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Baseball Notebook: A wound that might finally have healed

Sunday, July 13, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

So you thought on-the-lam Roman Polanski earning the Best Director Oscar for “The Pianist” was the biggest shocker you were likely to see this year short of the next WMD being found in greater Baghdad?

Would’ve been, too. Had it not been for Brendan Donnelly’s selection this week to the American League All-Star team. Of all 64 selections, his stood out like the appearance of an overstuffed breakfast meat at Pirates batting practice.

And it’s not because he is some geek salute to the sabermetric creation known as the setup man. And it’s not because his 0.38 earned run average will, if it holds up, be the lowest ERA going into the break of any pitcher with at least 40 innings in the past 15 years. And it’s not even because his is one of those Disney stories about a guy who languished in the minors for 10 years before finally catching his break just as the Angels were about to catch theirs a season ago.

No, those only make him an All-Star.

The manner in which he found his way onto Mike Scioscias roster Tuesday night is what makes him a story. He was voted in by the players. Named as a relief pitcher on 128 ballots. Just behind the Twins’ Eddie Guardado (141), just ahead of the A’s Keith Foulke (124). Did The Guy mention this was the players’ voting?

“That’s the biggest thing,” Donnelly said. “I never thought I’d be a major-league pitcher, let alone a major-league all-star.” And “to be voted in by the players is unbelievable.”

Unbelievable? Three complete games in 12 days for Pirates pitchers is unbelievable. The thought that there are people out there who watch those ESPN fishing shows on Saturday morning is unbelievable.

Try unheard of. Think Martin Sheen campaigning for George Bush.

You see, Donnelly was a replacement player during the labor war of 1995. By a less flattering moniker, he was a scab. He went to camp with the Reds, but as you may remember, the replacement players never saw opening day. The two sides settled just before camps broke and Donnelly didn’t wear another major-league uniform for seven years.

If you think seven years is time enough to forgive and forget, think again. This is the Major League Baseball Players Association, arguably the strongest union in North America short of stadium nacho cheese and shoe soles.

No replacement player has been allowed to join the union. No replacement player has been allowed to share in merchandising revenue. There for a while, some replacement players weren’t even spoken to in the clubhouse.

Hardball? After the Angels won the World Series last fall, the MLBPA refused to allow Donnelly’s name or likeness to be used on any official commemorative souvenirs or memorabilia. Not one blessed T-shirt.

Now, other replacement players have made All-Star teams; Rick Reed in 1998 and 2001, Damian Miller in 2002. But Donnelly’s selection is the first anointed by the players. By 128 of them, anyway.

“I’m absolutely thrilled for him,” said Troy Percival, the closer who follows Donnelly in the Angels’ end-of-game tag team. “It’s a testament to what he’s been through in his career.”

That is the story here. That is the achievement. And he won’t require his name on any T-shirt or his picture on any $7.25 souvenir plastic beer cup to authenticate its value.

“The ultimate respect,” he said of his selection, “is when you get it from your peers.”

And unlike Polanski, he didn’t have to spend a quarter-century in Europe, though he likely was told to go to far worse places.But they will only make Chicago look all the more beautiful.

Other star lines

Donnelly’s selection isn’t the only story line worth following the next couple of days.

Jamie Moyer: He is only the third player to make his Midsummer debut at age 40, joining Satchel Paige (46 in 1952) and Connie Marrero (40 in 1952). Not bad, considering that at age 30, he was 34-54 and out of the major leagues.

Esteban Loaiza vs. Jason Schmidt: Who’d have believed sitting at Three Rivers in 1997 that we’d one day see these ghosts of Pirates staffs past with the (very good) chance of starting opposite each other in an All-Star Game?

Mike Williams: In case you were wondering, no pitcher -- let alone an All-Star pitcher -- with at least 20 saves has ever had an ERA above 6.00. In this crazy game, it would only make sense that he winds up with the MVP trophy Tuesday night.

A wonderful life story

If you’re into fate, destiny, kismet or just like to imagine life as a Frank Capra movie, you’ll love this one. Dusty Baker’s wife, Melissa, played high school basketball years ago back in the San Francisco Bay Area with a girl named Sharon Peskett. Sharon had a sister named Joyce. When Joyce got pregnant, Melissa went to the baby shower. When Joyce’s child was born, Melissa even baby-sat the toddler on occasion. The baby’s name? Dontrelle. Dontrelle Willis, whom Dusty Baker named Friday to the NL All-Star roster as a replacement for Kevin Brown. In not naming him earlier, Baker used the excuse that he hadn’t seen him pitch. Did he catch heck from his wife? “My wife understood,” Baker said. “She hadn’t seen him pitch either.”

