The Rocket Keeps Firing
In the first two weeks of the season, while facing both a five-game suspension for his behavior in the 1990 American League Championship Series and misdemeanor charges stemming from an off-season fight with an off-duty police officer at a Houston nightclub, Boston's Roger Clemens proved he is one focused athlete. He won his first three starts in overpowering fashion, beating Toronto's Dave Stieb, Cleveland's Greg Swindell and Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen. In 25 innings, Clemens gave up one run, walked one batter and struck out 27.
Yet his sizzling start should come as no surprise. As of Sunday, Clemens was 12-2 with an 0.84 ERA since the '90 All-Star break, and he had struck out 116 batters while walking 20. But the lingering reminder of his temper tantrum during Game 4 of last year's playoffs has detracted from his astonishing numbers.
For allegedly cursing plate umpire Terry Cooney and shoving umpire Jim Evans in the ensuing argument, Clemens received a five-game suspension and a $10,000 fine from league president Bobby Brown on Nov. 20. Clemens appealed the ruling, and Brown granted him a hearing.
On April 2, Brown upheld his ruling. Clemens then appealed to commissioner Fay Vincent, who last Friday held a five-hour hearing with Clemens in New York City. As of Monday, Vincent was still pondering whether to let Brown's penalty stand.
The Players Association did its part to delay a ruling by presenting new evidence at Friday's hearing to help determine what Clemens said that day to Cooney. After analyzing a tape of the incident, Deborah Copeland, a hearing-impaired lip-reader who works for the New York Society for the Deaf, testified that Clemens didn't necessarily swear at Cooney.
Assuming Copeland is correct, let's say that Cooney overreacted and should not have thrown Clemens out of the game. Clemens was still wrong for shoving Evans in the argument's ugly aftermath and deserves a suspension for that alone. Pete Rose, as manager of the Reds, was suspended for 30 days in 1988 for shoving an umpire.
Another reason to uphold the suspension is damage control. By overturning Brown's ruling, Vincent might alienate the owners, and he would certainly enrage the umpires. He will anger the union by upholding the suspension, but he could reduce the fine and warn Cooney about being too combative. That might be Vincent's most diplomatic way out of a messy situation that has dragged on far too long.
What Price, Glory?
Jon Peters, who set a national high school record with 53 straight victories for Brenham (Texas) High (SI, May 8, 1989), is fighting to keep his pitching career from ending at age 20. On March 19, noted orthopedist James Andrews performed so-called Tommy John surgery on Peters, whereby a tendon was removed from Peters's right wrist and put in his right elbow. It will be five months before Peters will even be able to try to pitch. "[Dr. Andrews] said I threw 100 too many games in Little League," he says.
After his phenomenal high school career, Peters went to Texas A&M in 1989, where he was redshirted for his freshman year because of elbow trouble, which led to surgery in the spring of 1990. He transferred to Blinn College, a juco in Brenham, in January, "because I was low man on the totem pole. I wanted to pitch." After a five-inning effort on Feb. 10, Peters developed a severe pain in his elbow. When rest didn't help, surgery was eventually performed on the ligament damage. "If this doesn't work out, then I'll quit and go on with my education," said Peters, who is majoring in kinesiology, the study of the principles of mechanics and anatomy in human movement.
Now Ready for Prime Time
Deion Sanders, who batted .158 for the Yankees last year and alienated teammates and opponents with his big mouth and nonchalant style, is a new man. Now with the Braves, Sanders was hitting .226 but had an on-base percentage of .333 through last weekend's games. He also had four stolen bases. More significant, he has been a model teammate—quiet, hard-working and intent on winning.
"He's been as good a player as we've put out there every night," says Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz. "He's played with fire, with aggressiveness, and he's been getting on base. He takes a pitch like a five-year veteran. He worked his tail off this spring to make this team. We couldn't have asked any more of him."
On April 21, the Pirates became the first team in major league history to come from five runs behind to win a game in the bottom half of an extra inning. After the Cubs' Andre Dawson hit a grand slam in the 11th for what looked like an insurmountable 12-7 lead, the Pirates came back with six runs for a once-in-a-lifetime 13-12 victory....
On April 15, Minnesota manager Tom Kelly removed slumping first baseman Kent Hrbek for a pinch-hitter. Kelly used switch-hitter Al Newman, who has one career homer, to bat for the lefthanded-hitting Hrbek (224 career homers) against Seattle southpaw Randy Johnson. Newman struck out looking at three straight pitches....
