Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rivalries:Mike Piazza vs Roger Clemens

When you have the first all New York World Series since 1956 the story kind of writes itself.  Dodgers-Yankees and Giants-Yankees was seemingly an every year tradition for nearly a decade but then the Dodgers and Giants up and left for the west coast and New York was given the pathetic Mets.  As the Mets started to improve, the Yankees collapsed until the Yankees dominated and the Mets rebuilt.  By the mid 1980's, as the Mets built a team around Strawberry, Gooden, Carter and Hernandez and the Yankees built around Mattingly, Winfield, Randolph and Rickey Henderson, experts dreamt of a Subway Series for the new generation.  It never came to be.  The Mets achieved some success but the Yankees underachieved every year.  Enter the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990's and the Mets resurgence around Mike Piazza.

As the 2000 World Series got under way the story for the professionals and the marketing geniuses was simple:  the first subway series since Robinson, Snider, Hodges and Reese took on Mantle, Ford, Berra and that guy named Larsen.  Instead, less than two minutes into the Game 2 broadcast as Roger Clemens warmed up, the story became clear.  This was a grudge match between two players.

The grudge had started a few months earlier.  In what was unheard of in the 1980's as the New York writers dreamt of a Subway World Series, the Mets and Yankees faced off in a regular season interleague series.  In the second game of a double header on July 8, Mike Piazza stepped to the plate in the second inning.  Facing off against Roger Clemens, Piazza took a called strike 1.  The second pitch caused everyone in the stadium to hold their breath.

"I truly believe that if I hadn't gotten my head down at the last instant, Clemens' two seamer would have struck me in the eye and possibly killed me."  Piazza said later.

As Piazza lay in the dirt, motionless, the fans at the stadium and viewers at home weren't sure yet that he wasn't dead.  It was a terrifying moment.  Piazza was removed from the game and taken to the hospital for examination.  Piazza survived the beaning but the war had started.

Piazza and the Mets held a press conference the next day, allowing the flood of interested reporters to ask all the questions they wanted.  "I don't want to say he intentionally hit me in the head, but I think he intentionally threw at my head.  There's no place for that in baseball."  After being told that Clemens had shown concern for Piazza, the response was clear.  "I have no respect  or appreciation for his comments.  Roger Clemens is a great Pitcher but I don't have respect for him now at all."

Clemens' response was even clearer.  "I don't care"

The anticipation built as the first inning of Game 2 got under way.  Piazza was in the lineup as the Catcher, batting third in the lineup.  As Clemens threw his warm up pitches the FOX broadcast crew ran a pregame interview with Clemens.

"I'm gonna go out there and battle and I expect the same from him.  It's my means of trying to get certain hitters out, to try and get in there.  It's not about intimidation or trying to hurt anyone in any shape or form.  I'm going to still be aggressive and try to pitch my game."

Clemens got Timo Perez swinging and got Edgardo Alfonso swinging at a ball in the dirt to start the first inning.  Alfonso was retired as Jorge Posada started chasing him down the line, then gave up on tagging him and just threw the ball to first base to end the brief chase.  Then it was the confrontation everyone was waiting for but realistically thought would be anticlimactic.

Camera flashes lit the stadium with every move either man made.  People wanted evidence of any history that was about to be made.

Piazza took the first pitch for a strike.

Piazza took the second pitch for a strike.

Piazza took the third pitch, low and outside, for a ball.

The 1-2 pitch came in and Piazza swung.  The pitch was in on Piazza's hands and jammed his powerful swing.  The bat shattered.  Piazza held the handle as he started running down to first.  One shard of the bat bounced in front of the plate and settled on the third base side of the field.  The barrel of the bat, the largest fragment, shot straight back to Clemens.  Clemens fielded the bat.  Set himself, pulled his arm back, and fired the jagged remains of the barrel of a baseball bat towards the same first base line that Piazza was running down.

As Piazza was running towards first he saw the motion of Clemens winding up.  He stopped.  The spear bounced about two feet in front of his two feet and rolled towards the first base dugout.  If the beaning was an accident, this one was clear.  Clemens just threw a weapon at Piazza.  Benches cleared.  People were pushed around but the only thing thrown at the enemy were curses.

