Nice work if you can get it
The wave of part-time stars is likely just beginning
Posted: Tuesday January 29, 2008 2:52PM; Updated: Tuesday January 29, 2008 4:55PM
It's a common complaint that the NHL, NBA and Major League regular seasons are too long and often meaningless. Forget about owners trimming schedules as that means trimming revenue, but a class of veteran stars seems to have figured out a way to shorten the proceedings, at least for themselves.
Exhibit A: Roger Clemens un-retired for the second time to pitch about half a season for the Houston Astros in 2006 and did it again last year with the New York Yankees at the age of 45. After the 2006-07 NHL season, Scott Niedermayer, 34, and Teemu Selanne, 37, of the Anaheim Ducks skated off into the sunset, Stanley Cup in hand. Both came back -- in time for the stretch drive. And over in Oakland, the Golden State Warriors are fixin' to sign Chris Webber, nearly 35, who has been collecting cobwebs since June.
By dint of a long, distinguished career, a star can now earn the right to work part-time for a boatload o' bucks. But as the Webber case illustrates, when winning is the bottom line and a team is one player away, or needs a jolt, few GMs can resist the lure of a known, big name commodity... even when the commodity's Use-By date is rapidly approaching or expiring.
I'm tempted to say this part-time trend will end as soon as someone flops badly enough. Clemens at 6-6 and 4.18 ERA plus a creaky groin, hammy and elbow at $28 million for the one-and-done Yankees was not exactly a handsome return. Then again, the Ducks were roused from their early-season lethargy by Niedermayer's return in mid-December, and they will no doubt only be even more formidable with a rested Selanne back and in gear for the playoffs. Webber will have to cause a locker room insurrection and completely sink the Warriors for anyone to blink twice before picking another aging star off the front porch rocker.
Part-timers are projecting a little spittle in the eye of the old treasured -- by fans, at least -- concept of a team pulling together during the long death march from training camp to postseason. Stars are now arriving in a limo with the finish line in sight. They're also tarnishing the notion that training camp and even practice are absolutely necessary. Michael Strahan didn't join the New York Giants until shortly before their season opener, and teammate Plaxico Burress has turned heads by performing remarkably well on game days all while missing weeks of practice due to a bum ankle. With athletes routinely training year-round with their own fitness gurus, who needs three weeks of two-a-days, a month of tedious exhibition games, or even three months of the regular season to get ready for crunch time?
I expect to see more old timers working part time. It's a grand way for the Randy Johnsons or Shaquille O'Neals of the world to milk a few more meaningful years out of their bones while hauling in their customary pay. At this rate, Chris Chelios can play until he's 70. I can even see the day when it will be common for jewel-encrusted prime superstars on the order of a Tom Brady to regularly do the half-season thing. Heck, golf icon Tiger Woods has been picking his spots.
Jerry Seinfeld lamented that free agency makes fandom feel like rooting for the laundry because players come and go so rapidly. Rent-a-star deadline trades and this part-time stuff make it feel even more so. And these guys are particular cusses about who they'll play for if and when they come back, although it's all more palatable when it's your team they come back to. But who are we to complain? We'd do the same damn thing if a boss somewhere enticed us to put down our lawn darts and Meisterbrau to return to work for five months at more money than we knew what to do with. But it still feels weird to watch it happen.
Leave it to Terrell Owens to get on board with Kentucky Fried Chicken's Super Bowl ambush marketing campaign: the first player or half-time performer who does the chicken dance for at least three seconds will have $260,000 donated by the fowl company to a charity of his choice. Of all the goofiness that regularly goes on at America's Great Big Pigskin Spectacle, this one is a spirited thumb of the beak at the dour old No Fun League, which has responded as one would expect: by threatening fines.
Naturally, the NFL frowns on an unaffiliated advertiser crashing the pricey party -- and it's cheeky of an established brand like KFC to try. (It's probably only a matter of time before someone dressed like an unauthorized bacon burger bolts across the field before the opening kick-off.) But the fact that the league has spent so much time and energy putting the holy kibosh on end zone reels, jigs, shuffles and chorus line numbers, makes this feel like those times when the more firmly a parent says "No", the more boisterously the children revolt.
Amazing thing this Super Bowl.