Thursday, April 3, 2008

Couldn't Happen to a Better Guy

Suppose you're walking down the street, and you see somebody coming at you. You don't know what his intentions are, but he looks mad. He gets closer, and you see he's an old man. You also see that he does not have a weapon in his hand. He's no more armed than you are.

What do you do?

I don't know about you, but I'd try to stop him. "Whoa, easy does it, mister." If that doesn't work, or if there's no time, I'd put my hands up and stop him at his shoulders. The least possible chance for harm is the way to go.

What I would not do is grab him by the head and throw him to the ground.

That would be assault. It could also get me charged with attempted murder.

I wouldn't do that, and I hope you wouldn't, either.

Unless, of course, you're the ace pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and the old man is a Yankee coach, and he used to be a Sox manager, and he blew a Pennant race (or you think it was his fault), and the incident happens at Fenway Park, and you know that the Commissioner of Baseball has your back, so that not only won't you be fined or suspended, but the old man will be forced to apologize for daring to enter your precious personal space.

Don Zimmer was protecting the Yankee players that Pedro Martinez was throwing at.

Zimmer knows, because, 50 years earlier, as a player, he'd been hit in the head -- by all accounts, accidentally -- and was knocked unconscious for 2 weeks, with no one sure if he'd live or die, and requiring 2 surgical procedures on his head. That was in Triple-A ball.

A couple of years later, in the majors, with the Brooklyn Dodgers -- Zim is the last person connected with either the Brooklyn Dodgers or the New York Giants, let alone person who actually played for one of them, still officially employed by a major league club -- Zim was hit in the head again, believed to be another unintentional pitch, and had to leave the game.

So Zim is particularly sensitive to such things. To his credit, in all the years he managed in the majors (first in 1972 with San Diego, last in 1999 with the Yankees while Joe Torre was being treated for cancer), he appears to have never ordered a pitcher to hit a batter.

So he was right to run at Pedro and tell him off.

Pedro was wrong to grab Zim, then 72, by the head, and throw him to the ground.

Pedro Martinez belongs in an institution in the State of New York. Not the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not Shea. More like Attica. Maybe Creedmoor.

Bob Gibson, who also racked up over 3,000 career strikeouts and wore Number 45, said, "I hardly ever threw at a batter. But, if I did, I made sure I hit him."

But there is no record of Gibson ever hitting a man in the head -- on purpose or otherwise. He wanted to intimidate, not to cause injury.

That cannot be said of some other great pitchers.

Don Drysdale: "If one of our guys gets hit, two of yours do; if two of ours, four of yours."

Allie Reynolds: "I wouldn't hit a guy in the head. I'd hit him in the ribs. Really cause him pain." He also once hit a guy with a 3-and-0 count: "If I'm gonna put you on base, I might as well hurt you."

Early Wynn, when asked if his willingness to hit batters meant he would hit his own mother if she stepped in against him: "I'd have to. Mom could really hit the curveball." At least he had a sense of humor about it.

Sal Maglie: "(unprintable)."

But most pitchers don't aim for the head. Maglie did. That's why he was known as the Barber: His pitches close to a batter's face were "close shaves."

But Gibson never went for the head, and neither did Drysdale, and neither did Wynn -- all Hall-of-Famers. Neither did Reynolds, who often had Hall of Fame numbers, just not enough of them due to the way Casey Stengel handled him and a back injury that shortened his career. (He'd invested in oil in his native Oklahoma, so, unlike a lot of players, he could afford to retire and not play through a painful injury. It probably saved him a lot of pain, but it may also have cost him a World Series ring or two and election to Cooperstown.)

Those guys didn't aim for the head, or for the hands, which can also end a player's career, or at least his season. Pedro Martinez does. Present tense, because we can't be sure his career is over, or that, if he does pitch again (at the moment, it looks like he will), he'll shape up and stop that crap.

I rarely agree with the New York Post, but the day after the Pedro-Zim incident, their back page carried the headline "FENWAY PUNK." I've been calling the son of a bitch "Pedro the Punk" ever since.

When he became a Met, the Met fans, known on this blog as the Flushing Heathen, were sure that he was going to lead them to a World Championship.

2005: Failed to make the Playoffs. Can Pedro be blamed for that? No, because the Mets weren't good enough with him, let alone without him.

2006: Pedro got hurt and missed the Playoffs, and the Mets lost Game 7 of the NLCS on a home run to Yadier Molina, and had the tying runs on and the Pennant-winning run at the plate in hard-hitting Carlos Beltran, and he never took the bat off his shoulder and took a called third strike to blow the Pennant. Can Pedro be blamed for that failure to win the Pennant? Not really: The Mets had their chances to win that game.

2007: Pedro is hurt again, and misses most of the season, and the Mets blow a 7-game Division lead with 17 to play and missed the Playoffs completely, the most embarrassing collapse in New York sports history. Can Pedro be blamed for that? Yes: One win by Pedro in a game the Mets would otherwise have lost, and they'd have been in the Playoffs; two, and they'd have been Division Champions; and once you're in the Playoffs, anything can happen, something that has worked to the Mets' advantage (1969, '73 NLCS, '86, '99 NLDS, 2000 NLDS & NLCS) and to their disadvantage (1973 World Series, '88, '99 NLCS, 2000 World Series, '06 NLCS).

Now, Pedro has a hamstring injury, and is expected to be out for all of April and most of May.

Can the Mets afford to have a hole in their rotation for 6 weeks, maybe more?

Could they afford it last season?

Met fans, of course, will never blame Pedro for screwing them up. They never admit that their own players simply aren't good enough. After all, they have to believe they have the best team in baseball, the best team in New York. "Ya Gotta Believe."

Believe this: The majority of Met fans are deluded, and a good chunk of those are just plain morons.

There are good people who are Met fans, including a few who post blogs that are pro-Met but don't take shots at other teams. (I know, where's the fun in that?) But most of the ones who post pro-Met/anti-Yankee blogs go further in their vitriol than I do, loaded with profanity and R-rated stuff. Most of the Sheaheads who call in to WFAN are goofballs who think that Roger Clemens actually threw a broken bat at Mike Piazza, and that all the Yankees were on steroids and none of the Mets were and that the Mets really did beat the Yankees fair and square in the 2000 World Series.

These people think Clemens is scum and Pedro is a wonderful person.

Clemens is truly rotten, and I'm glad he's no longer in baseball, particularly that he's no longer in Pinstripes. (Sorry, Suzyn Waldman.)

But for all the things he's done, he never tried to kill a 72-year-old man.

Pedro Martinez did. He's a felon. He belongs in jail.

And now it's possible that his injury will deny the Mets another trip to the postseason.

Met fans won't blame him. But if they did, it couldn't happen to a better guy.

I mean, we're not talking about Steve Bartman here. Or Bill Buckner. Or even Aaron Heilman: The Mets should've wrapped that series up sooner, before he had the chance to give up the Yadier Molina homer.

Those were innocent mistakes.

Pedro is not innocent.

And when he finally leaves the game for good -- for very good -- I hope the Mets will retire Number 45.

For John Franco. A terrific pitcher. And a good human being -- and a Met Pennant winner. The first, Pedro also has been. The second, he will never be. The third is looking less and less likely.

And he bears as much blame for that as anyone in the organization.

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