Wells remembers day of perfection
Former Yanks lefty in booth for TBS on 11-year anniversary
NEW YORK -- Every May 17, David Wells looks at the calendar and lets his thoughts drift back across the street to the old Yankee Stadium, where he achieved baseball immortality by setting down 27 Minnesota Twins in order.
It is a fun twist on this anniversary of Wells' perfect game, the 15th in Major League history, that he will be two levels above the playing field in the broadcast booth as the Yankees and Twins again face off.
"No matter where I go around the country, people say they were at the game or watched the game," Wells said. "It's kind of neat. It's a different stadium, but I get to come back here and relive it. This day is always going to be a special day in my heart and my mind."
Wells is calling his second game as a color commentator for TBS on Sunday, joining Chip Caray and Ron Darling on the press level. Hardly a day goes by that Wells is not reminded about the afternoon in 1998 -- Beanie Baby Day, collectors will remember -- a game that took on lore as the years went by.
But it took until Saturday night for Wells to actually watch the game tape, watching on YES with fellow broadcast booth convert David Cone and a friend. Wells noted his own intensity on the mound, especially one at-bat where he fell behind Paul Molitor, 3-1, but for the most part, the trio spent the night laughing and recalling the good old days.
"They were just talking about my 'gobbler,'" Wells said. "We couldn't have any facial hair, so I couldn't hide the fat in my face."
Wells has learned to accept his flaws. In 2003, Wells published an autobiography, "Perfect I'm Not," in which he claimed to have pitched the perfect game while being hung over. The Yankees fined Wells $100,000 for disparaging comments in the book, but Wells said Sunday that he had no regrets about letting those details slip out.
"I wouldn't change anything, really," Wells said. "Did it sound good? Did it look good? No -- nobody would have known anything if I didn't say anything, obviously. I've always been pretty straightforward. I try not to lie and deceive too much. There are certain things in life you just don't want out there, and we all have our skeletons."
As he recounted Sunday, Wells had been invited to attend a taping of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" that night and had planned to return home immediately after the show wrapped, knowing he was pitching the next day.
But "SNL" producer Marci Klein begged Wells to attend the after-party, telling him that Dennis Rodman had one of his best games after hanging out with the cast. That was good enough for Wells, who spent the rest of the night listening to the off-camera comedy.
"I've done it before, but it's not good for the game," Wells said. "There's people out there that want to try to do the things that you do. That's not a good role model there. I don't regret it, but I guess it could happen, to be honest with you."
Having attended the exhibition games against the Cubs in early April, Wells said that he thinks the new Yankee Stadium is "beautiful" but noted that the same aura of history and fan intensity has not translated across 161st Street, despite the Yankees' best efforts to capture tradition.
"It's just not going to be the same," Wells said. "These guys have a long road ahead of them to make this stadium as successful as the one across the street."
He also shares a popular viewpoint that the new Yankee Stadium seems to play homer-happy compared to its predecessor, noting that Joe Mauer's home run to dead center Saturday didn't seem like it would have left the old ballpark.
"For some reason, the ball is just jumping," Wells said. "As a pitcher from there to here, you're going to have to adjust and pitch smart. There's no advantage to anybody. The Yankees have no advantage here, because it's a new stadium."
Not that Wells would pass up on an opportunity to get back on the mound. He tried in vain to secure a big league chance last year after wrapping up his 2007 season with the Dodgers, attending Padres home games -- he has season tickets -- while trying to explain to his kids why they can no longer go in the clubhouse.
"I'm going to miss it forever," Wells said. "I play softball now. But I'm in a beer league now, so it's great."
While he claims to still own that 12-to-6 curveball that baffled Minnesota that day in 1998, Wells now acknowledges his fastball is below big league caliber, so he is beginning to transition to life on the other side of the microphone.
"I'm in the real world here, working with the guys that I screamed at half the time," Wells said. "It's kind of cool for me, because now I'm seeing the other side from player to broadcaster. I'm basically a member of the media."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.