You know it’s been a dull World Series when the biggest story going is Jim Gray’s five-minute interview with Pete Rose.
Then again, the uproar over Gray’s questioning of the all-time hit leader and former felon typifies Major League Baseball’s ineptitude in promoting itself. Rose was only present as part of the All-Century ceremony in Atlanta because of the wishes of MasterCard, the corporate sponsor that used the whole concocted event, and the months of fan balloting that read up to it, to sell more credit cards. Baseball could have stage-managed the whole thing so that the Gray-Rose confrontation never happened, or so that Rose was interviewed on tape, or in a different setting. So now the innocuous, feel-good spectacle will be remembered for the dispute, which is what happens when you don’t give reporters any other news to report. (Not that I’m in favor of MORE P.R. control of already tightly scripted pre- and postgame interview settings; it’s just fascinating how often baseball stumbles when it’s trying to show off its good side.)
Tonight Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, made a rare public appearance in front of reporters. He had to be on the field to present a $10 million check to something called the Baseball Tomorrow Fund. Seeing five dozen reporters and almost as many cameras massing to extract his comments about Rose, Selig tried to hide behind the giant cardboard check. Baseball P.R. officials, instead of scheduling a session with Selig in the formal interview room beneath the stadium, allowed him to become the center of a pushing, shoving, shouting scribe scrum. The mess, on camera, didn’t exactly show off Selig as a powerful, commanding presence. Not that Selig is particularly charismatic in any setting; Selig possesses the mien of a small-town funeral-home operator.
Maybe it’s best that most of the reporters can’t make out what Selig is saying. Later he presents the Roberto Clemente humanitarian award, and fields an angry question about why the gifted Pirates outfielder was bypassed for the All-Century team. Well, Selig says, we had a fan ballot, and sometimes elections don’t come out the way you want. But, an angry Clemente partisan says, Clemente got 11,000 more votes than Stan Musial, who was placed on the honorary team by edict of a special committee. Selig spins again: Uh, those people made a judgment call and I don’t control them. Right–he’s only the baseball commissioner.
The Selig fiasco is consistent with the dignity and organization that baseball shows in many dealings with the media (actually, the whole Rose interview reaction is really just a reminder how much the public hates the press). The frustration bursts every so often, like after the Mets third loss to the Braves last week, when Mets PR director Jay Horwitz and Times columnist Murray Chass, redfaced, neck veins bulging, pot bellies bumping, spewed four-letter words at each other until they were separated, just barely short of exchanging punches.
A better mood came from a surprising source tonight: Roger Clemens. He’s routinely mumbly and cranky answering questions; tonight he told funny stories about Ted Williams and seemed absolutely relaxed anticipating his start tomorrow. His only worry, he says, is getting in his ritual round of golf early in the day. Clemens’s attitude is a good sign for the Yankees, and a stark contrast to his nervousness before pitching in Boston. But much still depends on tonight, with the Yankees facing the sickly-looking Tom Glavine. If the Yankees are up 3-0, Clemens will feel no pressure; if the Braves win tonight, and momentum is at risk of shifting, the Yankees are holding their breath that Clemens won’t tighten up just as he did when facing Pedro Martinez.
Tonight’s fun couple with seats directly behind home plate: Ted Sorensen and William Shawcross.
– 8:04, 10/26/99
Scenes from a stunner:
Until tonight, the only memorable thing Chad Curtis had done this season was piss off Derek Jeter. Now he’s won an incredible World Series game, with two home runs, the second in the bottom of the tenth inning soaring high into the night sky and seeming to ride a carpet of cheers all the way back into the Braves bullpen, way beyond the leftfield fence. As the ball approaches the wall, the Yankee relievers scramble out of the adjacent bullpen; as it clears the wall, they’re jumping like kids on Christmas morning. Nearby, startled cops are fumbling for their eggshell-blue riot helmets and sprinting out onto the field. The fans are too busy screaming happily to even think of trespassing.
Joe Torre, always wanting to leave someone in a difficult situation with a positive thought, telling his pitchers, who are coming into a game the Yankees are losing 5-1 in the fourth inning, “Hold ‘em right here and get yourself a win.” And tonight they do. Jason Grimsley, left off the playoff roster the first two rounds, hasn’t pitched in a game in a month, but he stanches the bleeding and shifts the momentum away from the Braves.
Joe Torre, always looking to provide hope, but not false hope, telling Grimsley near the end of his month of inactivity, “I couldn’t promise him his moment would come. What I did say was, ‘You never know.’”
John Rocker, the vilified Braves reliever who pitched two strong innings tonight, stalking down the hallway that passes both clubhouses about 30 minutes after the game, in a Goldberg T-shirt with the sleeves cut off and his uniform pants. Rocker’s arms and legs are rigid with frustration and anger as he goes to the weight room; when he passes the door to the Yankees clubhouse, he can’t stop himself from looking in, peeking at victory.
Chad Curtis again, a half-hour later, his crewcut as thick as an English hedge, saying he can’t do any more interviews. “I’ve got a two-month-old son, and more important things to do,” Curtis says as he walks away, carrying a cheap brown paper bag with a baby present in bright-red gift wrap. And the baseball that just made him the newest Yankees hero.
–1:00 a.m., 10/27/99