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Baseball madness


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We have some breaking news for you that is simply earth shattering.

Injuries are part of the game.

Wow!

But then you, my dear citizens of the so-called “Nation,” learned all about that stuff late last summer when you had a pitcher barely out of his teens being felled by cancer and the untouchable closer going down with a whacked-out shoulder even as the immortal DH was being carted off to the MGH and the zany left fielder was succumbing to ailments so mysterious they haven’t yet been identified. One recalls as well that you were dripping in self-pity and cursing the meanness of it all as the Yankees were dancing off with another pennant while finding it hard to suppress a smirk.

So now, just one season later, the shoe is on the other foot. Amazing!

Six pitchers from the Bronx grace the disabled list in the first two months of the season. The $52-million center fielder is reduced by a glut of nagging wounds to the roll of banjo-hitting, bit-player. The $22-million-a-year DH goes down, possibly for the season, with a wounded foot. They have exactly two regulars -- the second baseman and the much despised third baseman -- who have not been playing hurt. The tabloids are driving the entire organization bonkers.

But the crowning irony comes when their alleged wunderkind suffers a more serious injury while on the DL than the injury that put him there in the first place. There are very few things that have never happened before in the interminable and convoluted history of Major League Baseball. But even without the benefit of Bill James’ encyclopedic grip or the Elias Sports Bureau’s computers, one feels confident in asserting that much-touted phenom Philip Hughes is the first ballplayer in 131 years to sprain his ankle doing aerobics all by himself on a grassy lawn in Tampa in the merry month of May. And understand, please, that severe ankle sprains are serious. As they say in the game of hockey -- where men are still men -- if you are going to hurt your ankle, you might as well break it.

The ’07 Yankees are snake-bit much as the ’06 Red Sox were, albeit to a lesser degree. New York’s current run of bad luck is even more egregious than the heartaches your pets endured last year because, heck, we are only two months deep into this season. The Yankees have four more months to get really ravaged, whereas Boston’s wave of wretched misfortune last year didn’t really become acute until August.

How further ironic was it that Roger Clemens chose to announce that he was hobbled anew by his aching middle-aged muscles even as his sugar daddy was coughing up another huge must-win game to their arch foe, and doing so rather disgracefully. This should surprise only the giddiest of Yankee fans who’ve been swept away in euphoria forgetting that in August Roger turns 45. No one beats the clock. Not even Himself.

Being from Boston and saying something nice about Clemens is risky business. But for whatever it’s worth, I think he deserves a bit of respect for the principled way he handled the medical issue that postponed his so-called “re-launch in the Bronx.” He could have easily gotten away with saying nothing, thereby getting activated on schedule which would have started the payroll clock that will reap him roughly $150,000 a day. He could have limped off after warming up for that scheduled first start in Chicago and spent the next month on the DL with the Yankees having to pay him $4.5 million for the privilege and who would have been the wiser? He could have clipped the House of Steinbrenner big-time. But he didn’t. This is hardly Medal of Honor stuff. What he did cost him a minimum of a million bucks but it was simply the right thing to do. The point is that 90 percent of his colleagues in the fun and games industry would have had no trouble crawling under a broad mental reservation, keeping their mouth shut, and pocketing the dough.

Roger’s rocky re-entry is another horrible omen for the Yankees. Yet another alarm bell is sounded with the recurrence of Andy Pettitte’s back problems. And now they’ve lost their first baseman for at least two months.

Mike Lowell, the Red Sox third baseman who trampled Doug Mientkiewicz in game two of last weekend’s tong war, is a notably decent fellow and one of the game’s most respected pro’s. There was nothing he could do to prevent the nasty collision that left Mientkiewicz with a fractured wrist, a mild concussion, and a bloody battering in one of the more frightening incidents you’ll ever witness in this relatively pastoral game. We can be thankful for this much. At least the drunks in the bleachers refrained from bellowing “Yankees @#%^&*+” while Mientkiewicz lay sprawled in the dust like a sack of potatoes. Some few -- perhaps remembering the dandy role the gritty Mientkiewicz played in the wild Bosox adventures of 2004 -- even summoned the grace to give the poor guy a smattering of applause as they hauled him off on a golf cart. Will wonders never cease?

Such stray glimmers of civility are welcome at the ballpark and -- for that matter -- wherever people gather in public. The eclipse of manners and the decline of simple sportsmanship are a growing embarrassment in a society that prizes winning above everything except, maybe, humiliating your opponent and grinding -- if possible -- his bloody nose in the bloody mud. It ain’t pretty, chums.

All of which made the circus that attended the presence of Alex Rodriguez for that long stormy weekend of baseball at the Fens just a little sad and needlessly overwrought. Another painful example was the taunting of Clemens who was a thousand miles away. The bellicose chants of “Where’s Roger?” could be excused on Saturday. But by Sunday night everyone in the ballpark knew the man was injured. They keep talking about the game’s “unwritten codes.” If there’s an unwritten code for fans too, then ragging on an injured player is surely a violation. People keep asking, ‘‘Is this stuff over the line?’’ The sad fact of the matter is there ain’t no “line” no more, chums.

But then most of the flaps over A-Rod are dumb and trivial and the latest are no exception.

Here’s another headline for you. ‘‘Athletes in general and ballplayers in particular cheat on their wives and have the ethics of your nearby waste basket.’’ Stop the presses, says I.

If the argument is over whether A-Rod is probably a jerk, I’ll vote ‘‘Yes.’’ If the argument is over whether spreading his personal life all over the front page of a cheap tabloid is valid journalism, I will say, “No, No and a thousand times, No.” Nor does it matter that you are able to document the fact that the man is something of a pig. Wouldn’t you just love to have a chat with the management of the New York Post on the subject of “casting the first stone?”

Whatever, let’s just write it all off to the age we live in; an age not entirely compatible with the glorious nonsense of a simple game like baseball.

Meanwhile the Red Sox keep merrily rolling along like the good ship Lollipop. It will take a lot more thunderous shots by A-Rod to alter that. But you’ll have to give the fellow some credit, whatever his alleged moral deficiencies. He sure shut up the morally superior “Nation,” at least for one evening. They say you could have heard a pin drop as he rounded the bases.

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