OAKLAND, Calif. — All Terry Cooney has to do is go out to the mound, lean into Roger Clemens’ ear and whisper, “Young man, you say that one more time, and I’m throwing you out of the game.”
He does that, he gets no arguments this morning. He does that, he looks smart and mature and patient, which is how umpires are supposed to look, right? As opposed to looking like a baby without his bottle.
Which, of course, is what happened. Cooney sank to Clemens’ level, which means nursery school. And together, they dumped finger paint all over what had been a beautiful playoff clincher.
Here’s Clemens, a guy who has become a real snot the last few years, shaking his head after walking Willie Randolph in the second inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. And here’s plate umpire Cooney, an ex- Marine, and he sees Clemens shaking his head and decides he’s gonna show the boy who’s boss.
So he yells, “I hope you’re not shaking your head at me!” And Clemens says something. And Cooney says something back. Clemens says, “Take your bleeping mask off if you’re gonna talk to me.” Cooney says he won’t. Clemens says something else. The whole thing is like Robert DeNiro in front of that mirror in “Taxi Driver.” “Are you talking to me? . . . Are you talking to me? . . . ” He said, then he said . . . In the end, of course, Cooney pulls rank, he gives Clemens the thumb, you’re outta here — in the second inning — even though Clemens is the only prayer Boston has of avoiding complete humiliation by Oakland.
The Red Sox react by throwing a Gatorade bucket onto the field. Beautiful. This is what the baseball playoffs come to: A food fight.
I don’t know who to give the bottle to first. Cooney says he threw Clemens out because “he said I was a gutless such and such. I had to eject him then, because everyone could hear it.”
Yeah? So? What are they gonna do, write it on the lunchroom wall? Remember, nobody at home or in the stands heard any of this exchange. It was just Cooney and Clemens and the players within earshot. Maybe Cooney should wonder if any of this would have happened had he not been playing DeNiro behind the plate. “I hope you’re not shaking your head at me,” he warns, like some schoolteacher wagging her finger. Unbelievable.
Not that it excuses Clemens, who never should have said what he did. But what do you expect? Clemens is basically a punk. If his head got any bigger, he’d be the Great Pumpkin. He knows he’s the only chance his team has to win a game off Oakland, and you don’t risk that to knock an ice cream cone out of the umpire’s hand. He does it anyhow.
According to Dave Stewart, who is one of the few baseball players I would trust, this is just part of what Clemens said to Cooney: “Put your ——- mask back on and get back behind the ——- plate.”
Not once. Twice.
“He deserved to get tossed,” Stewart said, with no apparent malice. “Those are the rules.”
Clemens, by the way, came into a postgame press conference and said, “I didn’t curse at (Cooney). I just said, ‘I’m not shaking my bleeping head at you.’ “
As if bleeping means “gosh darn.” Let punishment fit crime So you have your basic baseball crime and your basic baseball punishment. But what you don’t have is some basic common sense. Common sense would have told Cooney to take the high road, ignore Clemens’ mumblings, or at least give him a warning, since this was such a significant game and Boston’s last chance at a dignified death.
And common sense would have told Clemens to keep his multimillion-dollar mouth shut. Not that he’d listen. Clemens — who seems ready to become God in Boston — has developed a selective memory along with his sore shoulder. Someone asked about the umpire he shoved in the fracas after his ejection. He said, “I shoved an umpire?”
The shame of it is, this Clemens-Cooney mess obscures an otherwise magnificent performance by Stewart and the A’s, who swept the Sox in four games without a single home run or triple and are now in the World Series for the third straight year. That’s impressive. That’s worth remembering. But Cooney and Clemens were willing to spit on this, and on the fans who bought tickets, and on the millions who skipped work to watch on TV, just so they could play “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
And instead of Stewart’s MVP award, we’ll remember another sad case of a ballplayer thinking he is bigger than the game and an umpire who has decided to tell us how important he is, as if we care. This has been happening more and more. In May, umpire Drew Coble ran to the Baltimore dugout to tell Frank Robinson to be quiet. Don Denkinger ejected Gary Sheffield for tossing his sunglasses. Dale Ford ejected Seattle manager Jim Lefebvre after Lefebvre reportedly said, “Bear down!”
Geez. Is this baseball or a nunnery?
“I didn’t say anything,” Clemens said.
“He said something. By shaking his head, he told people, ‘What an imbecile is back there behind the plate,’ ” Cooney said.
You know what? These two deserve each other. Let’s give them a bunk bed, some cookies and milk, and lights out at 8. No watching the World Series.
After all, that’s for grown-ups.