12 January 2004

Rocket's Returning

Back in Septober, I suggested that the baseball game to which a friend and I were going on 11 September 2003 might be the last time that a certain pitcher (we’ll call him “Roger Clemens” because he could kick our ass, or just throw a fractured bat at it) was ever going to pitch at home in the regular season. My reasoning was that his next scheduled home start would fall on the second to last day of the season, and that Torre, having wrapped up the AL East title sometime back in July, would likely rest Clemens in preparation for the playoffs. As it turned out, Clemens was availed the opportunity to beat up on the lowly Orioles on September 27th, and did just that, for his 310th career win.

So while I had expected to see an historical game, it was not nearly as historical as I had hoped. There have been only nineteen wins #307 by any major league pitcher in history, and fewer than half of those pitchers are still alive. Only eight of these wins could have been seen by fans who are still alive and able to recount said 307th win in some sort of reasonably lucid manner. So I’m among maybe 100,000 to 150,000 people who attended such a game. So I got dat goin’ for me. Which is nice.

Ah, but the real suckers are all those people who went to the Baltimore game, thinking that they were guaranteed to see the last regular season game of “Roger Clemens” and spent a pile of money on Rocket souvenirs and film and flashbulbs and such. The joke’s on them now, because the Rocket’s not gone at all, he just changed his mind and decided to go to Houston instead. Maybe he figured that a half decent year (( wins) bumps him up into a solid 12th on the all time list, just behind Phil Niekro and his hero (Roger’s not Phil’s), Nolan Ryan. And of course, he only needs 38 strikeouts to surpass Steve Carlton for second place on the all-time list right behind Nolan Ryan, who, as you will recall, is not Phil Niekro’s hero.

Apparently Clemens was talked into un-retiring by his good friend and fellow defector, Andy Pettitte. Both of them live near Houston and can therefore stay at home whenever the team is at home, and thereby spend more time with their kids and wives, which, on a scal of one-to-ten, is an honorable desire. Let's just see how well he likes giving up fly balls that Bernie used to catch and watching them clear the wall at the JuiceBox, and having to stand in and hit against a teammate of a guy he just plunked.

For his part, Yankees GM Brian Cashman isn't apparently taking the news too hard, and has not bashed Clemens for changing his mind, at least not publicly. On the other hand, have you ever seen Brian Cashman? Clemens picks stuff bigger than Cashman outof his spikes between pitches, so I guess I wouldn't be badmouthing him either, if I were that puny.

The problem is that Clemens was supposed to retire. Give up. Walk away and not look back, you know? Because of this, the Yankees did not bother to offer him salary arbitration, preferring instead to just let him go and not take the chance that he would change his mind, accepting arbitration. Had he done so, the Yankees would have been prevented from cutting his salary more than 15% (I think) from what he made in 2003, which was technically only a little over $7 mil, but actually closer to $10 mil, with all the deferred money. They might have been on the hook for something like $9 million to pay for a 41-year old LAIM pitcher who won’t likely contribute 200 innings in 2004. But if they’d known that he would be willing to come back at all, don’t you think they would have offered him a contract before the deadline, for something like the relatively paltry $5 million the Astros gave him? Of course they would! Five million bucks for something like 180 innings of slightly above average pitching is (sadly) a bargain these days.

And even if they chose not to resign him, the Yankees could have at least gotten a draft pick out of the deal. With their success, it’s not often that they get a very high draft pick, and with all the free agents they tend to sign, it’s sometimes the third or fourth round before they get any at all. Pettitte and Clemens would likely have given them Houston’s top two picks in the 2004 draft, and the Yanks, unlike the Giants, actually like bringing additional, young talent into the organization.

But in the end, as I mentioned, the real joke is on us, the fans. For we all wasted a lot of film trying to take that last picture of that last pitch of that last out of that last inning of that last game at [City and Park names] during [day/night] on a [Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday] for the distinguished career of “Roger Clemens.”

I hope all the memorabilia dealers managed to sell those pictures already, because they just became pretty worthless.


Incidentally, Dan McLaughlin, the Baseball Crank, has got a post discussing the established Win Shares levels of the best 25 players in baseball. Way to break it down, Dan.

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