Ah, Rivalry Week. Along with the rest of SB Nation, we are celebrating the most memorable moments against our most hated rivals. This story begins and ends with the history between the Yankees and Red Sox. There is perhaps no more storied rivalry in any sports league, professional or collegiate. And there is no shortage of classic moments that laid bare the mutual loathing between the two teams, from Alex Rodriguez vs. Jason Varitek to Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer.
But I’m not here to talk about our Bostonian enemies. Instead, I’d like to take you on a journey crosstown and back in time to relive one of the most bizarre feuds in recent baseball history. I’m speaking, of course, about Roger Clemens and his unfounded disdain for Mike Piazza.
It was the turn of the millennium. The Yankees were in the midst of their latest dynasty while the Mets were showing new life. Clemens was continuing to make his case as one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, while across town, Piazza was making a convincing argument as the greatest offensive catcher of all time. Though there was no particular history between the two, perhaps some could sense something was brewing.
In the top of the second inning of a midsummer nightcap to a doubleheader, the famous feud between the two superstars was born. With the second pitch that Piazza sees in the game, Clemens beaned the Mets’ catcher in the head with a 92-mile per hour fastball. Piazza lay dazed on the ground, his eyes seemingly unfocused, before being helped to his feet. He ended up leaving the game and went to the hospital for evaluations.
As violent a first act in their conflict as this was, it was only the appetizer for what would come that postseason. It was during Game Two of the 2000 Subway Series. I am sure many, if not all of you, reading this know what I am talking about, the moment that cemented the Clemens-Piazza rivalry in the annals of MLB history.
What on Earth is Clemens doing? He acted like Piazza not only intentionally broke his bat, but somehow aimed the splintered piece in Clemens’ direction. Granted, Clemens was always known as a hot head and a prima donna, and let us not forget the rage-inducing steroids coursing through his veins. Still, you can hear the utter incredulity in the commentators’ voice upon witnessing such an act.
So why in the world did Clemens harbor this irrational hatred of Piazza in his heart? Why not direct his ire at the more obvious of Yankees rivals, the Red Sox? Heck, despite his ascendancy to legend status with the Beantown boys, Clemens apparently hated playing in Fenway, calling the stadium a subpar facility. Maybe it was because Piazza owned his soul.
In the five years that that Clemens was a Yankee and Piazza a Met, the two players faced each other six times including the postseason. Across those six games, Piazza racked up 16 plate appearances against Clemens. The results are quite astonishing. Piazza batted .400/.438/1.267 with four home runs and 10 RBI, including this grand slam in June that may very well have precipitated Clemens’ behavior later that season.
It’s a little easier to see how Clemens did not count himself in Piazza’s fan club. Not that I’m excusing him throwing any projectile at the Mets catcher. I’m just saying that I too would get sick of seeing my opponent launch bombs in seemingly every other at bat against me.
It is unfortunate for fans of both teams that the Yankees-Mets rivalry never quite lived up to its billing, in large part due to playing in separate leagues. In recent years, the closest the crosstown neighbors have come to being enemies is the Mets’ unwillingness to do business with the Yankees as it pertains to swapping players. Nonetheless, for a brief few seasons at the turn of the century, Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza provided a spectacle of just how heated the animosity between the New York ball clubs could get.