A Pox on this Bullpen

Originally published May 13, 1997, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe


In a world where we often tolerate contemptible behavior by those we’ve known for years, it is weird how so many people — like me — hate complete strangers.

Here’s how Webster’s defines hate: “Intense hostility toward an object (as an individual) that has frustrated the release of an inner tension.”

Here’s how I define hate: “A deep, self-destructive, long-lasting dislike of these incompetent slob relief pitchers who keep coming out of the Red Sox bullpen to toss absolute meatballs that even Ray Charles could hit.”

I don’t know Heathcliff Slocumb. I have never met Rich Garces. Never shook hands with Ricky “Serial-Killer Face” Trlicek, OK?

I hate them. Hate them all.

Believe me, I understand that this is illogical as well as immature. I also understand that it is quite real.

For example, let’s return now to 3:55 p.m. Saturday afternoon: Slocumb the undertaker is on the mound doing his best impression of Little Stevie Wonder trying to find home plate.

He walks a couple guys. Botches a perfect double-play ball. Bases loaded. Juan Gonzalez in the box.

Gonzalez is a big, strong guy who plays for the Texas Rangers. With his swing, if he played for the Red Sox he would absolutely hit 107 home runs a year here.

While Slocumb struggled with the dog bone in his throat, Gonzalez could not wait for his turn. In seconds, it was three balls, no strikes and everyone in North America knew Gonzalez would be swinging at anything that came close.

Ever see a kid toss a beach ball? Ever witness a loving parent throwing underhand to a child just learning how to hit? Ever set up a T-ball stand?

Slocumb, making millions for his effort, enabled Juan Gonzalez to establish a new land-speed record for the time it takes a ball to travel from Back Bay to Central Square, Cambridge. A Polaris missile takes longer to get to target than the rocket that came off his bat took to clear the wall.

I hate Slocumb. I hate his set-up guys, too. Calling them “relief” pitchers is like calling Timothy McVeigh a prankster.

By 4:05 p.m. on a chilly Saturday, 28,000 spectators were ready to put on their Nikes and cover themselves with a purple shroud. The spaceship behind the Hale-Bopp comet will get here before these clowns save a baseball game.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding: I’m sure Heathcliff Slocumb, fat Garces, Trlicek, and Jim Corsi are all very nice human beings. I bet they like kids and dogs, brush after every meal and stop for old ladies in the crosswalk.

But I hate them.

I do not hate Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, Mr. Rogers, Johnny Cochran, Sally Jesse Raphael or some of these truly loathsome individuals who clutter the corners of our lives. I don’t hate Saddam Hussein, Albert Belle, Dennis Rodman, Ulf Samuelson, Rudy Giuliani, Lamar Alexander, Peter Jennings, Ricki Lake or any of these other semipublic dolts who can be so incredibly annoying.

I hate the bullpen. All of them. Because they are not getting it done. Because they are stealing my summer right here in the heart of spring. Because they are lame and predictable. Because they have gotten me to the point where I automatically tune out as soon as they are called in. Because I know what the ending will be. Because they are right out of a Stephen King horror story. Because they stink.

I love Jimy Williams. I love the third baseman, the shortstop, the first baseman. Hey, I’m so soft I even love Joe Kerrigan, Wendell Kim and Dave Jauss, coaches all.

And I am willing to wait till next year to love Suppan, Rose and Pavano, who might provide us with starters capable of going beyond the fifth inning. I love you, man.

However, I’m never going to make it to next year with these dopes on the mound. I’d rather see Dick Radatz out there; he’s almost 80 years old now with a waist size bigger than Route 128, but he is still better today than what we saw yesterday.

Hate is a bizarre emotion. If allowed to prosper, it can consume us. Here in the second week of May, I am totally obsessed with guys I don’t even know.

I understand that I have no life. I hate a pack of perfect strangers who can’t throw strikes.

Call it stupid, ridiculous or juvenile. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t call the bullpen.