By IAN O'CONNOR
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
BOSTON - Long before he fired his left hook at a clubhouse wall, Kevin Brown started the madness. He became baseball's first $100 million man. He inspired the idea in Alex Rodriguez's dreamy head that a great shortstop could score a contract worth nearly two and a half times that of a great pitcher.
Great? Brown only measured up to the adjective in the bursar's office. His perk-pumped $105 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers was a fool's play from the start. Brown had one 20-win season to his name, and he hadn't won any of the four World Series games he had started.
He wasn't ever going to be worth nine figures over seven years. Fine. The New York Yankees don't care that Brown has been an Ishtar-sized flop when measured against the crazy Hollywood money the Dodgers gave him.
In the wake of another dreadful Javier Vazquez start last night, the Yankees don't need Brown to be worth the $15 million per year they're paying him. They only need him to be worth the trouble he's caused.
"It's not about making up," Brown said before Boston's 12-5 victory and after Joe Torre named him the starter opposite Curt Schilling in the last regular-season game the Yankees and Red Sox will play.
It's not about making up? Are you kidding me? Even a boob like David Wells had the sense to pick the offseason as the appropriate time to break his hand throwing a punch. OK, so Brown unleashed his non-pitching hand to punctuate a childish rant in the middle of a 3-1 loss to the Orioles on Sept. 3. But that fact only makes the offense less forgivable.
If Brown could've negotiated his blind rage enough to shatter his left hand instead of his right, he could've stopped the senseless assault altogether.
The Yankees' lead over the Red Sox fell to 2 games that night, and Brown's stupidity could've cost his team the division, home-field advantage in the playoffs and, yes, a parade. Torre was so livid, he couldn't have cared less if Brown never pitched for him again.
Just because his team increased its divisional lead in his absence, Brown doesn't get excused from his pennant penance. He missed seven weeks with a strained lower back and an intestinal parasite, only to sabotage his own return. Brown most certainly owes the Yankees for putting their season in jeopardy, for spraying graffiti all over their selfless pursuit with a remarkably selfish act.
"I don't think there's a guy in the clubhouse who hasn't been in a similar state of mind," Brown said, "having come in and broken a bat or kicked something or thrown something or whatever."
Nobody wants to hear this lame excuse. Brown crushed the third and fifth metacarpal bones in his left hand. It's not quite the same as Paul O'Neill spiking his helmet in the dirt.
"He owes his team something," Torre said, "but not because he broke his hand. He owes his team something because he's one of the guys we count on."
Brown owes the Yankees something on both fronts. He wasn't just their answer to Boston's acquisition of Schilling; Brown was the Yankees' answer to the departure of Andy Pettitte.
Remember the doom that hung over the city like a toxic cloud that December day Pettitte signed with his hometown Astros? The Yankees went into damage control before the next morning's papers could chronicle their demise. They told everyone they had Brown in the bag for the good-riddance price of Jeff Weaver, a couple of minor-leaguers, and $3 million out of George Steinbrenner's bottomless vault.
In effect, the 39-year-old Brown replaced Pettitte, Mr. October for the year 2003.
"When I knew we were getting (Brown)," Torre said, "I knew we were getting fire. I knew we were getting a guy who wasn't afraid to take the ball."
In the absence of Pettitte, Wells and Roger Clemens, the manager conceded that the Yankees needed someone to aid Mike Mussina. Torre couldn't bank on Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber. El Duque, the sequel, was a mystery. Javier Vazquez was a National Leaguer, a big winner in a losing situation. The Red Sox ripped him last night, dropping Vazquez lower on the post-season depth chart than Jason Giambi. Torre didn't even pat Vazquez on the back when he rescued him in the fifth.
So yes, the Yankees need Brown as much as Brown needs them. The pitcher will get two regular-season starts to prove his October worth.
"I've got to pitch pretty well to have a chance to really be a part of the team during the playoffs," Brown said. "Hopefully, this will be the first step in doing that."
Hopefully. All sins haven't been absolved. The Yankees are still planning to discipline Brown, and Brian Cashman said last night they won't wait for the season to end to settle on a penalty. Cashman also said that a strong Brown performance in October won't temper the degree of justice the Yankees have in mind. They did investigate the possibility of voiding the final $15 million year on Brown's contract, after all.
But in the here and now, Brown remains a critical piece of the Yankees' post-season pie. "Critical might be a strong word," Cashman maintained. "We won a lot of games without him this year. But yeah, if Kevin pitches the way he can, it would sure help."
Brown will face Schilling Sunday with padding, tape and an extra-strength glove protecting his left hand. It could be an uncomfortable afternoon for a man who enjoys his comforts. As part of his landmark contract, Brown secured hotel suites for road trips, eight premium season tickets and 12 private jet trips (including ground transportation services, of course) for family members wanting to travel to his games from their home in Macon, Ga.
Brown had the same deal for Dodgers playoff games, which wasn't a problem, since he never led the Dodgers to the playoffs. Brown hasn't led the Yankees to the playoffs, either, but he's got a month and change to cover that debt.
"This is not about me trying...to come back quickly and trying to apologize and make up for what I did," Brown said.
Yes it is. Kevin Brown doesn't have to be worth his salary; he just has to be worth the trouble.
It shouldn't be too much to ask.
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