Thursday, July 16, 2009

Boomer and the Rocket - How Sometimes a Former Yankee isn't a Former Yankee

I grew up in Massachusetts as the son of Red Sox fans, and I like to think that my resulting Red Sox bias (and Yankee hatin') is fairly obvious. I know that a lot of you (including Heath Bell) will stop reading now because there are twenty eight other teams in the league and the Red Sox-Yankees stuff is beat to death. But as a Red Sox fan who cheered when the Rays nearly beat the world last year and loves when small budget teams like the Marlins (1997 for lyfe!) and Athletics compete, I hope you'll hear me out.

I've always been a fan of the journeyman. Always loved players like Craig Counsell or Julio Franco, as I love how these guys somehow push on despite constantly changing addresses. Baseball generally involves traveling a lot (like most professional sports), but it's a lot different when you travel with a completely different set of guys in a completely different area every few months/years. One method of travel I have never understood however, but which happens a lot, is when players are signed by the Yankees after playing for the Red Sox. Jason Taylor of the NFL echoed how I feel about this situation when he talked about potentially signing with the Jets and how it probably wouldn't happen because of his time with the Dolphins. You just can't bridge some gaps, and Yankees-Sox definitely is one of those for me.

So when Wade Boggs went to the Yankees, he was dead to me, screw his batting titles. When Johnny Damon left after we beat the Curse? Heartbreaking stuff, I still cannot totally understand how he could do that. The one thing Damon had? I don't think I could ever dislike him as much as a certain all world pitcher of yesteryear who made the same jump. I'm talking, of course, about Roger "The Rocket" Clemens (whom David Wells apparently calls "Eli")

I was born in 1986, so Mookie Wilson's grounder and all the heartbreak of that promising season was all described to me by my Dad and ESPN Classic. One of the things I took away from it all was that the Rocket was a beast. 24 wins, a 20 strikout game, an MVP award, he was simply incredible. I remember when I saw Kerry Wood strikeout 20 I automatically assumed he was Cooperstown bound because hey, the Rocket was the only other guy to do that in a 9 inning game. Clemens was so special, unforgettable, even in those years when his win total didn't quite reflect it. And so when he joined the Blue Jays in 1997 after we let him go, I wasn't surprised to see him win two straight Cy Young Awards. He was that good and all of Red Sox Nation knew it, even if we had forgotten a bit over time.

Two years of excellence with the Blue Jays I could take, but when Clemens joined the Yankees in 1999, that was unexpected. Sure, guys like Wade Boggs and Mike Stanley (who came back to the Sox later) had made the trip into New York, but this was Roger Clemens! And these were the freaking Yankees! Clemens signed with them though, and they won the World Series for the second year in a row in 1999. And they won the World Series for the third year in a row in 2000. And 2001 was goingd to be a fourpeat if it weren't for Luis Gonzalez's game winner (my second favorite clutch hit ever). While the offense for those Yankees was pretty good, it was that pitching that truly seemed to make it happen. Andy Pettite, El Duque, Mike Mussina, David Cone, and the FREAKING ROCKET won game after game after game, and it killed me every time. The Yankees were piling up title after title and the Sox were nowhere in site. Times were bad.

One member of the 1998 World Series winning Yankees team, who I certainly didn't like especially since he won Game 1 of the Series, was also part of the trade that brought Clemens to the Yankees in the first place. Along with Great Named Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd, David "Boomer" Wells (coming off of an 18-4 season) was dealt to the Jays in a deal that made the Yankees instant favorites. Now I REALLY didn't like David Wells. Growing up I knew that Babe Ruth leaving the Sox for the Yankees was the start of the curse, and Wells worshiped Ruth, as he's the guy who wore an actual Ruth hat during part of a start. What a douche right? And then he was on fire in 1998 and helped the Yankees win the World Series! Dead to me territory right there, no way I'd ever root for the guy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to eternal damnation. While I initially sort of hoped Wells would get hit by a car or something, my feelings changed. Not when he was traded, and not when he pitched (pretty well) for the Jays in 1999, but around when he was dealt to the White Sox after the 2000 season. I realized then that Wells wasn't a Yankee, but just a journeyman. He had already played the Blue Jays, Tigers, Reds, and Orioles when the Yankees had signed him in 1997. Though his 18-4 record and perfect game during the 1998 championship capped season had made him a target of Red Sox hate, the dude was dumped for a "better" pitcher after the win, and that just kind of sucks, but it took the move to the White Sox and a look at Wells' career movements for me to see that. I didn't really like Wells at this point, but I didn't hate him with all of my soul anymore, which was more than I could say for Clemens, so that was something.

Wells continued to make it somewhat hard to be likable from a Sox perspective, after all. After his stay in Chicago, Wells moved to the Yankees again, which sucks, because why would you ever go back (Retrospective now tells me that Wells also had two stops with the Padres and the Blue Jays, some teams just liked him a lot I guess). However, then Wells won my heart my pissing the Yankees off. First he wrote a memoir that bothered the organization and got him fined. Then he "backed" out of Game 5 of the World Series after the first inning, totally screwing his team and, in a series that went seven games, costing them what could have been a win and another championship. Screwing the Yankees in print AND on gameday? AMAZING!

So when Wells ended up in Boston a few years later, I thought he was a pretty cool dude. When he got dealt to the Padres so that he could be with a contender before retiring, I cheered and wished the Padres the best of luck. Meanwhile Clemens did his whole retired/semiretired/mercenary bit and came back for a year of headaches before even the Yankees wizened up and said "screw it, you're not worth it anymore." Add in the cheating on his wife accusations (which I still find unfounded) and being named in the Mitchell Report and jokes on you Clemens. The damage was done, the roles were reversed.

I got so pissed at Clemens for going to the Yankees from the Sox but was so okay with Boomer going to the Sox from the Yankees, but I don't think it's because of my inherent bias. Clemens was all douche, certainly hurt by the "twilight" comments of management on his way out, but with everything that's come out about him he was kind of just a douche anyways. Boomer, however, gives you the feeling that he didn't come to the Red Sox out of disrespect for the Yankees. He was, as I said, a journeyman, and would go where he'd get money to play the game he loved. His stats are nowhere near as impressive as those of Clemens (239 wins, 4.13 ERA, 2,201 strikeouts versus 354 wins, 3.12 ERA, 4,672 strikeouts), but if you asked me which pitcher I'd rather see throw, I'd say Boomer. He was once a Yankee and loved his time with the Yankees, but he was also a dude who loved the game, which is questionable in the case of the money grubbing, steroid pumping, road trip skipping Rocket. I give Wells tons of credit for teaching me that Yankees, unbelievable, are people too. Thanks to him I can now think about Derek Jeter without throwing up in my mouth (though he still sucks at defense and ARod is, as Pedroia said, a dork).

So kudos to you, David Wells. I'm sure that, when you're eligible, you'll enter some people's conversation for the Hall of Fame thanks mostly to your postseason success, and I'm also sure you'll fall short. However, if I had a vote, you would get mine, and I just thought you should know that, from one fan of the game to another.

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