Clemens' act is growing tired ... especially for $22M
Posted: Wednesday January 19, 2005 1:10PM; Updated: Thursday January 20, 2005 11:12AM
Is that a $22 million smile the Rocket is wearing?
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
A few thoughts while wishing that baseball, which has long invited presidents to throw out the season's first pitch, returned the favor at presidential inaugurations. How great would it be to see Barry Bonds throw out the First Address after President Bush is sworn in Thursday? "Ask not what your trainer is putting into your body ..."
Is anyone else getting a bit weary of Roger Clemens' act? First, the requisite rundown of his laurels: He's a 300-game winner; he has nearly as many Cy Youngs as toes; he's assured of a spot in Cooperstown; even after 20-plus years he's a flame-throwing intimidator; etc. Under the rules of baseball society, if anyone has earned the right to call his own shots and generally behave like a raving egomaniac, it's the Rocket. I'll also grant that he was underpaid last year, when he earned roughly $7 million in salary and bonuses. But Clemens went way over the line with his $22 million arbitration request.
His endless should-I-stay-or-should-I-retire dance is bad enough. (Let's not forget that Clemens still hasn't said he's definitely playing this season.) The Astros, who made a counteroffer of $13.5 million, stand to benefit greatly on the field and at the box office from having Houston's favorite homeboy in uniform. But they've been exceedingly patient while Clemens hems and haws about whether he'll grace them with his presence in 2005.
Roger, it's all about you and what's best for your family. But has it occurred to you that, with spring training a month away, Houston GM Tim Purpura might want to know if he has a giant rotation hole to fill? You have the luxury of making a last-minute decision to play golf on Opening Day. The Astros, on the other hand, are pretty much locked in to playing that day, and they're going to need a pitcher.
How does Clemens show his appreciation for their patience? By smacking them with a salary request that would make him the highest-paid pitcher ever ... by $4.5 million. While the Rocket has boosted season-ticket sales and local interest in the franchise, the Astros still aren't the Yankees. Their payroll has an upper limit; if it didn't, Carlos Beltran would still call Houston home.
Even if the Astros could afford $22 million for a pitcher who will soon be 43, Clemens' request turns the stomach because of his charade that he didn't come out of retirement last year for the money. He wanted to play in his hometown. He wanted to watch his kids play ball and spend as much time as possible with his family. (The Astros let him skip road trips when he wasn't pitching, a perk I suspect he's not willing to surrender even if he does get the $22 million.)
We've been led to believe the comeback decision is time-consuming because Clemens needs months to consult his family and search his soul. Turns out he's actually been spending the time doodling dollar signs and zeroes on his arbitration paperwork.
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At Chicago's O'Hare airport today, a last-ditch effort is being made to save the NHL season. Of course, the get-together doesn't include commissioner Gary Bettman or union head Bob Goodenow, so one wonders how much can actually be accomplished. (The participants, which include union president Trevor Linden and Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss, head of the league board of governors, thought the rhetoric would be less poisonous without Bettman and Goodenow present.)
I'm not optimistic. Neither side has indicated whether it will make a new proposal. Last week the union reportedly told its members to grab onto any jobs they can find in European leagues -- for next year.
Meanwhile, the effects of the lockout are beginning to trickle down. The Bruins have put their office staff on a three-day work week; most teams have begun layoffs and/or employee salary cuts. The company that manufactures the official NHL game pucks slashed its work force. And there are reports that some players skating at home so they'll be in shape and ready for training camp on a moment's notice have now shut down their workouts and moved into offseason mode. Barring a miracle at Wednesday's meeting, those players are probably making the right decision.
I had an interesting brush with greatness last week. While browsing for a new couch at a furniture store in Groton, Conn., my wife and I met a woman named Marjorie Cooke. Marjorie happened to mention that she's the great-granddaughter of one Daniel Lucius Adams, the man who invented the shortstop position somewhere around 1850. I know, it's the oldest sales trick in the book: Lure the customer in with a fantastic story about baseball's 19th-century roots, then get them to overbid on a couch. But the story checked out.
Speaking of President Bush's swearing-in Thursday, have you seen the entertainment that's been lined up for the official inauguration balls and various other D.C. bashes this week? Do you think the President and First Lady personally requested that Biz Markie and Doug E. Fresh help them celebrate their second term?
Sports Illustrated staff writer Stephen Cannella covers the NHL for the magazine and contributes frequently to SI.com.