Star dust

More notes and quotes leading up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game ... Pirates color analyst Bob Walk presents a wonderful idea for ensuring that baseball really means it when they declare that “this time it counts” -- a player’s team must win in order for him to collect his All-Star bonus. The losers’ bonuses go to charity. ... Ironic that Kerry Wood would make his first All-Star Game this year, and initially at the expense of Florida sensation Dontrelle Willis. In 1998, Wood burst onto the scene with his 20-strikeout game vs. Houston, was 8-3 with 139 strikeouts at the break and did not make the team. ... Mike Williams’ surprise selection makes him the first Pirates pitcher since Bob Veale (1965-66) to make consecutive games.

A pun-length controversy

Forget the seething Red Sox-Yankees beanball war for raw spice. After what “The Case of the Hissing Links” has brat upon the Pirates, the PNC Park pierogies had better keep their puffed pates on a swivel when the “outraged” Brewers visit beginning Thursday. While The Guy understands the Italian Sausage is still unable to travel following Randall Simons “insane” hit Wednesday, word on the street is that The Big Italian -- obviously still smoked -- FedExed a large sum of dough and a case of bun-lengths to The Chef with the following directive: Sauerkraut Saul. You know what to do. But Chef had better be careful, lest he wind up in the pattie wagon next to Simon, who almost unbelievably drew a three-game suspension for his prank. We understand, however, that it could’ve been longer but for the fact that this was his, ahem, wurst offense.

Pride of the Yankees

Even in the midst of the usual Red Sox-Yankees venom and vitriol last weekend at Yankee Stadium, there occurred one of those moments that makes you understand why 75,000 people a year still make the pilgrimage to the corn field in Iowa where “Field of Dreams” was filmed. Called up only two days before, Curtis Pride -- deaf and two years removed from his previous major-league game -- led off the bottom of the sixth inning of a 3-1 game with a home run against John Burkett. The fans stood. The fans roared. They called him out for a curtain call. Except Pride couldn’t hear them. “But I felt the vibrations,” he said. And as he popped out of the dugout, tears fell on his cheeks. “This is a very emotional experience,” Pride said. He wasn’t alone.

Cat scratch fever

This says it all about the current state of the Detroit Housecats: The Toledo Mud Hens’ lineup these days includes outfielder Gene Kingsale, shortstop Omar Infante and catcher Brandon Inge all of whom were in the Tigers’ opening-day lineup. Adding insult to humiliation, Inge is hitting .254, Kingsale .178 and Infante .160 even as the Tigers continue their collision course with those lovable 120-loss Metropolitans of ’62.

But then, that sort of cheap shot is just what Cats outfielder Dmitri Young would expect from The Guy. “That’s the dumbest thing to talk about when there’s still the second half of the season left,” Young told Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. “This is coming from people who never put on a baseball uniform or understand the theory of baseball. Those people can kiss my [butt] until mid-September.” And then what, Dmitri? Introduce you to Choo Choo Coleman.

This ‘n’ that

Upon such things was Roger Clemens’ rep built. After hitting Boston Kevin Millar with a 94-mph fastball July 5, Clemens explained: “Guys just don’t get out of the way anymore.” Yeah, some guys just have no respect for tradition. ... Rebutting for the Red Sox, Mr. Martinez, who just happened to hit Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano in the hand Monday: “[George Steinbrenner will] probably buy the whole league, but not my desire and my heart, unless he buys me along with the whole league,” Pedro told Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe. “He’s not going to put any fear in my heart. He doesn’t have the money to buy fear and put it in my heart.” ... Braves followers via TBS will hear some familiar voices after the break when Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren return to the booth rotation after being banished to regional Turner South the first half of the season. ... We’ve heard Dontrelle Willis compared to Vida Blue, to Luis Tiant, to Fernando Valenzuela. Leave it to Cubs Manager Dusty Baker to be different. After seeing Willis for the first time Tuesday, Baker compared him to former Pirate John Candelaria. ... And finally, tomorrow is Just Awful Night at Blair County Ballpark for Altoona’s game with Akron. The Curve will salute all things awful, from William Shatner and Partridge Family music over the PA to Spam and Tang at the concession stands.

Shot and a jeer

Shot: The Cubs have gone 8-15 since being eight games over .500 (39-31) June 18. Good thing Dusty Baker was born to take the heat.

Jeer: So, do you think Rick Schlesinger, Brewers executive VP, has watched a few too many episodes of “Law & Order”? “It’s an insane act,” Schlesinger orated after Randall Simon’s assault on racing breakfast meat Wednesday. “I can’t put into words the anger I feel and the sense of outrage I have.” Insane? Anger? Outrage? Over a couple of scraped knees? Weren’t those Tom Cruise’s words to Jack Nicholson at the end of “A Few Good Men”? You can’t handle the truth, Rick. It’s not as if Simon climbed a light tower and took out Bernie Brewer.


Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474. This notebook was gathered from personal interviews, wire services and other newspapers.

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