Less hyperbole; more clean play

What is it about sports that causes otherwise rational men to say things that are completely asinine?

In response to Rush Limbaugh's comments about Donovan McNabb, Wesley Clark (or one of his flunkies) recommended that Limbaugh be fired because of his "hateful and ignorant speech."

Ignorant? Sure, but if ignorant speech were a fire-worthy offense, we'd all be looking at a lot of empty TV studios.

Hateful? Hardly. Which isn't to say Rush Limbaugh's not a racist. I don't have any idea. But what he said about McNabb constitutes approximately zero proof of such a thing. And you need a lot more than zero before you accuse somebody of that most dastardly of crimes.

In response to the little fracas between Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "If that happened in New York we would have arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period. ... You just cannot assault people, even if it's on a baseball field."

So let me get this straight, Mr. Mayor ... If you're standing on the street minding your own business and a 70-year-old man comes charging, you're not allowed to defend yourself in the slightest fashion? What's the age limit, exactly? Sixty-five? Sixty? The next time I'm lucky enough to visit your fair city, this information might come in handy.

Actually, Zimmer's not 70. He's 72 (and could pass for 82). And if he doesn't want to mix it up on the field, then he should keep his wrinkly bottom on the bench. If he's still feeling his oats and wants to play with the rest of the arrested adolescents, then he has to deal with whatever pain might result. My personal opinion is that a 72-year-old with metal plates in his head doesn't belong on the field during a brawl any more than a 3-year-old batboy belongs on the field in the middle of a play at the plate.

But maybe that's just me.

In fairness, I don't really hold Bloomberg accountable for what he said (Clark's another story). After all, that was in the heat of the moment, and I'm sure if I were a Red Sox or Yankees fan I'd have said some pretty stupid things Saturday night, too.

Instead, I saw Game 3 almost immediately for what it was: just more fodder for the cottage industry that depends on the regular addition of lore to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Next spring the bookstores will be flooded with at least half a dozen different books about the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Yankees and Red Sox.

And who does it hurt, really? Aside from the Canadian forests, not anybody, really. Zimmer's fine -- in fact, he's probably pretty happy with himself right now -- and that Red Sox groundskeeper will have a great story for the girls. Which isn't to say what happened Saturday not is good. It's good for the ratings and it's good for the baseball writers, but I'm reminded of that old pearl of wisdom, "It's real funny until somebody gets hurt."

In May of 1976, the Yankees and Red Sox got involved in a brawl. Graig Nettles threw Bill Lee to the ground, Lee landed on his pitching shoulder, and he was never the same afterward. I suppose I shouldn't describe that as a "tragedy," but it sure does seem like a terrible waste of something.

And if the Yankees and Red Sox don't stop acting like little boys, somebody else is going to get hurt.

Yes, there's plenty of blame to go around. On the field, just looking at Game 3 there's ...

Pedro Martinez
Karim Garcia (slide)
Manny Ramirez
Don Zimmer
Jeff Nelson
Karim Garcia (bullpen)

Martinez started things, so he probably gets a little extra credit. But even if we give him two demerits, the Yankees still "win" the Network Battle of Nitwits, 4-3.

Or maybe Pedro gets three demerits because in addition to starting everything with the fastball behind Garcia's head, he also taunted. In which case it's a 4-4 tie.

Off the field, we can blame George Steinbrenner for being George Steinbrenner, but can't we also blame Larry Lucchino for calling the Yankees "the Evil Empire"? If the Yankees are Evil, then what are the Red Sox? Manny Ramirez makes more money than any single Yankee, and while it's true that the Yankees outbid the Red Sox for Jose Contreras, didn't the Red Sox essentially outbid the other 28 teams?

There is, I suppose, some pleasure in watching these two overstuffed, underdeveloped squads going at each other like a couple of bullies behind the gym. Personally, though, I'd rather just see some good clean baseball. With nobody getting hurt.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.