- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

As the owner of more than 150 books on baseball, I've never found one that didn't have at least a few redeeming qualities. Until now.
David Wells the, uh, free-spirited New York Yankees pitcher, certainly picked the right title for his autobiography: "Perfect I'm Not" ($25.95, William Morrow, 415 pages, illus.). Although the book is decently ghosted by Chris Kreski, it's basically trash. And that's where my copy is going, in the nearest trash can. Unless I feel like ripping out the pages and introducing them to a shredder.
By now, you've undoubtedly heard the two big "news" items concerning the book: Wells' contention that 25 to 40 percent of major leaguers take steroids and the revelation that he was hung over worse than John Barleycorn himself when he pitched a perfect game for the Yankees in 1998.
With the prompting of a $100,000 fine from the image-conscious Yankees, Big Bad David since has changed his mind on both counts. He now says 10 to 25 percent of players pop pills. And he now says he "certainly wasn't drunk" when he Larsen-ized the Minnesota Twins.
This sort of thing puts him in league with Charles Barkley, who claimed a few years back that he was misquoted in his own autobiography. Such statements shouldn't surprise you, unless you believe that jocks really sit down at word processors and write their own stuff. And if you do believe that, leave some lettuce and carrots out next month for the Easter bunny.
The fact that a lot of professional ballplayers like to cuss, drink and even engage in sins of the flesh isn't exactly startling in this day and age; the two Jims, Brosnan and Bouton, covered the topic literarily more than 30 years ago. Nonetheless, Wells and Kreski obviously thought such non-revelations would have shock value, if value is the word.
Besides, there's no way the pitcher could make an accurate guess as to how many of his peers use steroids, though he has played for six major league teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays and Yankees twice each. I mean, is it 10 percent, David, 40 percent, or don't you have a clue?
Same thing with the allegation that he was drunk as a skunk before the perfect game how could anybody dispute or prove it? I've never heard of a retroactive sobriety test, especially one that goes back nearly five years.
And is it necessary to toss in the "f" word, or a derivative, every two sentences? Such pointless profanity is offensive, particularly in a book that might be read by some children whose parents don't have any idea who or what David Wells is.
So what is he, aside from being a pretty good pitcher (185-121 over 16 seasons)? Well, Wells is a beer-guzzling good ol' boy with about as much self-control as your average chimpanzee (although such a reference may offend some chimps I know). He says and does whatever he feels like, and if anybody doesn't like it, tough tooties.
Maybe a lot of rebels with or without a cause will love the fact Wells doesn't take any fertilizer from anybody. To my way of thinking, that's just an excuse to act like a little kid who hasn't grown up.
Oddly perhaps, Wells says he admired the saintly Cal Ripken during 1996, when he labored in the Baltimore Orioles vineyard. Why? First, because Ripken was a living legend, and, second, because he always gave "110 percent." The third reason seems more logical for Wells: "We O's kneeled before Cal because he was absolutely and inarguably capable of kicking every one of our [posteriors]."
If you say so, David only next time say so in private.
Pass the trash can, please.
"Pride of October: What It Was to Be Young and a Yankee" by Bill Madden ($24.95, Warner Books, 416 pages, illus.) If your taste in baseball books runs more toward the traditional, you'll enjoy this look at the game when it really was the national pastime, as experienced by 17 former Yankees and one former Yankees wife.
Madden, a veteran sportswriter for New York's Daily News, manages to offer interesting anecdotes stemming from visits with illustrious pinstripers like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto, Ralph Houk, Bobby Richardson, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly and Paul O'Neill. He also tracks down lesser Yankees like Marius Russo, Tommy Byrne, Charlie Silvera and Ron Blomberg. (Trivia buffs cherish Blomberg's identity as the American League's first designated hitter in 1973.)
The schtick of revisiting old ballplayers has been done to death since Roger Kahn pioneered the genre with "The Boys of Summer" in 1972, but Madden's effort is more interesting than most because his subjects by and large are guys we rooted heartily for or against in the '50s, '60s and '70s.
In the chapter on Berra, Madden even relates a new Yogi-ism. Attempting to give the writer directions to his house in Montclair, N.J., Yogi said, "You turn left on Highland Avenue and then it isn't too far, it just seems that way. When you get to the house, you'll see it."
Writes Madden: "Of course Yogi knew what he was saying. (It was just the rest of us who could never understand.)"

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