Memories we’d rather forget

MICHAEL: There were several runners-up that didn’t make the final cut of the You Stink! Hall of Shame’s “Worst Plays/Moments” section. Here they are in no particular order:


Fed up with the lack of initiative by Major League Baseball with regard to the latest steroid scandals, the legislative Reform Committee took its first step toward intervention in 2005, by holding a congressional hearing focusing on the problems of doping in baseball. Following the ongoing investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative known as BALCO, the committee called several past and present players to testify regarding their own knowledge and/or experience with performance-enhancing drugs. (BALCO is a California nutritional supplements company accused of distributing human growth hormones and steroids.) Also under scrutiny was Jose Conseco’s controversial biography entitled “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big.” Former all-time, single-season homerun champion Mark McGwire, Baltimore Orioles stars Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa and Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling appeared in front of a panel made up of state representatives. Schilling and the Chicago White Sox’ Frank Thomas, who gave a statement via videoconference, were invited because of their outspoken views against steroid use. Ultimately hurting the cause more than helping it, Sosa crafted an opening statement in which he said he had never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. He also conveniently appeared to experience a newfound struggle with the English language. McGwire refused to answer any questions directly, assuming a Fifth Amendment-like stance that ultimately tarnished his legacy in the eyes of many fans. And Palmeiro vehemently denied having used steroids. Unfortunately, “Raffy” later went on to become one of the first players to test positive and receive a multiple game suspension. In retrospect, it appeared that the most unpopular member of the panel, Canseco, was apparently the most (if not the only) honest witness.


The ongoing rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees came to a head during Game 3 of the 2003 American League Championship Series after both dugouts emptied twice due to what some felt was “overly-aggressive” pitching. The ensuing argument was first instigated after Boston ace Pedro Martinez struck Yankees’ designated hitter Karim Garcia in the back and was fueled by Manny Ramirez who took offense to a high pitch thrown by Roger Clemens. As both dugouts cleared, New York’s bench coach Don Zimmer charged at Martinez who promptly reacted by throwing the seventy-two-year-old to the ground. After several minutes of suspended play, both teams went back to business until a second brawl erupted in the Yankees bullpen between Jeff Nelson, Garcia and a member of Fenway Park’s grounds crew. Following the 4-3 Yankees victory, Major League Baseball issued fines to Martinez, Ramirez, Garcia and Zimmer while the Boston Police issued additional charges on Garcia and Nelson for their involvement in the bullpen altercation. According to the Associated Press, “After the game Zimmer was taken away on a stretcher, placed in an ambulance and taken to the hospital for examination. He came away with only a cut on the bridge of his nose. Zimmer had nothing to say afterward — except to note with satisfaction that, “We won the game.” Martinez told ESPN Radio after the game that he was “completely” shocked by what happened on the field Saturday. He said Zimmer tried to hit him, so he tried to push him away. Martinez emphasized that he would never hit Zimmer, who never returned the sentiment.


Perhaps one of the most shocking moments in Major League Baseball history came when two players, Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, not only swapped lives, but also wives. This unusual story of radical romance came to light during Spring Training in 1973, when the two longtime friends and teammates admitted that they had entered the free-swinging sexual revolution of the seventies. During the previous season, both couples had double-dated frequently and after a night of drinking, someone joked about the possibility of wife-swapping. A short while later, the notion became a reality as the wives, Marilyn Peterson and Susan Kekich, sometimes switched beds. At the end of the ’72 season, both couples took their liaisons to the brink by swapping houses, cars, kids and even dogs. The resulting scandal ignited a backlash that ran from the front page of the newspapers to the back offices of the clubhouse. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said he was “appalled” but had no legal right to interfere in a private, family matter. Yankee general manager Lee MacPhail was less offended and joked that, “We may have to call off Family Day.” Kekich and his new mate felt they were “perfectly suited,” but the fling was short-lived. Peterson and Mike’s ex got married in 1974 and had four children together. As expected, the swap did take its toll on the player’s friendship as both lefties were never close again. When Kekich ended his nine-year major league career in 1977, he had a 39-51 record. Peterson, a much better pitcher, went 133-131 over 11 seasons before retiring in 1976. He was 17-13 in his last pre-swap season of 1972. The following year he dropped to 8-15. After hanging up his spikes Kekich attended medical school in Mexico where he got remarried and now resides. Peterson took a very different path and became deeply religious following the swap. He later became an evangelist. Regardless of their split, neither player would ever live down the controversy surrounding their unorthodox marriages. Both are acutely aware of the judgment that forever follows them. Decades after retiring, Kekich told a reporter, “Neither Fritz Peterson nor I will ever make it into the Hall of Fame. But I know our names keep popping up in the Hall of Shame. I don’t lose any sleep over it, but I really don’t think it’s fair.”


