Clemens, Curt Gowdy and first place at stake

I'm excited that I'll be able to work for the first time with Curt Gowdy on Wednesday night. Oh, and Roger Clemens goes for 299.

Originally Published: May 21, 2003
By Joe Morgan | Special to ESPN.com

For a number of reasons, I'm excited that I'll be broadcasting the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game Wednesday at Fenway Park (ESPN2, 7 p.m.).

Of course, Yankees ace Roger Clemens will be going for career win No. 299 against his former team, but I'll address that later.

It will be a privilege to share the booth with Curt Gowdy, one of the greatest broadcasters ever.
What excites me the most is that I'll be able to work for the first time with Curt Gowdy, who I've admired since my playing days. It will be a privilege to share the booth with one of the greatest broadcasters ever. As a player, I came to know him because he would broadcast games I was involved in. I had many conversations with him as a result, and I always thought of him as the voice of baseball during that era. He did the Game of the Week, and he was the man.

In fact, Gowdy is the one who said that if I flapped my left arm more than twice during an at-bat it meant I was nervous -- and if I flapped it only twice, I got a hit. If that had been the case, I would have flapped my arm twice every time at-bat! While I don't think that was the case, it was an amusing observation.

Now that I'm a broadcaster, I appreciate his excellence even more. It will be an honor to be an analyst for Curt Gowdy on Wednesday night. The plan, as I understand it, is for Gowdy to work the middle three innings. ESPN's Chris Berman will handle play-by-play the rest of the game.

Gowdy broadcast Red Sox games for years. He witnessed plenty of history at Fenway, including many of Ted Williams' at-bats, hits and home runs. Ted was a favorite of mine as a kid, so it will be interesting to hear Gowdy's stories about him and the other great players he saw.

I wasn't a Red Sox fan, but I was a Ted Williams fan. I wasn't a Red Sox fan because they were -- technically, from my perspective -- the last major-league team to integrate. That always bothered me. When Boston finally did sign an African-American, they signed a friend of mine, Pumpsie Green (we both grew up in the Oakland area). Pumpsie's first year with the Red Sox was 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line.

Clemens in Thick of Scrum for First
Now, back to Clemens: I believe he'll feel added pressure going for No. 299 in Boston because he played there for so long, and he didn't leave on the best of terms. Not nearly as much pressure, tough, as if he'd been going for No. 300 in Fenway.

Clemens
Clemens
It's interesting that Clemens told the New York Times this week that he wants to enter the Hall of Fame as a Yankee. He won 192 games and three of his six Cy Youngs in a Red Sox uniform, so it will be a tough call. A Hall of Famer can request the cap he wants on his plaque, but the Hall has the final say.

Clemens made a good case for his desire, telling the Times, "When [former Red Sox general manager Dan] Duquette said that I was done, if I'd have taken his advice and went home, I wouldn't have been a Hall of Famer. So it's a no-brainer. ... Reggie [Jackson] spent five years here, and this will be five for me."

Besides the Gowdy and Clemens excitement, this is the Yankees-Red Sox, after all -- with first place on the line. The teams enter Wednesday night's series finale tied for first in the AL East, which is a surprise given New York's strong start. But the Yanks have struggled lately and the Sox have hung in there.

In recent years, the Red Sox have chased the Yankees but haven't been able to catch them. Boston must make a statement by winning not just one game but the series (the Yankees took Monday's first game 7-3, with the Sox winning 10-7 on Tuesday).

The history of this rivalry is that the Yankees have been able to come into Fenway and win when something is on the line. Where did Bucky Dent hit his home run in '78? That's right, over Fenway's Green Monster to win that one-game playoff. The Yankees went on to win back-to-back World Series, and the Red Sox went home.

So Boston has a lot to prove. When the Yankees and Red Sox meet, the series is always more important to Boston.

The difference in Wednesday night's game could be the bullpen. With closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees are used to winning games they lead heading into the late innings. For Boston, the bullpen-by-committee has been good some days ... and bad others. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, Boston's bullpen-by-committee is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get.

Best Milestone Approach: Business as Usual
As a player, when you or a teammate nears a milestone, you need to take the business-as-usual approach.

Sure, you can discuss it. The main unwritten baseball gag rule is with a no-hitter, when you don't discuss it at all during the game. With milestones, you try to keep your routine the same. You don't try to change anything or do anything differently. The more you keep it business as usual, the less pressure there is.

One personal chase that stands out to me is the home-run record for second basemen. Rogers Hornsby had 301 career homers, but not all were as a second baseman. I was able to break his record (finishing with 268 for my career). But the chase wasn't on my mind much, because it came toward the end of my career. I wanted to achieve it, of course, but I didn't put pressure on myself. And if I hadn't achieved it, my career wouldn't have been diminished. For instance, if Roger Clemens doesn't win another game, he's still a Hall of Famer.

As far as teammates' milestones, I was there when Pete Rose got his 3,000th hit. As I mentioned, our approach on the Reds was to keep it business as usual. And I was there when he chased Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1978. Rose wound up setting the modern NL record at 44 straight games.

Chat Reminder: I'll answer your questions in an ESPN.com chat Friday at 10:45 a.m. ET.

Best Wishes: I have two friends whose wives are dealing with illnesses, and I want to send them and their families my best wishes in handling this adversity. My best wishes go out to Stephanie Tyrell, wife of my good friend Steve, and Cathy Curtin, wife of my good friend Tom, who is a member of the Zegna family.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series with the Reds. He contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.

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