Clemens found the umpire and explained his position.  "I thought it was the ball."  Amateur lip readers can clearly see it on the replay.  Clemens expected the umpire (and the world) to believe that he thought a two foot piece of jagged wood shot directly back to him was a horsehide ball with a diameter of 9 inches.  It is entirely possible, at the speed of the game, that as he saw something coming right back at him that his initial reaction was that the ball was coming back to him.  However, as soon as he fielded the bat it would be clear that this was a foul ball.  If he did in fact think it was the ball that he fielded, it is not clear why he would have fired it at the feet of the runner heading down to first and not turned to throw the ball to first base to retire the side.

Calm was restored, the at bat came to an end and the Yankees took their turn at bat.  As he left the field Clemens turned to the umpire and said clearly "my fault".  Clemens gave his version of the incident following the game.  "I came back into the dugout and I said 'I've got to get control of my emotions and calm down.  I told Charlie, the umpire, I didn't know Mike was coming out.  I guess it came close to him.  That was my emotions."

Piazza faced Clemens again in the fourth after Edgardo Alfonso was hit by a Clemens pitch.  On the sixth pitch of the at bat, Piazza popped out to first.  Piazza faced Clemens again in the 6th and lined out to left field on an 0-2 pitch.  Piazza was set to bat in the top of the 9th but Clemens was replaced by Jeff Nelson.  With a runner on first Piazza homered to left field cutting the Yankee lead to 6-2. 

Clemens would not appear in the 2000 World Series again, winning his only start as the Yankees won their third straight title.

Piazza may have gotten some minor payback, although it was only speculation on the part of some writers.  Clemens joined the Houston Astros in 2004 and was named the All Star Game starter for the National League as the Astros hosted the mid summer classic.  The National League lineup was strong:  Edgar Renteria (SS), Albert Pujols (1B). Barry Bonds (LF), Scott Rolen (3B), Sammy Sosa (RF), Mike Piazza (C), Lance Berkman (CF), Jeff Kent (2B).

The American League lineup was just as strong.  As Clemens prepared to face the AL stars, Piazza crouched behind the plate.  Leading off was Ichiro Suzuki who doubled to Left Field.  Batting second was Ivan Rodriguez who tripled to right field.  Vladimir Guerrero grounded back to Clemens for out number one but the next batter, Manny Ramirez, launched a two run Home Run.  It was 3-0 and the AL was just starting.  Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging but Jason Giambi reached on an error, Derek Jeter singled and Alfonso Soriano launched a three run Home Run.  Finally, Mark Mulder, the AL starting pitcher, struck out to end the inning but the American League had batted around and scored six runs.  The AL was well on their way to a 9-4 win.  It was only speculation but the question was, did the American League know what was coming?  Were they possibly getting tips from the Catcher who wanted to see the pitcher humiliated?

I mentioned in today's article that the all-New York Fall Classic was a nearly annual event in the 1950's.  Since the Dodgers and Giants left for the west coast, how many times has there been a Dodgers-Yankees or Giants-Yankees World Series?
Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Congratulations to Hope and TJD for their correct answer to last week's trivia Question.
The Detroit Tigers 1984 World Series Champion team featured some great players of the 1980's and some of the greatest players in the very successful history of the Tigers organization (at least one of which will be featured in an upcoming series of player profiles). The Tiger's everyday lineup included Lance Parrish (C), Darrell Evans (1B) who struggled in 1984, Lou Whitaker (2B), Alan Trammell (SS) who hit .450 in the World Series and win the series MVP, Kirk Gibson (RF), Chet Lemon (CF), Larry Herndon (LF).  On the bench was future star Howard Johnson.  In the rotation was Jack Morris, Walt Terrell and Milt Wilcox.  In the bullpen was Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez who would win both the Cy Young and MVP award in 1984.  Although Morris and Trammell are borderline Hall of Fame players (and some have made a case for Whitaker as well) the 1984 Tigers are the only World Series champions from the 1980's decade not to have a Hall of Fame representative.


  1. I truly dislike Clemens. Dislike him more than A-Rod if that is possible. He is so arrogant. My feelings are so strong on the bat throwing incident, I sometimes wish the bat would have hit Piazza and Clemens would have been suspended for life. With a stunt and rage like that he was definitely on steroids at the time.
    My top 3 hated people in baseball:
    1. Clemens
    2. A-Rod
    3. Ryan Braun

    My guess on the trivia is 3. The 1962 series with the Giants, the 1963 series with the Dodgers and the 1977 series with the Dodgers.


  2. WOW! That was an exciting rivalry. How silly to "confuse" the bat for the ball. Is there a follow-up to this rivalry? How are they now or after these incidents?


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