BOSTON: Make no mistake: Nobody came out of Fenway Park on October 11 looking good.
But in the public-opinion game, sometimes it's enough simply not to look as bad as the other guy. Don Zimmer, 72-year-old bench coach for the New York Yankees, accomplished just that when he stepped to the plate and delivered a tearful apology - something no one else caught up in the macho posturing that day was man enough to do.
It all started in the 4th inning. Boston ace Pedro Martinez hit Yankee outfielder Karim Garcia on the shoulder with a pitch. Verbal threats and menacing gestures followed, until Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens found himself fending off a charging Manny Ramirez, who took offense at a pitch that even Boston columnists deemed harmless.
But Zimmer provided the sad climax. The man whose career was cut short by one too many fastballs to the head took a swing at 31-year-old Martinez, who flung the lunging behemoth to the ground by his head. The dignity of both teams fell with him.
Then came the inevitable crisis control - or so you would have thought.
Zimmer was the only central figure that day to engage the press.
"I'm embarrassed by what happened. I'm embarrassed for the Yankees, the Red Sox, the fans, the umpires, and my family," said Zimmer, his eyes filling with tears and his hulking frame starting to shudder. "That's all I have to say. I'm sorry."
How effective was the apology? When fines were handed down, Zimmer - the only man that day to throw a punch - took by far the smallest hit.
And the media followed suit, lambasting nearly everyone involved in the fracas other than Zimmer, who was largely treated as a victim.
Of course, you don't advance in the playoffs through good PR; you do so by winning. But is victory still as sweet if you alienate fans in the process? Zimmer let us know where he stands. Long-suffering Sox fans, who haven't tasted World Series victory since 1918, still await their answer.