Baseball's version of the read-my-lips exercise was presented in the second inning of the final American League playoff game. Umpire Terry Cooney read pitcher Roger Clemens's lips and ordered him off the premises for cause.
What provoked Cooney was the babbling filibuster by Clemens from the pitching mound against the umpire's ruling that the last pitch to Oakland's Willie Randolph was the fourth ball, which gave Randolph the usual entitlements and Clemens a fit.
The exact specifics of what Clemens was mouthing to Cooney may be in doubt because of the several versions of the tirade loosed toward the umpire. But there can be agreement on the general emphasis of it. Unless Clemens is the unusual aggrieved ballplayer, his remarks to Cooney were a deep study of name-calling laced with reflections on ancestry.
Should Cooney have thrown Clemens out of the game? Damn right. The umpire had taken enough. Clemens was not only showing him up before 49,052 in the Oakland park, but also before the millions watching on television. Cooney would have been a wimp to take any more abuse. As the A's Carney Lansford said, "He'd have lost all respect around the league if he'd let Clemens get away with it."
The only criticism of Cooney could be the clumsiness of his gesture in throwing Clemens out of the game. It wasn't with the clear-cut motion other umpires use; his was a feeble "yer out" gesture. The late Bill McGowan would have thrown Clemens out with a decisive sweep of his arm after a full windup, plus a semi-pirouette for emphasis.
The case is made that Cooney acted too hastily, that he should have given Clemens the benefit of a warning, particularly in an important playoff game. Too hastily? Cooney endured too much of Clemens. And there was no further need to warn the pitcher. The warning had been there for decades, in baseball's rulebook: Thou shalt not argue with the umpire on a ball-strike count. Clemens well knew that.
As for the scene that followed, Boston Manager Joe Morgan's tantrum, and the spillage of those buckets of Gatorade out of the Sox's dugout, no harm there. That sort of thing is perfunctory. The manager raises hell for show, and the guys in the dugout are expected to react in behalf of their pal.
For those who would say Cooney's action was unrighteous and that Clemens deserved better, a look at Clemens's re'sume' is in order. He is a hell of a pitcher, a great one. But for a long time, he was also a pain in the posterior, an arrogant, spoiled-brat-type of whom Boston fans have been overly forgiving.
He is an egregious big shot, a $2 million-a-year man who tells the Boston baseball-writing press to beat it, deigning to talk to reporters only on the days he pitches. As late as last week, Clemens asked Morgan to keep the reporters out of the clubhouse for 30 minutes so the players could celebrate in private when they clinched the AL East.
When, two years ago, Clemens exploited his free agent status to sign a whopping three-year contract with the Red Sox, he had already called Boston a lousy city, its followers lousy fans, and generally bad-mouthed the town and the people who had been in adulation of him.
There is more. Richard Justice, then The Washington Post writer on the baseball beat, recalls that Clemens spoke of the hard life of the ballplayers, mentioning how they "had to carry their own luggage to the park." He demanded a better parking place for himself, better seats for the players' wives. And, to challenge belief, instead of the usual one bus for everyone, a special bus for the smokers, a second bus for the nonsmokers and a third for the now-to-be-segregated writers. And the fawning, obsequious Red Sox management gave him all of these things because he was a big 20-game winner and required tender care lest he become truly angry.
Also, there was no need for Clemens to use all those ugly words toward Cooney. Many years ago there was a precedent. When Ossie Bluege, the Senators manager, was thrown out of a game in Boston by umpire Ed Rommel, it was surprising because Bluege had never been ejected. "What bad words did you call Rommel?" he was asked. Bluege said: "I didn't call him anything. I just told Rommel that everything Bucky Harris called you last year goes for me."
All this goes to say that in the case of Roger Clemens, Terry Cooney's verdict was a proper one: no Clemenscy.