In the early 1980s, Sammy Stewart, now 36, was the game's best middle reliever while pitching for the Orioles, but his career was cut short by drug and alcohol abuse. On March 4, Stewart's 11-year-old son, Colin, died of cystic fibrosis. Baseball Assistance Team (BAT)—the group that helps retired players, umpires, front-office personnel and their families—paid for the funeral because Stewart could not. Stewart now helps coach the University of North Carolina-Asheville team. "I'm trying to do something with my life," he said. "I started good in my career, and I messed up the middle. There's no reason it can't have a good end." ...The acceptance of outfielder George Bell by Cub fans and teammates was never more evident than after he homered in the second inning against the Phillies on April 17 at Wrigley Field. He received a thunderous ovation from the crowd. "They love me out there," said Bell, who played in Toronto the last eight seasons. "I think it's the first time I've been appreciated in my career." After the homer, Bell got the silent treatment on the bench, before his teammates mobbed him. "It was fun; these guys are fun," he said. "I knew right away it was the silent treatment. I knew [pitcher Rick] Sutcliffe was behind it. He's the biggest instigator on the team." ...Brian Downing, 40, was jobless this spring after being let go by the Angels during the off-season. The Rangers invited him to camp in late March, and he made the team despite a hand injury. Downing then started the season by reaching base in 21 of his first 28 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter for a .750 on-base percentage. Last year Texas's leadoff men had an on-base percentage of .295. Downing is the first 40-year-old to hit first in the order since Pete Rose, in 1981....
Oops, no room for the baseball card this week, but a happy 58th birthday to the Glider, Ed Charles.
An overdue suspension may be the only way to knock Clemens off stride.
McClendon (left) and Wilkerson have their Pirate teammates seeing double.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Joined at the Hip
Utilitymen Curtis Wilkerson and Lloyd McClendon, teammates last year with the Cubs, now play for the Pirates. "I knew there would be trouble when we signed him [as a free agent]," said McClendon, who was claimed by the Bucs on waivers last September. The trouble is, the players look like twins. "Teammates get us mixed up," Wilkerson said. "[Third base coach] Gene Lamont does it all the time." It doesn't help that the players' lockers are next to each other. Says coach Rich Donnelly, "Some people think they're the same person. I say they're brothers, but they're not telling anyone."
During the bench-clearing brawl between the Astros and Reds on April 11, which was prompted when Cincinnati's Rob Dibble threw behind Eric Yelding, some Astro made off with Dibble's glove. "That glove has been in the All-Star Game and the World Series," said Dibble. "Maybe they can sell it and get some money." Said one Astro, "He's not getting it back."
We Are Not Making This Up
A major league player, who shall remain anonymous to spare him tremendous embarrassment, commenting on the chances of Washington, D.C., being awarded an expansion franchise in the National League: "The league can't give Washington a team. It already has two teams—Baltimore and Seattle."
Comic Relief Pitcher
On April 16, doctors diagnosed the painful back condition of the Padres' Larry Andersen as two bulging disks in his neck, but he decided not to have surgery. Instead, he said he would undergo physical therapy and would also consider "mental therapy. It couldn't hurt." Andersen threw in the bullpen following the injury. Afterward, he said, "I tried to throw cheese [good fastballs], but it wasn't a sharp cheddar, it was more like a soft Brie."
The Wild Ones, Revisited
For the second straight week, the wild pitch of the week belongs to a Phillie—but not to Jason Grimsley, who had four wild pitches in one game on April 15. The honor goes to Pat Combs, who allowed a run to score when he fired a pitch over the head of catcher Darren Daulton while intentionally walking Chicago's Gary Scott on April 17. "I've been in baseball for 20 years," said Phillie manager Nick Leyva. "I've never seen that before."
By the Numbers
•Baltimore first baseman Glenn Davis committed three errors in one game on April 18. He was charged with a fourth error in the game a day later, when the official scorer in Milwaukee changed an earlier call. That enabled Davis to tie a league record held by three others for most errors in a game by a first baseman.
•Pirate shortstop Jay Bell had five sacrifice bunts in his first 11 games. He led the major leagues with 39 sacrifice bunts last year.