2003-03-08 / Sports

Nobody’s Perfect, Especially Yankees’ Wells

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch


David Wells likes drinking beer and staying out late. In other news, the sun came up today.

Nobody in the world would be shocked by the assertion that the Yankees’ rotund 39-year-old lefty tends to drift into the realm of ‘party animal’, so why is it that the team is suddenly worried that Wells may be "tarnishing the Yankee image," as GM Brian Cashman said this week?

In his new autobiography "Perfect I’m Not! Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball," Wells and co-writer Chris Kreski allege – among other things – that Wells was "half-drunk" when he authored his May 1998 perfect game against the Minnesota Twins and that up to 40 percent of major leaguers are "juiced."

The book also takes backhanded cracks at both Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. Wells wrote that he and Mussina "aren’t pals" and "don’t hang" (probably true, considering Mussina’s not exactly Mr. Popular in Yankeeland) and that if he were the Mets’ Mike Piazza, he would have shoved the infamous shattered bat from Game Two of the 2000 World Series directly up Clemens’ backside on national television.

David WellsDavid Wells

None of this is out of character for Wells, who has worked hard to acquire and seems to treasure his ‘every-man’ image. That’s part of what’s so appealing to fans with Wells: he’s one of them, a regular blue-collar guy who likes to hit the town for a few brews and speak whatever’s on his mind.

Of course, the latter two items are also what’s got Wells in hot water with Yankees brass, with the club threatening disciplinary action could be possible once Cashman finishes leafing through the book, which is scheduled for public release on March 14th.

"He said there might be some things in the book that he should have gone through with a fine-toothed [comb]," the Yankees GM told the Bergen Record. "He just said some of the things that were written are not accurate, and that some of the things, at first blush, he didn’t think he said."

Already, Wells has begun to execute damage control concerning some of the more controversial statements in the autobiography, including addressing the Yankees’ roster in a closed-door meeting and possibly having selected passages deleted from the final copy.

That includes the story about the May 17, 1998 masterpiece at Yankee Stadium, when Wells retired all 27 Twins to face him and became just the 15th pitcher in baseball history to accomplish that feat. The text says that Wells was "half-drunk" when he walked in from the right field bullpen, having stayed out all night at a ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast party.

"I wasn’t drunk," Wells says now. "I went out the night before. I took some aspirin, and I had a headache the next day. How would that look? Bad for the organization and bad for me. I had a hangover, that’s it."

Right. It must have been one heck of a bash, because as the Dallas Morning News reported, SNL had finished up their season eight days before Wells was dealing with Matt Lawton, Brent Gates and the rest of the Twins.

But all those messy facts get in the way of telling a great tale, don’t they? And we wonder why Clemens says that Wells’ nickname around the clubhouse is ‘Eli’, a play on the phrase ‘He Lie.’

The Yankees knew all about Wells’ character and demeanor when owner George Steinbrenner wooed him over a hamburger lunch in December 2001, urging the southpaw to renege on a verbal agreement with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After all, they’d had him for two years prior, dealing Wells to the Toronto Blue Jays only when the opportunity to acquire Clemens surfaced before the 1999 season.

It’s just the fiasco du jour down in Tampa, where already owner George Steinbrenner has called out superstar shortstop Derek Jeter’s so-called late hours, partially blaming them for the club’s inability to win a World Series since all the way back in the Clinton administration.

But while he was more than willing to criticize Jeter, Steinbrenner has been surprisingly quiet on the Wells issue. Sure, it’s a double-standard: your shortstop attending a birthday party until 3 a.m. is unacceptable, but it’s just peachy for a pitcher to get hammered the night before a start.

Hey, it makes pure sense. After all, nobody’s perfect.

Bryan Hoch appears regularly in the Wave. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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