|Tuesday, March 11
Updated: March 12, 5:32 PM ET
Vizquel-Mesa feud hits a high point
By Jayson Stark
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- We don't know what kind of month John Grisham and Joyce Carol Oates are having. But over in the baseball portion of the literary universe, March definitely hasn't been Author's Month.
First came David (F. Scott) Wells, a man who couldn't even get his own autobiographical quotes straight. Now -- in the latest chapter of our forthcoming lecture series, "It's Better to Bat Right and Throw Right than Book Write" -- it's Cleveland shortstop Omar (Hemingway) Vizquel's turn to bask in the glow of authorship.
It's actually nine months since Vizquel's autobiography, "Omar! My Life On and Off the Field," hit the shelves. But the reviews keep pouring in. Or at least the reviews from Vizquel's former pal, Jose Mesa, keep pouring in.
On Monday, the day before Mesa was scheduled to pitch for the Phillies against the Indians for the first time this spring, he told the Bucks County Courier Times' Randy Miller he was so inspired by reading Vizquel's book that "I want to kill him."
Sheez. And Wells thought his reviews were rough.
"I don't know if that's really what he meant when he said that," Vizquel said Tuesday, after hearing of Mesa's kind words. "Sometimes we would say in Spanish, 'I'm gonna kill you.' But in the translation, that's not really what we meant."
Well, that may be true in some cases. But we're guessing not in this particular case. Seeing as how Mesa also said: "I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him."
Hmmm. If something got lost in the translation there, it was Vizquel's chances of leaning over the plate the next time Mesa marches in there. But that's about it.
At least Vizquel's book never claimed Mesa was half-drunk when he blew the Game 7 save that cost the Indians the '97 World Series. But Vizquel did suggest in the book that the mound was the last place Mesa wanted to be when that ninth inning rolled around.
"The eyes of the world were focused on every move we made," Vizquel wrote. "Unfortunately, Jose's own eyes were vacant. Completely empty. Nobody home. You could almost see right through him. Not long after I looked into his vacant eyes, he blew the save and the Marlins tied the game."
Vizquel recalled the passage vividly Tuesday. Unlike Wells, he didn't claim he never said what he said. But Vizquel did contend he never meant to hurt anybody, even though he undoubtedly was pretty sure Mesa wouldn't take those words as Vizquel's way of saying, "Way to go, Jose."
"The book started with Game 7 of the World Series, the most exciting game of my life," Vizquel said. "That's why it started with that day. I didn't say he was a choker the whole season. I always said we never would have gotten to the World Series without Jose ..."
At another point, Vizquel said his description of Mesa "came out kinda strange, kinda weird. That could have hurt somebody's feelings, the way it came out. And I didn't mean it with that intent. But it's too late now."
Hoo, boy. Sure is.
Even before he contributed his latest review to Baseball Literary Digest this week, Mesa had made it clear last June that he begged to differ. He marched into an interleague game in June, just after the book was released, and nailed Vizquel right in the back.
"I thought he already took care of business," Vizquel said Tuesday. "He already hit me once. He hit me twice actually, because he hit me once in Seattle. I don't know why he hit me then. I hadn't done anything to him then."
The next time they meet, on the other hand, the lines will have been clearly drawn, like some kind of Vince McMahon production. But alas, by the time Mesa stalked into Tuesday's game in the eighth inning, Vizquel had called it an afternoon. So those waiting to see what happens next could have a long, long wait.
The Phillies and Indians don't play each other again in spring training. And they aren't scheduled to meet again in the regular season until at least 2005. Officially, Mesa will be 39 again by 2005. And Vizquel's contract with the Indians will have run out, too. So who knows when and where this duel will resume. If ever.
But even though Mesa's Fu Manchu is bigger than the 175-pound Vizquel, the plucky Indians shortstop said he isn't afraid of his one-time buddy.
After being informed that Mesa wanted to fight him, Vizquel said, "That would make me happy. I'd go and fight him. Hey, anything can happen, man. When Jones fought Ruiz, that went against the odds, didn't it? Of course, everybody says I have soft hands, so I don't know. I'm a flyweight. He's a heavyweight."
Ah, but no need to call in Don King. And no need to call in the proper authorities, either. Vizquel said he had no plans to call the police. But he also said he had no plans to apologize.
"I don't think he's the type of man who would take an apology," Vizquel said. "He's not the sort of guy you could go over to and say, 'Sorry for what I wrote.' "
Now that, friends, is what we call a good scouting report. Asked Monday if he would listen to an apology, Mesa had said: "If he comes to apologize, I will punch him right in the face. And then I'll kill him. If you're a writer and you want to write a good book, you don't write a story about somebody else."
Told of that quote, Vizquel replied: "See? I told you."
At least now Vizquel knows how the rest of us authors felt when we were trying to pal around with Albert Belle. There are times this writing gig can be overrated. And barring a late surge onto the New York Times best-seller list, Vizquel is discovering this is one of them.
"Obviously, when you write a baseball book," Vizquel said, "there are a lot of people involved. You're around 25 guys. There's a lot of controversy. There are a lot of different personalities. You don't know who will get hurt, who will take it the wrong way. Feelings get hurt. Some people react different than other. Some get mad. Some have a better sense of humor."
Well, we never did get that Ph.D in psychology, but we think it's safe to say Mesa didn't fall in the group with the sense of humor. It's also safe to say that the tell-all baseball book by the active tell-all baseball player has a chance to become an endangered species after the reception Vizquel and Wells have gotten lately.
Darn. Just when sales were booming, too.
Asked if he was already thinking about a sequel, Vizquel chuckled.
"Yes," he said. "But I think I'm going to have to wait till after I retire."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.