For the first time since Ball Four was published in 1970, the biggest news in baseball is about a book. In David Wells's prose debut, Perfect I'm Not! Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball, the Yankees' lefty claims he was "half drunk" when he threw a perfect game against the Twins in 1998. He also states that up to 40% of major leaguers are on steroids and that teammates Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina, as well as former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, are, to put it more politely than Wells did, jerks.
By the end of last week players from Fort Myers to Phoenix were weighing in on Boomer's bashings, Wells's publisher had pushed up the release date to benefit from the brouhaha, and Wells was taken to the woodshed by manager Joe Torre and G.M. Brian Cashman, who reprimanded him for "tarnishing the Yankees' image." Said Wells of their meeting, "It was not pleasant." It's nice to see that the pen can still stir things up in the world of sports. It would be even nicer if the book weren't so hard to believe.
Start with Wells's most eye-catching claim. Mets pitcher David Cone—a former Yankee who is portrayed throughout the book as a Prince Hal to Wells's Falstaff—scoffs at the notion that Wells pitched perfectly while plowed. "He maybe had a few drinks the night before, and maybe he was hungover," said Cone, who was with Wells that evening in New York. "But he was not drunk." Consider, too, Wells's claim that he was on the mound for the Blue Jays in 1999 when Valentine was ejected, then returned to the dugout in disguise. "I can say he's a liar," Valentine told The New York Times, "because he wasn't on the mound when I was thrown out of the game."
Clemens, though not as upset as Valentine, has similar feelings about Wells's veracity. Last week he revealed that he calls Wells "Eli" because " 'e lies" constantly. "If a story goes over 30 seconds," Clemens added, "he's lying."
Wells wrote his book with one Chris Kreski, whose previous gigs include Beavis and Butt-head. This may explain why Perfect reads like Beavis and Boomer: "Trust me," Wells writes, "if I were Mike Piazza, that broken bat would still be shoved up Roger's ass." A shoddy attempt to sell books, you say? Wells, who reportedly got a mid-six-figure advance, wouldn't disagree. He has boasted that Perfect will put his kids through college.
Still, it's possible that Wells will need to scrape by on the $3-million-plus incentives he gets from the team he just embarrassed. Why, you have to wonder, would anyone shell out $25.95 for Perfect? There is already ample evidence that Wells stays out too late and drinks too much—his beer belly, his late-night brawls, his 7.15 daytime (read: morning after) ERA in 2002—available for free. What's more, Wells has lately been backtracking faster than Bernie Williams on a drive to deep center. What about 40% of his peers using steroids? "I don't know who's juicing," he said last week. "I couldn't tell you." (Co-author Kreski said that the figure might be revised downward by the March 14 publication date.) And being in the bag for his perfect game? Nah, Wells now says, "I wasn't drunk.... I took some aspirin and had a headache the next day." Not as big as the one he's gotten from his first foray into literature.