Happy New Year, I hope you enjoy this sample:
ONE OF the central organizing principles of Dave’s defense was that Remo Centrella carried a deep-seated anger within him that was explosive when triggered. It was a rage that had been caught on television three times.
The first time was when an umpire nullified a walk-off home run after ruling Remo’s foot missed third while rounding the bases. Remo charged out of the dugout and had to be restrained by a half a dozen teammates. The second time was when Remo went after a pitcher he thought had intentionally thrown at his head. And the third time was when TV cameras caught Remo getting into a fight with a teammate that he didn’t think had hustled.
Whitney wanted to play videotape from all three incidents for the jury, but Judge Friedman ruled the defense would only be allowed to play one of them.
“You can reference the other two as part of your theory,” she instructed, “but I’m not going to take up a half a day of court time watching baseball fights. One video will make your point.”
Bass objected to the admission of any of the fights. He claimed they should be excluded because they would have too prejudicial of an effect on the jury, but Friedman overruled him. She said the footage was close enough to the crux of Dave’s defense that the probative value of showing the tape outweighed its prejudicial effect.
She gave Whitney the choice of which incident to use. He chose the fight with Remo’s teammate because it lasted twice as long as the other two confrontations and because he thought it showed Remo at his worst.
“That’s how Centrella looked when I was on the ground,” Dave said, when he and Whitney screened the fight together.
Remo’s fight with Richie Decker was a national story when it happened. It was during Remo’s fourth year with the Barons, and it started because he didn’t think Richie hustled after a fly ball.
The Barons were playing Detroit at the Keith on a blistering Sunday afternoon in July. There were two outs in the top of the 8th, and Atlanta was getting shellacked, 9-3. The vast majority of fans, everybody but the die-hards, had left the stadium by the time Detroit’s catcher, Lee Plasencia, connected with a hanging curve into left-center field that scored two more Detroit runners. It was a good hit, but one Decker would have caught if he ran hard after it.
On paper, Richie Decker was a player with all the gifts needed to be an All-Star. A nine-year veteran, he had the kind of natural ability that made General Managers drool, which was why there always seemed to be another team willing to take a chance on a player who had never lived up to his hype.
Before the season began, Ray Manning had been the latest guy to fall in love with Decker’s upside. He talked himself into signing him as a free agent, rationalizing that all Richie needed was the chance to join a playoff contender.
Things hadn’t worked out the way Ray hoped. Decker had shown some definite flashes of brilliance in Atlanta, but most of them had taken place on dance floors in Buckhead.
In a move the Barons didn’t anticipate, Richie’s wife divorced him before the start of the season. She stayed back in Seattle with their kids, while Atlanta’s newest multi-millionaire rolled into town a free man.
Richie set the tone at his initial press conference, when one of the local beat writers asked what he was most looking forward to about playing for the Barons.
“Them “Dirty South” girls,” Richie said, with a huge, gap-toothed, smile. “They’re gonna love Richie Decker.”
Ray fined him five grand for the answer, but Richie was just being honest. During the first two months of the season, he gave away tickets faster than the Barons’ PR department.
The problem was, Richie’s tickets were in the same section where the Barons’ wives sat, and Richie’s guests tended to look more like biker chicks from Daytona Beach than former sorority girls from the University of Georgia. Nobody in the Barons organization could figure out where Richie found such a steady supply of trashy women.
Several of the players’ wives complained about the outfits that were showing up in the family section. At one point, after one of Richie’s “dates” showed up wearing Daisy Dukes and a tight red, white and blue bikini top for a game on Independence Day, Barons catcher Greg Weatherford asked Richie to tone it down.
“My wife said the young lady spent half the game sticking her pierced tongue out while flashing devil horns up to the sky,” Weatherford said. “My daughters were literally afraid of her.”
Weatherford was the Barons’ captain, but Richie didn’t defer to him.
“I’m a popular guy, Greg. What can I say?” Richie said. “Matter of fact, you and me should hang out sometime. One of my lady friends said she wants to try and corrupt you.”
“You’re sick,” Weatherford said and turned his back on Richie.
