It would have been a blast
Roger Clemens has collected 149 wins, four Cy Youngs, and two World Series rings into the twilight of his career. (AP Photo)
He looked so good that a day later I was kidding the newly arrived Roger Angell that had he arrived on Thursday he would have been able to tell his grandchildren he was there the day Roger Clemens took his first step on the march to Cooperstown. Ha, ha. Just a little sports humor. I think.
Boston Globe, March 13, 1984.
Sometimes you get lucky.
I wrote those words, and I fully realize some out there might think that quoting yourself in this manner is nauseatingly self-serving. In this spirit I therefore admit that I am the same guy who once anointed Garfield Smith as the Real Deal, the Next Great Thing, and the answer to Boston's post-Russell pivot problems for the next 10 years.
As I said, sometimes you get lucky.
I would guess that I was not the only writer or broadcaster similarly smitten by Roger Clemens during spring training 1984. He had arrived in Winter Haven, Fla., amid great fanfare following an abbreviated romp through the Red Sox farm system the previous summer. In 11 appearances for Winter Haven and New Britain, he had gone a combined 7-2 with 53 hits and 12 earned runs allowed in 81 innings. Two months and change after pitching Texas to the NCAA championship at the College World Series, he led New Britain to the Eastern League crown by allowing one earned run in 17 innings in two postseason starts, capped by a three-hit shutout of Lynn to clinch the title.
So here he was, making his big league exhibition game debut against the Detroit Tigers, who would get off to a record 35-5 start and win the World Series the following October. The first three steppingstones on Roger's long, long, and, as yet, unfinished march to Cooperstown were Chester Lemon, Larry Herndon, and Glenn Wilson, eventual accumulators of a combined 4,307 hits, 420 home runs, and 1,955 runs batted in. Roger Clemens dispatched them on 10 pitches. How fictional is that? It was K-K-K right from the get-go, long before he knew he'd be the father of Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody (wonder what four female Clemenses would have been?).
So I gushed. Who wouldn't?
Roger Clemens makes the press uneasy. Nobody wishes to be cited in years to come as one of the starry-eyed scribes who back in the spring of '84 went off the deep end on the subject of a kid who had yet to pitch an inning of major league baseball; a kid, who, as history would reveal, never made it. But neither do writers wish to be cited as the one ignorant, stubborn holdout afraid to acknowledge the obvious. It would be something akin to being a Larry Bird doubter in the spring of 1979.
That's it. I promise to stop quoting myself.
I bring all this up, not (solely) in the spirit of self-aggrandizement, but to illustrate how deeply disappointing it is that Clemens has passed up a chance to take a chance, a chance to put the greatest ending imaginable on what has become the greatest pitching career since the Allies took care of the Axis of Evil six decades ago.
Think about it. How unbelievably cool would it have been if Clemens had elected to close the circle, and in so doing had won a postseason game or two in a Red Sox uniform before finally retiring, and I do mean finally? It dwarfs all the other scenarios.
Would there have been a downside? Well, complete failure, I guess. But that would have been a possibility no matter where he had gone. This Last Hurrah (assuming) is no guarantee. The Astros are forking out more than $12 million with no guarantee of anything. I thought Roger was pretty candid in the many interviews I watched and listened to Wednesday. He promised them nothing except effort, nothing more than more doses of blood, toil, tears, and sweat. He talked about the great ``stress" he'd be placing on his soon-to-be-44-year-old body. He exuded confidence, but it was light-years short of bravado.
He could flop.
Had he flopped here there would have been gleeful naysayers. Some around here didn't like Clemens when he was here and they lost it completely when he got himself traded to the Yankees. They would have reveled in any conceivable misfortunes he might have encountered here. Some might have conducted a seance in the hopes of contacting the spirit of the late, great Will McDonough, who famously nicknamed Roger the ``Texas Con Man," for what Will felt was Roger's shameless pursuit of money. (Take a deep breath. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the go-to site for any semi-serious baseball fan, this latest contract will bring Roger's career earnings to $133,001,000, give or take a Benjamin.) I'm sure Roger's view is, ``Why not? I put in the work." And he has.
Look, Houston was the leader in the clubhouse from the beginning. Are you 20 minutes from work by car? I'm not. Do you have all work rules specifically tailored to your needs and wants? I don't. Houston can offer Roger these things and more. It goes without saying that the Astros were the only team in the Clemens hunt who could provide him with an eldest son as a minor league teammate. Talk about a priceless perk.
It is easy to understand why he chose the hometown Astros over the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers, who, by the way would have provided him with the best chance of reaching the 2006 postseason (check out the American League West standings). And have I mentioned the undeniable fact that pitching in the non-DH National League is significantly easier than pitching to those true nine-man AL lineups?
But, oh, how much more exciting and romantic it would have been had Roger gotten daring and creative and chosen to come here. It would have been a fresh start. The Duke is back in the Berkshires. (It's 149 wins, four Cy Youngs, and two World Series rings into the ``twilight of Roger's career.") There's no more talk of the You-Know-What; 2004 took care of that. Good Lord, it's practically a whole new ballpark. The old tradition is there, but there is a fresh psychic coat of paint on the organization. He could have been consorting with Curt Schilling, whom he once mentored, and Josh Beckett, who grew up idolizing him. He could have helped the town he professes to love beat the Yankees again, and if he had failed, what the hey. He would have tried, and most people would have appreciated the effort. After all, it wouldn't have been their 12 mil.
But he chose the safe and easy, Houston. Too bad. I say this with all due respect, Houston, who cares? Coming here would have been exhilarating.
It's this simple: If a healthy Roger Clemens does not go on to become a major pitching star, then what's the sense of scouting? He has every ingredient needed to become a great major league pitcher. He has four pitches of above-average major league caliber and he throws strikes. He is a young man of uncommon poise. Each time he goes into the windup he has what people call an idea.
OK, I lied. I got real lucky and I'm having a hard time letting go. Roger's not coming, and that's a bummer.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.