Never did the painful effects of performance enhancing drugs become more apparent than on October 10, 2004, when baseball bid a premature farewell to perennial superstar Ken Caminiti. Over the course of fourteen years, the third baseman is still remembered as one of the nicest men to ever play the game. Logging time with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves, he collected some impressive accolades including three All-Star Game selections, three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger Award and the highly coveted National League Most Valuable Player (1996). Unfortunately, all of these accomplishments would be tarnished when he later became the first ballplayer to publicly admit that he had taken steroids. Caminiti struggled on and off with substance abuse throughout his career. He admitted in 1994 to having a problem with alcohol and checked himself into a rehabilitation center in 2000. He also confessed to using cocaine and was arrested in March 2001 for possession and sentenced to probation. Unfortunately, these legal matters did not serve as a wake-up call. Although Caminiti’s abuse of recreational drugs was nothing new, as countless major leaguers had also battled chemical addictions over their careers and beyond, it was the use of performance enhancing drugs that sullied his legacy on the diamond. In May of 2002, Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that he had used steroids extensively during his MVP season, when he hit.326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs. Adding to the shocker, he estimated that half the players in the big leagues were also using them. In 2004, he admitted in a Houston court, that he violated his probation by testing positive for cocaine and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. State District Judge William Harmon gave Caminiti credit for the 189 days he already served at a treatment center and sentenced him to three years probation. Caminiti said when he pleaded guilty, “This is the largest mistake I’ve made in my life.” Tragically it wouldn’t be the last, as he later died of an apparent heart attack on October 10, 2004 at Lincoln Memorial Hospital. His obituary stated that, “Those who knew him loved him for his HEART OF GOLD.” On November 1, the New York City Medical Examiners Office announced that Caminiti died from “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of cocaine and opiates.” It was also believed that his heart had exhibited damage from the repeated use of anabolic steroids.


Throughout the history of baseball, there have been many instances when the influence of “Mother Nature” has had a profound effect on the game. This includes the onset of severe storms resulting in lightning strikes; natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes; and the on-field interference of animals, including birds and squirrels. As with any outdoor sport, there is always the possibility of the elements hampering the execution of the players. And despite the myriad of technological advancements that have taken place over the years, making ballparks safer and less susceptible to weather, it is impossible to account for every threat that may befall them. Sometimes it is the rarest of elements that incidentally come together to create such an obstacle. One such incident took place during the American League playoffs in Cleveland Ohio when a swarm of insects descended on Jacobs Field in the eighth inning of the Indians’ 2-1 playoff victory over the New York Yankees. Throughout the 2007 season, the ‘Pinstripes’ had showcased the talents of their newest gem, a young Nebraska ace named Joba Chamberlain, who looked to inherit New York’s coveted ‘closer’s throne’ which had been maintained by John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera, two of the game’s greatest. In just his first season, Chamberlain had endeared himself to the Yankee Nation by repeatedly shutting down the competition with a monster curveball. Joba’s ferocity on the mound gave fans an extra dose of confidence going into the postseason. The underdog Indians had defied the odds and battled their way to a contention for the AL title. In Game 2 of Divisional Series the ‘Tribe’ was hanging toe-to-toe with the perennial playoff Yankees in a 1-1, 11th-inning tie when a biblical-like plague of gnats descended on the field and engulfed the rookie reliever. Chamberlain attempted to ignore the bugs that covered him from the tip of his hat to the middle of his back, swarming about and biting his sweat covered neck and face. Cleary agitated and losing concentration, Chamberlain walked two Indians, threw a couple of wild pitches and then hit a batter. He gave up the tying run without yielding a hit, between blasts of bug repellent. According to the NY Daily News, “Ron Harrison, an entomologist who works for Orkin Inc., an Atlanta-based pest control company, said the annoying bugs were a type of midge, an insect related to mosquitoes. During warm fall weather, midges often breed on the outskirts of lakes. ‘My feeling is that there has been some breeding around Lake Erie, and air currents are pushing them onto land in mass numbers,’ Harrison said. ‘The insects don’t have piercing, sucking mouth parts,’ he said. ‘They aren’t really biters – more of a nuisance,’ Harrison said. The bugs, which come out in warm weather, have plagued Jacobs Field before. During one memorable September 2004 game, play was stopped several times to allow players who complained of swallowing the bugs while running the bases to be sprayed with repellent. The Indians lost that contest to the Angels 6-1.” This time the gnats played into their favor. Chamberlain refused to use them as an excuse. He simply stated, “Bugs are bugs. It’s not the first time I had a bug near me. You just keep your mouth closed. No excuses. I let my guys down. Disappointed is an understatement.” In retrospect, Yankee skipper Joe Torre regretted not petitioning the umpires to stop the game until the situation could be remedied. The event immediately became known in the papers as “The Bug Game.” Yankees fans would recall the day as one of infamy, while Indians fans considered it to be no less a miracle.



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