“Man can’t live on bread alone, Greg,” Richie said, with a loud laugh. “Man cannot live on bread alone.”
By the time of the Detroit game, the tension between Richie and his teammates had been building for almost a month. Half the Barons weren’t speaking to him, but Richie didn’t care. He had been traded enough times to know baseball was a business and that teammates were temporary.
Remo had seen Richie come dragging into the locker room the morning of the Detroit game. The Barons had won the night before, and Richie looked like he had never made it home. At one point, during the top of the 6th inning, Remo looked over at Richie, who was in the middle of a full yawn. Richie didn’t even bother trying to conceal it when he saw Remo looking at him. He just laughed, like the whole thing was a big goof.
So by the time Richie didn’t hustle after the ball hit by Plasencia, Remo had seen enough. He sprinted back to the dugout when the inning ended and waited for Richie on the top step.
“Hit the showers. You’re done for the day.”
“What’d you say, C?” Richie said, waking up for the first time all game.
“I said get out of my dug-out, Richie. Hit the showers, and we can try it again tomorrow.”
“Oh, so you the manager now, Remo? Give me a frigging break, Bro. That ball was hit harder than it looked. Now, let me get by….Richie needs some Gatorade.”
By this time, most of the team, including their manager, Eddie Danko, saw Remo and Richie starting to square up. Danko was happy to see it; he had been waiting for Remo to assert himself as the Barons’ leader.
“You’re not getting any Gatorade, Richie. You haven’t earned it. Now get into the tunnel before I kick your ass down there.”
“Yoa, C, you better save the Rambo act for the rookies. You know you don’t want a piece of me.”
Richie tried to move forward.
“Don’t do it, Richie,” Remo said and blocked his path.
Richie Decker knew Remo was the Barons’ franchise player, but he had too much ego to back down, especially now that all eyes in the dugout were on them.
Orlando Kure, the Barons’ second baseman, was due up to bat, but he stayed in the dugout to watch the confrontation. Because Kure wasn’t at the plate, the home plate umpire walked over to the dugout to give the Barons a delay of game warning. The TV cameras followed him, and when they did, they picked up on Remo and Richie jawing at each other.
“Pardon me,” Richie said, and put his hand on Remo’s chest.
Remo responded with a roundhouse to Richie’s head, but Richie put his left hand up reflexively and blocked most of the punch.
“Now you done it,” Richie said, and punched Remo in the mouth. The punch knocked Remo down onto the grass behind the first base line, but he didn’t stay down. He jumped up and launched himself into Richie’s mid-section. Richie stumbled backwards, but stayed on his feet by hanging on to Remo’s shirt. Remo wrapped his arms around Richie’s waist and began to drive him backwards, like a blocking sled.
Richie was backpedaling and punching Remo in the back of his head, but his punches didn’t have any power because he was off-balance. They were glancing off Remo and just making him angrier.
By the time they reached home plate, Remo’s momentum overwhelmed Richie, who fell backwards onto the ground. Remo stood halfway up and unloaded a punch down into Richie’s face that fractured his cheekbone.
Richie turned over and covered up as Remo towered over him. By that point, Remo’s teammates were pulling him off Richie, while the TV cameras zoomed in. Remo’s facial features were contorted, and he was spitting blood, as he yelled at Richie that he would “frigging kill him.”
Or at least that’s what Whitney’s lip reading expert claimed Remo was saying on the tape. There was no audio available, so there was no proof of what exactly Remo said. Just the expert’s opinion. Although on cross-examination, Bass got her to concede it was possible Remo could have been saying, “I’ve had my fill of you.” Either way, the video was undeniable proof Remo could snap when angry.
Richie Decker ended up on the disabled list for almost a month and Dale Agee gave Remo a ten game suspension. Publicly, Ray and the Barons condemned the fight, but privately, they were happy Remo finally stepped up and demanded accountability from his teammates.
Remo and Richie never discussed the fight, but on the night Richie returned to the Barons’ line-up, Remo gave him a public embrace. And instead of ripping the team apart, the fight seemed to bring it closer together. That October, with Richie Decker hustling on every play, the Barons won their first World Series title.