2003-10-24 / Sports

Inside Pitch

By Bryan Hoch
Inside Pitch By Bryan Hoch

As a weekly paper, we go to press ear­ly, so by the time you hold this copy of The Wave in your hands, the Yan­kees may well have wrapped up their 27th World Championship. If they haven’t, it should only be a matter of time.

Unfortunately, even Yankees fans will admit that this Series matchup with a scrappy Marlins club is a significant letdown from the highly charged ALCS with the arch-rival Red Sox. As a friend remarked this week, "I don’t even care if Florida wins. We beat Boston – that’s our World Series."

The television ratings for FOX’s broadcast seem to reflect that sentiment: the seventh game of the ALCS against Boston drew 26.5 million viewers, while the first two games of the World Series averaged just 19.15 million in comparison.

Perhaps it’s the predictability of the Series that turns us off a tad: sure, we know money doesn’t buy champion­ships (look at the Mets, who were owners of baseball’s second-highest payroll at the beginning of the year, for evidence), but this is probably the most financially uneven Fall Classic since the Yankees swept the Padres in 1998.

According to numbers released by ESPN, Florida’s young club amounts to $52 million in salary value, compared with the Yankees’ $156 million ledger: number one in baseball, and nearly enough to make the rounds for all of the players employed by the Devil Rays, Blue Jays, Brewers, Pirat­es and Royals.

Now, understand that legal tender again can’t drive in runs or strike out hitters. But there’s an uneven feeling – again – about this World Series, and the payroll inequity is as good a reason as any to start with.

• If we’re getting ahead of ourselves planning a parade down the Canyon of Heroes next week, here’s something we can say with certainty: Roger Clem­ens’ Game Four start in Miami was the 632nd of his major-league car­eer, covering both regular and postseasons, and if we’re to believe the Rocket, it was his final one.

Clemens says he’s hanging up his six-shooters at the end of this run and heading home to the Texas ranch, content with his 308 victories and (hopefully) his three World Series rings, all with New York. It’s especially nice to see the future Hall-of-Famer with an extra chance to toe the rubber once more, after he was knocked out of Game 7 of the ALCS by the Red Sox in a fashion that won’t soon be immortalized on the YES Network.

Barring a relief appearance in a possible Game 7 that probably won’t materialize, the Rocket’s career will end in a muggy, converted football stadium in South Florida, pitching against a team that didn’t exist on May 14, 1984. That day, Clemens made the first start of his storied journey, taking on the Indians in ugly, abandoned Municipal Stadium, a facility so nasty that when Bob Uecker and Charlie Sheen were shooting the Major League movies about the Tribe, the directors opted for Milwaukee’s County Stadium instead.

Fresh out of the College World Series, Clemens was trounced by the Indians that day, handed a 7-5 loss to get things rolling in the wrong direction. The winning pitcher in that game was Tom Waddell, who scored the first victory of his career – for him, there would be only 14 more, and he was out of baseball by 1988, about the time that the budding superstar Clem­ens was filling the rafters at Fenway Park every fifth night with rabid, passionate Bostonians.

Now 41, Clemens is still in fantastic shape and can hit 95 MPH on the radar gun when he needs to, which makes it all the more of a shame that he’s opting to bow out before the Yankees tell him that it’s time to go. But Clemens has acknowledged that he’ll probably feel that burn to pitch again, and has spoken in hushed tones about possibly pitching for the U.S. Olympic Team next summer in Athens, Greece.

If Clemens is lights out against international competition, and the Yankees – who apparently will be bringing back David Wells next season, who’s not even close to being in the shape Clem­ens is – need help in August, could it really be out of the realm of possibility that the Bombers would ink Clemens as a free agent to help get them back to October? Yankees GM Brian Cash­man says he can envision it.

"I could see him sitting home, not working all winter, not working in spring training, April, May or June," Cashman told the New York Times. "And all of a sudden, we’re in a position where we have some breakdown, we’re really in a bind, we call begg­ing and he says he might consider it."

• There was a silly rumor going around the Internet this week (and re-broadcast on Dan Patrick’s ESPN radio show) that the 1989 movie Back to the Future II predicted that the Red Sox were to have defeated the Cubs in the 2003 World Series. In the movie, the message read, Christopher Lloyd’s character examined a sports almanac and happened upon the blurb of this year’s results.

It’s not true. There is a scene in the flick that depicts a World Series champion, but it’s Michael J. Fox’s character who makes the discovery – wandering the streets of the fictional Hill Valley, Calif. in the year 2015, Fox is informed by a large TV screen that the Cubs have topped a team from Miami in that year’s World Series.

Pretty good, considering that the Mar­lins didn’t come into existence until 1993, four years after the film’s release. And judging by the tone of Wrigleyville this year, if director Robert Zemeckis can guarantee a Cubs championship in just 12 short years (heck, they’ve already waited 85), they’d take that with giddy joy.

Bryan Hoch writes a weekly baseball column for the Wave. Hoch also writes a column for Fox Sports and contributes to njo.com. E-Mail: bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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