Wells-Yankees feud distracts from real issues

New York Yankees pitcher David Wells was full of surprises this winter: first was his controversial autobiography, “Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball” in which he claims to have been drunk when he pitched his perfect game against the Minnesota Twins May 17, 1998 and blasts several teammates, including Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Then, he recanted several statements in the book, saying that in an editorial mix-up he was misquoted by his co-author. So much for it being an autobiography. Last week, on a New York radio show, he said he offered Yankees manager Joe Torre and general manager Brian Cashman his retirement over the autobiography controversy Feb. 28.

But, it is safe to say Wells’ biggest assaults have come from the pitching mound — on opposing batters. Many talking-heads thought the Yankees would be crazy to keep Wells because of the potential “clubhouse distraction” he could create. So far, Wells is 2-0 and has hurled 17 innings in two starts, with an earned run average of 0.53. A control artist when he’s at his best, the hefty lefty has not walked a batter yet this season, compared with 10 strikeouts. Not much distraction for the Yankees. Wells’ off-field shenanigans have had no negative impact through 11 games for the club.

However, the perceived Wells-Yankees feud distracted everyone from an issue that we should all be talking about. Wells alleges that as many as 40 percent of major-leaguers use steroids, that amphetamines are rampant in the minors, and admits that he used ephedra, the weight-loss drug that factored into the spring training death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.

Admittedly, Wells has since backed off that 40 percent estimate and now says it is somewhere between 10 and 25 percent. But the percentages he guesstimates do not matter; Wells is not the first to make such accusations. Why has major league baseball not looked into them? While that is a loaded question, if there ever was one, a big factor certainly has to be that the media was more interested in stirring trouble in Yankeeland, because George Steinbrenner and company make easy targets, than actually pressing Mr. Selig to do something substantive on the matter.

Torre was rightfully concerned about Wells’ use of ephedra but backed off when Wells assured his skipper that he and his personal physician had the situation under control. One would expect the Yankee manager to yield to his pitcher, and unfortunately, he has no real authority to stop him from taking ephedra. If Torre tried to, surely the Players’ Association would be at the nearest courthouse in 5 minutes and 56 seconds. (Believe me, I’ve walked it. That’s the time, walking at a slightly faster than normal pace, it takes to get from Yankee Stadium to the Bronx County Courthouse.)

It is no real surprise that major league baseball has not acted. I love the game, but at times it is just distasteful to watch. Many are to blame, no doubt, but don’t underestimate the role of the media putting the issue on the backburner in favor of documenting the latest Yankee soap opera.

I cannot count the number of times people said Wells was a distraction, that he would be a detriment to the Yankees. But when the chips were down, the wacko lefty rose to the occasion more often than not in the past (except for last year in the playoffs against Anaheim), and his first two starts of 2003 indicate that nothing changes.

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