|There are no tough guys in baseball|
By Jim Armstrong
Special to Page 2
First, Jose Mesa was going to kill Omar Vizquel for all those nasty things Vizquel wrote about him. Not hurt him, not intimidate him, not rough him up a little.
He talked like he was gonna whack him, toe tag him, send him north of the nosebleed seats. If he didn't O.J. him with a high fastball, he was going to Roseboro him with a Louisville Slugger. And, from the sounds of things, if neither of those tactics worked, he was going to go Scarface on him with a chainsaw.
The next day, after a few pointed phone calls from the powers that be, Mesa came to his senses and realized the whole thing was silly. And let me be the first to say I'm not surprised. Offing Vizquel may have caused him to break a nail. Besides, if Mesa really wanted Vizquel snuffed out, he would have sent his valet to do the dirty work.
The Phillies' damage-control department could have skipped the press release, the one that quotes Mesa as saying, "I was hurt by remarks of a former teammate. I would never injure anyone."
Of course, we already knew Vizquel wasn't going to find a horse head in his bed anytime soon. This is baseball, where jock itch ranks considerably higher than Murder One on the list of potential player perils. You watch. The next time they see each other, the only thing Vizquel and Mesa will be fighting over is the dinner check.
Not that baseball in the 21st century is the same as its predecessor. In case you hadn't noticed, the old school is closed and many of its lessons have long since been forgotten. Nobody hurts anybody in baseball anymore. They just act like they will. No? Then kindly explain how Roger Clemens, who can hit the mitt with his eyes closed from 60 feet, 6 inches away, could miss Mike Piazza by three feet with that bat barrel from point-blank range.
Truth is, Don Drysdale's game, has gone soft in its old age. They might as well hand out opera glasses at the turnstiles. As the players' biceps and bank accounts have grown bigger, the game has grown kinder and gentler. Now that interleague play and free agency have become a way of life, baseball has become homogenized. There's no attitude anymore, no fear and loathing, no us-against-them.
Baseball has become one big, happy family. If another player isn't your teammate at the moment, he was last season or will be next season. Either that or you played with him in college and he e-mails you twice a week, three times in the offseason. Or maybe you share the same agent or personal trainer. Is it any wonder, now that everybody knows everybody else, that the unwritten rules that governed baseball for more than a century aren't worth the paper they're written on anymore?
Take the batter's box, for instance. Next to the French army, the batter's box is the safest place on earth. Back in the day, Drysdale and Bob Gibson owned the inside corner. If you had any notions to the contrary, you got a Roger Maris buzzcut in your next AB. These days, players, emboldened by enough protective armor to outfit King Arthur's round table, dive into every pitch with little or no fear of retribution. An inside changeup is enough to incite a riot, whereupon the dugouts and bullpens empty and everyone talks tough and glares and points a few fingers before exchanging family photos and phone numbers of financial planners.
The mound isn't much different. Talk about your safe havens, your bridges over troubled waters. The pitcher might as well be standing in the middle of the fairway with a weekend hacker on the tee box. If Mesa ever does plunk Vizquel with a pitch, what's Vizquel going to do? Charge out there and swat him with his elbow pad? Slap him with his batting glove and demand a duel at 50 paces? If so, Mesa might retaliate with a Chan Ho Park phantom karate kick, not to be confused with a Nolan Ryan headlock and roundhouse right. Or maybe he'd throw his glove at Vizquel, a tactic that proved particularly effective for Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota the other night when Piazza came calling.
Piazza apparently was ready to rumble, but, baseball brawls being baseball brawls, Mota backpedaled his way into the dugout behind a squadron of teammates and disappeared into the Florida night. Give Mota this: Dude has to be the best moonwalker in the game. If he cleaned up his act a little, maybe shaved his nose and combed his hair, he could be a body double in a Michael Jackson video.
There's nothing wrong, of course, with all this peace and prosperity, all this brotherly love between the white lines. I just don't know if I'll ever get used to it. I guess, in the meantime, if I want some good, old-fashioned conflict, I'll ask Barry Bonds for an interview.
Jim Armstrong, a sports columnist for the Denver Post, is a regular contributor to Page 2.