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As many expected, Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens (10-2, 2.54 ERA) has been named the starter for the National League in Tuesday's All-Star Game. This is Clemens' 10th All-Star appearance (and his first for the National League).
Both will say the right things, but there will always be animosity between them -- especially on Piazza's part (and understandably so). When a pitcher hits you in the head, you never forget it. And make no mistake, he'll never be your friend.
Remember, Clemens (then with the Yankees) hit Piazza in the head with a fastball in an interleague game in 2000. Piazza had homered off Clemens and had success against him in previous encounters.
While some people believe Clemens beaned Piazza on purpose, I don't.
Clearly, Clemens was trying to throw inside to back Piazza off the plate and maybe even to knock him down. But I don't believe he meant to hit Piazza in the head. Having said that, whenever a pitcher beans a batter, it's always his responsibility, even if he didn't intend it. He's the one throwing the ball.
Later, to add to the saga, when the Mets and Yankees met in the 2000 World Series, Clemens and Piazza were involved in the bizarre broken-bat incident. In an at-bat against Clemens, Piazza's bat shattered and the bat's barrel flew out toward Clemens, who picked it up and threw it back in Piazza's direction (without hitting him).
Getting hit in the head can be devastating to a player's career -- though it hasn't been in Piazza's case -- and in a worst-case scenario can endanger his life. Only someone who has been beaned can understand Piazza's emotions. People might say Piazza should just forget about it and move on. Well, I disagree -- he'll never forget about it. And I don't blame him.
I was never hit in the head, but I'll never forget some of the pitchers who hit me.
As this year's All-Star Game approaches, I guarantee you that Piazza and Clemens will say the right things, and they should. Both are highly professional, so this All-Star stint as teammates will work. Even so, I'm sure Piazza wishes he didn't have to catch for Clemens. Having to do so likely will bring up all those old feelings again after both men have tried to move on.
Clemens: Then and Now
There isn't much difference between the Roger Clemens of today and the Roger Clemens who started the 1986 All-Star Game for the American League -- the last time the Midsummer Classic was played in Houston. He's still a power pitcher and a fierce competitor.
There are two changes in Clemens' game, though. Clemens is smarter at setting up hitters, and he's able to do so more effectively because of the split-fingered fastball he added to his repertoire. Earlier in his career, Clemens could overpower hitters. Today, he's probably lost something off his fastball. But he sets hitters up for that nasty splitter, which makes his fastball as effective as it was 20 years ago.
Before, he didn't pitch as much -- he just threw heat. Today, he's a complete pitcher.
As I recall, Clemens added the splitter in 1997, his first year with the Toronto Blue Jays. Remember, Clemens signed with Toronto as a free agent after 13 years with the Boston Red Sox. After two years -- and two Cy Young awards -- in Toronto, Clemens joined the New York Yankees for five seasons, winning another Cy Young award and two World Series.
Clemens won three Cy Youngs with the Red Sox, giving him an MLB-record six overall. If he has a second half like his first half with the Astros, he could make it seven this season.
Should Clemens Start?
It's tough to say who deserves to be the NL starter in this year's All-Star Game. There are several deserving candidates.
Clemens has had a tremendous first half. San Francisco Giants starter Jason Schmidt (10-2, 2.53 ERA) has pitched two one-hitters and won nine straight games. Arizona Diamondbacks starter Randy Johnson (10-6, 2.90) threw a perfect game.
If Clemens were to start, it would make good theater -- he plays in Houston and he's from Texas. So Clemens would be a good choice. If the All-Star Game were in San Francisco, all things being equal, Schmidt should start. If the game were in Phoenix, Johnson should start.
In each case, those choices would be good for the fans and for baseball.
I hope this is the last year of the two-year All-Star experiment of awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. I never liked the idea.
Last year, the American League won the game, which gave the New York Yankees the home-field edge against the Florida Marlins in the Series. Even though the Marlins won, the home field plays too big a role in October and it's too important to decide it on a contest that has become an exhibition game.
MLB might as well give home-field advantage to the league that wins the most spring-training games. After all, spring training and the All-Star Game are both exhibitions.
There's just no way an exhibition game should determine who has home-field advantage in the World Series.
An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76 (the Reds won the World Series both years). He contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.