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Finder on the Web: Reliever Boehringer has had some 'wacky' moments for the Pirates this season

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

That morning's newspaper called him a wacko. Earlier in the season, after noticing this Pirates reliever's reading tastes ran toward the real-life crime genre, a teammate jokingly bought him a T-shirt emblazoned with Cereal Killer. The Pirates' public has seen him in fleeting snippets, mostly in the form of television highlights, or, more apropos, lowlights:

Brian Boehringer yelling at shortstop Jack Wilson on the field May 24, then going after him in the dugout.

Brian Boehringer refusing TV camera interviews in the clubhouse after a couple of games.

Brian Boehringer screaming profanities Thursday once his manager came to the mound.

So the idea was to approach Boehringer Sunday and ask him to describe himself, find out what makes this pitcher tick, tick, tick off.

"Good luck," Ron Villone blurted from the locker next door.

"Probably better off," Boehringer added quietly, "asking RV what I'm all about."

That came later.

First, a few explanations ...

Boehringer was right to dress down Wilson in that Cardinals game two months ago, although his choice of venues was wrong. The excitable young shortstop missed a defensive sign. Worse, he compounded the matter by either, depending on the account, chatting up an old Cardinals buddy at second base or glancing at a scoreboard replay. So the pitcher with parts of four seasons' experience with the champion Yankees, a 32-year-old fellow with a library of books about -- and an unabiding affection for -- baseball history, decided it was time to teach a lesson.

"It was definitely a lesson to be learned," Wilson said Sunday, in hindsight.

These players handled the matter internally, invoking a silence on the subject thereafter. In fact, Boehringer, when asked, gave the questioner an icy stare and this response: "Hey, that's between me and Jack, and that's all who needs to know." It's a wonder that this teacher didn't know enough to select a more private, more appropriate classroom, perhaps inside a clubhouse away from prying eyes and TV cameras.

Boehringer was well within his Major League Baseball rights to refuse TV interviews inside the Pirates clubhouse. He used to rank among a number of Yankees players who declined media interviews regularly. That certainly doesn't help to expound upon situations confounding everyone outside of the clubhouse family, such as the Wilson matter. That certainly doesn't help alter perceptions.

Which brings us to the latest Boehringer incident, on the PNC Park mound Thursday.

A reliever who allowed only one run in 181/3 previous innings suddenly found himself struggling. He walked two Reds. He struck out the next. He permitted a ground-rule double. He followed with another strikeout, an intentional walk of Reggie Taylor and then a game-losing grand slam to Jason LaRue.

What fans in the park and on TV and over the countless lowlights replays saw next was Manager Lloyd McClendon coming to the mound to pull the pitcher, who never wavered from his angry monologue: $#&*{@ }?/+=!, $#&*{@ }?/+=!, $#&*{@ }?/+=!

It looked like he was showing up McClendon, which, in this perception-is-reality-world, was just flat wrong.

"It was weird," the manager said, preparing to invoke a Flintstones cartoon character. "When I went out, I thought he was talking to the Great Gazoo back there. I asked Jason Kendall, 'Who's he talking to?' "

When pitching coach Spin Williams approached Boehringer in the dugout seconds later, the reliever appeared to snap at him. Which was flat wrong, too.

As Villone so aptly put it: "You want intensity, and he's got that. Sometimes frustration just leads you to strange places."

"Brian was very upset with himself. Not at me, but that he let the team down," McClendon continued. "I told him later we have certain ways to do things. He apologized -- to me, to the pitching coach, to the players."

The public? They were mistakenly left out. Sure, such an apology would have been partly a public-relations move. But such an overt act also further underscores to the Pirates players and front office, to the rest of baseball, to the game, that the manager retains the respect and stature he deserves. It's similar to parenting: No child should throw a tantrum and cuss uncontrollably around his mother or father, lest anyone begin to question their authority. The main differences here being: Boehringer's an adult; Boehringer's a bright guy and an wizened baseball man.

Like the Wilson skirmish, he chose to keep it between the parties. In the closest thing to a confession, however unspecific, Boehringer added: "There's a lot of things I shouldn't have done. Too late now."

He truly is a complex individual. He scours new and used bookstores for nonfiction (he's currently reading about the Gulf War), but he also enjoys the fiction of professional wrestling. He is a well-read man, often breaking out the books inside the unlibrary-like atmosphere of a clubhouse (talk about wacko), but he also provides short, sometimes one-word answers to media queries.

"It might look bad," Kendall said of the reliever's on-field theatrics. "But he's not doing it on purpose. I don't know where we'd be without him. He's one of those guys you want on your team."

"That's the last thing we need, a team full of me," Boehringer added with a grin. "We'd probably kill each other."

Then there would be no one left to hear these internal, clubhouse-only apologies that still leave the paying public, if not the rest of baseball, to wonder.

In addition to The Big Picture, Chuck Finder writes a general-sports column exclusive to the http://www.post-gazette.com/ every Tuesday. He can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com

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