Letter From America: Yankees banish `Boomer'

SPORT IS an unsentimental business, and New York is a cynical city. So you might not have expected anyone to have been especially surprised when the Yankees sent a much-loved baseball player into exile, since they gained a superior one in return. And you would be wrong.

David "Boomer" Wells is short and fat and unpredictable. He managed to pitch a perfect game last season, one of only 13 people this century to end a game without a single base against him. He is talented, but he is equally capable of picking a fight with George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' cranky owner, in the clubhouse, antagonising Joe Torre, the manager, and all other manner of horseplay. "If you liked Metallica, tattoos, Howard Stern and post-game beers, you liked Wells," wrote the august New York Times.

And David Wells is no longer a Yankee, the thing that he wanted to be all his life. Even though they put his picture on the spring game schedule, even though he was one of the few real characters in a team that is perhaps the best ever, yet sometimes a little, well, mechanical, they decided they could do without him and two less well-known players, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush. They were traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Wells had just done a slot on Bubba The Love Sponge (which apparently is a local radio programme in Tampa, Florida) when he was called in to see Torre. He was gutted. When Lloyd came in to join them, Wells said simply: "Graeme, you had better sit down. You're going north of the border." He left with his shades on, and wearing a Yankees cap, looking for all the world as if he had just been hit by a train. "I'm a little emotional right now," he said. "Just give me a coupla days. It's a little tough to take right now."

In exchange for Wells and the others the Yankees have got a real prize: Roger Clemens, one of the best pitchers the game has ever seen. Boomer was erratic; Clemens is a machine. Wells was not expected to repeat his glorious 1998 season; Clemens still has at least two years. It was a smart trade, in purely sporting terms.

But people hate it. Clemens is not popular. He is, for a start, associated with the hated Boston Red Sox (hated in New York, that is). He is a "carpetbagger," some of the papers said in comment the next day, who wanted out of the hapless Blue Jays because he was apparently never going to win a World Series medallion in the Town That Fun Forgot. He is not going to be liked, for a while anyway.

And why, people asked, mess with the best? The Yankees stormed through last season like a combine harvester, mowing down the opposition and setting a new record for the most wins in a season. "What, do they want to win 126 games this time around? One hundred and twenty-five wasn't enough for them," asked George Vecsey of the Times. It was a common reaction: they were already the best team ever, so who do they have to beat - themselves?

The team that won the 1998 World Series had remained almost intact until the Wells trade, giving a familiar sense that this was a team from another age, a 1950s holdover. Baseball fans have a powerful sense of community and a mystical idea that history unfolds with the pitcher's arm among baseball fans. It was cruelly flouted by the 1994 strike. But it came back last year, and not just because of the epic battle for the home-run record. Wells was part of baseball's recovery. He pitched his perfect game, and he wore a cap that had been worn by Babe Ruth, even though it was against the rules. He was liked because he was like others: there are plenty of fat, beer-drinking 36-year-olds out there to identify with in the bleachers, and the idea that this man could attain perfection was a revelation, an aspiration (albeit an unrealistic one).

Now, it is back to business as usual, apparently. Spring training is under way already, after a busy offseason that has seen plenty of players, like Wells, traipsing from one city to another, slouching towards Toronto or Baltimore. There is not much sentiment in the game, not while Rupert Murdoch is paying over one hundred million dollars to a pitcher (Kevin Brown) to reinvigorate his Los Angeles Dodgers.

All of this will pass as soon as the game gets going again, of course. No-one likes to think sport is driven by money, but it is. If Clemens pitches the Yankees back into the World Series this year, then he will be a hero, loved by the fans. But if he screws up, God help him: New York does not forgive.

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect