Throwback Friday: Clemens' bat toss

I was reminded on Twitter that today marks exactly 21 years since this:

It remains one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen in baseball. And I thought it would be fun to re-run the column I wrote for The Kansas City Star the next day:

NEW YORK — Scenario No. 1: “I thought it was the ball.”

Sunday night in New York, in Game 2 of the World Series, Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens was pitching to Mets catcher Mike Piazza. There’s a history there. Back in July, Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a baseball. Clemens said he wasn’t trying to hit Piazza in the head.

He didn’t elaborate much beyond that.

Maybe he was trying to hit Piazza in the neck.

Whatever the case, Sunday night, Clemens pitched, Piazza hit, and the bat shattered. And a huge piece of the bat bounced back to Clemens.

And in the confusion of the moment, Clemens understandably mistook the bat for a baseball. Hey, it could happen. A sharp, long piece of wood can look an awful lot like a baseball, especially in the lights.

Clemens picked it up. Then, because he had mistaken it for a baseball, naturally he winged the jagged piece of bat in the general direction of Mike Piazza. The bat missed. Not by much, though.

“What’s your problem?” Piazza screamed at Clemens.

“I thought it was the ball,” Clemens explained.

Scenario 2: “He did not see Piazza running.”

Sunday night in New York, Clemens was pitching to Piazza. The bat shattered. Clemens picked up a broken piece. At this point, he did not see Piazza running. He was looking at the crowd. He was looking at the ground. He was looking at the bat. He was looking at you, kid.

Whatever, he was definitely not looking at Piazza. So obviously, he grabbed the bat the way you would a spear, and he threw it as hard as he could. Get away, bat! Only then, as the bat was skipping and tumbling like one of those martial-arts death stars, Clemens suddenly noticed that it was headed right for Piazza, who was running to first base.

“Oh no!” Clemens thought. “What have I done? I never saw him!”

“He did not see Piazza running,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Scenario 3: “There was no intent.”

Sunday night, Clemens pitching, Piazza hitting, bat shattered, yadda yadda yadda, and the sharp fragment of bat ended up in Clemens’ hand. At this point, Clemens was thinking about the fragile nature of world peace.

“Gee,” Clemens was thinking, “why can’t they settle all those problems in the Middle East. I mean, like, we should be able to get along.”

It was then that he noticed the bat in his hand, with its sharp edge, and he felt disgusted by it. Pacifist that he is, Clemens violently threw it away. Only then, in horror, did he realize that it was headed for Piazza. Clemens spoke a silent prayer, and the bat skipped harmlessly away.

“Why didn’t you throw Clemens out of the game?” someone asked home-plate umpire Ed Montague.

“There was no intent,” Montague replied.

Scenario 4: “It was a get-it-off-the-field kind of thing.”

Sunday, Clemens, Piazza, bat shattered, and that sharp piece ended up in Clemens’ hands. What to do now? He wanted to get the game going again, but how? Clemens pondered the possibilities. He could wait for the bat boy to come out on the field. No! There wasn’t time for that!

He could softly toss the bat off the field. But what if the bat didn’t make it off the field? What if it stopped in fair territory? That would be embarrassing!

He could throw it as hard as he could off the field! Yes. That was the perfect plan. So Clemens reared back, and he threw the bat hard into the ground, watched it scurry away. He was mortified when it almost hit Piazza. Oh gosh, he had not calculated the danger! Then, alas, no plan is perfect.

“It was a get-it-off-the-field type of thing,” Torre said.

Scenario 5: “I don’t know. What do you think?”

Sunday Clemens, Piazza, bat shattered, Clemens picked up the fractured piece, and he threw it hard at Piazza. Plain and simple.

“Why would he do it?” Torre screamed at reporters after the game. “I want someone to answer me that one question. Why would he do it?”

Top nine reasons why Clemens would do it:

1) He’s a jerk.

2) He’s a hothead.

3) He lost his mind.

4) He was trying to intimidate Piazza.

5) He doesn’t tend to be a “deep thinker” on the mound.

6) He’s a jerk.

7) He has a history of doing stupid, spiteful things.

8) He doesn’t need a reason. There are many senseless crimes in this world.

9) He’s a jerk.

Yes, Clemens threw the bat at Piazza, and the umpires were too chicken to toss him, and Clemens followed up by throwing a two-hitter because in addition to being a jerk, he’s also one heck of a pitcher.

In all of these scenarios, the Yankees won the game, and now they have a commanding 2-0 lead, and this Subway Series looks over. If the Mets don’t win tonight, they’re finished for sure. Even if they do win tonight, they might be finished. It hard to imagine them taking four of five games from a Yankees team that has won 14 straight World Series games.

“Why did Clemens throw the bat?” someone asked Mets manager Bobby Valentine on Monday. This was the most popular question of the day in New York. Why? As if there’s some logical reason. Maybe was making a statement about saving the rainforests. Maybe he saw a rattlesnake and was trying to save Piazza’s life. Maybe he had a clinical fear of bats.

Or maybe Clemens just wanted to unnerve the Mets. Maybe that why he threw at Piazza’s head back in July.

Maybe that’s why he has a reputation around baseball as a lunatic. Maybe that’s why Sunday, he broke all the rules, crossed all the lines and threw a jagged baseball bat at Mike Piazza.


“I don’t know,” Valentine said. “What do you think?”