NEW YORK — Roger Clemens stood along the edge of the field, without a glove, without a ball. He was due to pitch in two hours. He carried a bat.
He did not swing it. He did not rest it on his shoulder. He carried it grudgingly, the way you carry an umbrella when it is not raining.
“All right,” said teammate Dwight Evans, coming out of the batting cage and looking over Clemens’ wood.
“Five swings,” mumbled Clemens, “and I get the hell out of here.”
Evans pantomimed a few hitting pointers. Clemens half-nodded. Dave Henderson, the center fielder, wandered over and grinned.
“Gonna hit, huh?” Henderson said.
“Five swings, I’m outta here,” Clemens repeated.
Clemens had taken his last at-bat in the All-Star Game this summer. One at-bat. Before that, you’d have to go back to his junior year in college. He is a pitcher in the American League, which means things made of wood are usually never closer than 60 feet away. Except in the World Series, where games played in the National League city are played by the National League rules. No designated hitter.
The pitchers carry bats.
“Come on, Rog,” hollered Wade Boggs, one of the best hitters in baseball. Clemens darted into the cage, still wearing his satin jacket. Here came the first pitch. A foul tip. The second pitch. A foul tip. The third pitch. A light grounder.
The ball hit his bat with a clutzy clap. Boggs rolled his eyes as if to say, “What is this guy doing here?”
What is this guy doing here?
IT SEEMS embarrassing. It seems a waste. With swings like this, can there
be any doubt as to the result in a real game? Sure enough, both of Clemens’ at-bats Sunday night were sacrifice bunt attempts (one was thrown away by Keith Hernandez in the second inning, and Clemens — 0-for-2 — eventually scored). The night before, Bruce Hurst, the Boston pitcher, came to bat three times, and struck out three times.
This is what happens when leagues collide. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth has decided the best compromise is the half-compromise — use the designated hitter in the American League city, forsake it in the National League.
But that only makes things normal for the NL team at home, and like Christmas morning on the road. “They definitely gain the advantage,” said Boston reliever Joe Sambito. “We’re the ones who are doing something new.”
Now, before the tinders ignite that tired debate over which way is better
— designated hitter or no designated hitter — let us remember that the World Series, outside of being another event to watch on the barroom’s big screen, is supposed to be the reward for players who work so hard to get there.
If your eyes wandered Sunday from Clemens’ embarrassing five swings in the Red Sox’s cage, you might have spotted a large- framed man leaning on his bat some 30 yards away, watching quietly.
Don Baylor, who was suddenly benched.
The re-designated hitter.
BAYLOR, by every one of the thousand-and-one accounts written so far, was the spiritual leader of this Boston team this season, the man who called the team meetings, the guy who urged the team not to quit when it was three outs from playoff elimination against the California Angels — then clapped a two-run homer just to show the Sox how it’s done.
Baylor has played in 160 games this season, and hit 31 home runs. At age 37, that is amazing. But now, it’s take a seat for Games 1 and 2, and, should it go that far, Games 6 and 7.
“Doesn’t that bother you?” he was asked Sunday, while Clemens took his swings.
“It’s the rules,” he said, shrugging. “I did the best I could to help get this team here. What else can I do?”
There was talk about Baylor playing first base, in place of the constantly bruised Bill Buckner. Buckner pulled his pieces together. Baylor sat.
“For me to play first base in the Series wouldn’t be fair to the guys who got us here,” he said. “Buckner is the first baseman. He deserves to play.”
Baylor shrugged again. “I can be used as a pinch hitter. But if I have to pinch-hit, that means we’re probably losing. So it’s OK if I never get an at-bat in this Series. As long as we win.”
It is not fair. It is not new. Last year, we were writing how unjust it seemed that Kansas City DH Hal McRae, who, like Baylor, lent his experience and bat during the season’s main course, had to sit out for the dessert.
It is not a defense of the DH rule. It is not an indictment. Leave that for the higher baseball minds to ponder. But, while the rules differ from league to league, it seems a shame that a guy who carries a big stick to get his team here should have to sit on his hands, while his pitcher flails away at pitches he can barely see.