby V.’s free pass to Bernie Williams, followed by Tino Martinez‘s single, rendered the Mets’ ninth-inning rally merely academic.
For Joe Torre, who seemed geniuslike when Clay Bellinger reeled in Todd Zeile‘s near-jack in the ninth, it looks as though most of his big decisions are still pending. How long will he stay with Chuck Knoblauch at second? Will he throw George Steinbrenner a bone and get Jose Canseco an at bat? Will he start David Cone in Game 4? Or just let him throw out the ceremonial first pitch? Stay tuned.
Next time you hear a pro sports owner plead poverty in defense of stadium-subsidy demands or high ticket prices, remember this figure: $17 million. That’s the new annual pay rate for likely AL MVP Carlos Delgado, courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, the same Blue Jays who just last year were so strapped for cash that they had to unload Roger Clemens on the Yankees; the same Blue Jays who, the year before that, proclaimed themselves in such dire straits that they might have to move out of SkyDome and into old Exhibition Stadium to save a few loonies. (That’s loonies as in the Canadian dollar coins, not as in erstwhile manager Kevin “Vietnam vet in his own mind” Kennedy.)
If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that Delgado’s record haul came on the heels of baseball’s new TV deal with Fox, in which Rupert Murdoch will pay each club about $20 mil a year for the right to subject the American public to nonstop McCarverisms all year long. With every team in the majors—yes, that includes the Minnesota Twins—suddenly awash in newfound pocket money, this winter should be a great time to be a free agent.
Which is perfect if you’re A-Rod or Mike Hampton, but shouldn’t make much of a difference in terms of competitive balance, or big-market/small-market parity, or any of the other issues that keep Bud Selig up all night. And since the Fox TV money is guaranteed whether games are played or not, this only heightens the likelihood of an owner lockout after next season, as the baseball barons try to snap their 28-year-long winless streak at the bargaining table. And when you think about it, since the network that signed this contract is also a team owner (the Dodgers) . . . well, let’s just say we find it more than a little coincidental that Mulder isn’t around to solve this one, hmm?
Contributors: Blake Zeff, Billy Altman, Allen St. John, Neil deMause
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman