And can we stop this nonsense about no one in baseball being willing to give Roger Clemens the four-year contract he wants? Colorado? Florida? The Mets? What about Seattle? You think Lou Piniella wouldn’t like Roger Clemens in his rotation?
Do we know that it’s a 100 percent, no-look-back, mortal lock that Roger Clemens has pitched his last game for the Boston Red Sox? Well, no. But anyone listening to Roger Clemens’ discourse after yesterday’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees is free to draw a two-plus-two conclusion.
“I treated it that way,’’ acknowledged Clemens, who exited the Fenway mound in the eighth inning with a handful of dirt in his right hand. “I don’t know what the future holds. I’ve never been in this position before.’’
He is soon to be a free agent, a baseball man without a country. There is not the slightest doubt that he still has a strong right arm. He struck out 10 men yesterday, boosting his league-leading total to 257. The last time he struck out more was in 1988.
For Clemens, it was a very strange year, and yesterday’s game was a microcosm. He obviously pitched Well Enough To Win (five hits and those 10 Ks in 7 2/3 innings). He also quite clearly pitched Just Well Enough To Lose (two of the hits were home runs, and the final run was the direct result of two bases on balls). He finishes 10-13 with a 3.63 ERA, which, in the Year of the Hitter, isn’t bad at all. This is a guy who has every reason to look in the mirror and see a 1997 All-Star Game caliber pitcher smiling back.
``I felt like this was one of my better years,’’ he said. ``Even though the wins and losses weren’t what I’d like, I felt I threw the ball bad only three or four times.’’
This whole contretemps with the Red Sox is needless but oh-so-typical of the times. The team really doesn’t want him to go anywhere. He really doesn’t want to leave. The problem is that he wants continued employment here on his terms, and they want his continued employment here on theirs. He really doesn’t expect to find more day-to-day happiness anywhere else, and they really don’t expect to come up with a better pitcher in his place.
Now Roger didn’t mention the four-year business yesterday. He spoke of getting that elusive World Series ring. ``I’d like to go where I have the best chance of getting a world’s championship,’’ he said. ``That’s really the only reason I want to play the next four years. And I’d like a shot at age 37 or 38 for Sydney [i.e. the 2000 Olympics].’’
You can take that at face value, if you choose. I’ll pass. I’d be willing to wager that if he addressed the topic today he’d put a different spin on it. And he’d mean every word of it -- both times.
Just because he is resigned to going elsewhere doesn’t mean he really wants to. He is a creature of habit, and he is used to being a member of the Red Sox. If he leaves, he will remain tied with Cy Young as the leading winner in Boston history, and that will bug him. If he were to go with another American League club, he would feel very odd and awkward pitching in another uniform with that new 20 strikeout display staring him in the back. He just would. I know it. You know it. Most of all, he knows it.
He may talk in general terms of winning just any old world’s championship, but the one that would mean the most to him would be the one he could earn here. Fifteen years ago, the entire Boston thing meant nothing to him. He couldn’t have told you if the Red Sox last won the World Series in 1918 or 1066. He knows it now. He knows better than anyone on this team how much more satisfying winning a World Series here would be than anywhere else on the globe.
The big problem here far transcends Clemens’ individual situation. The big problem is that the core of this team feels terribly alienated by the present regime. If it was simply a matter of one unhappy guy, there would be few sympathetic ears. I assure you it’s not simply a matter of one guy, or even two. Name a key veteran, and you’ve just named a man who simply no longer feels comfortable as a member of this organization.
Dan Duquette has done a great job building up the farm system. Duquette has proven a master of identifying, and obtaining, fringe players who are better players than previous employers believe. But Duquette seems to have no feel whatsoever for the feelings and moods of the veteran players, the ones who have proven their worth, not only in general, but in the key specific that is Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
It doesn’t matter whether a man makes $5 million a year or $5,000. The size of a man’s paycheck does not cancel out his human needs and desires. This is 1996. Players all understand business. But a baseball team is still a collection of 25 flesh-and-blood individuals. If a manager understands this -- and this one does -- why can’t a general manager? More importantly, why can’t an owner?
Allowing Roger Clemens to leave will send the worst possible message to the players left behind. Those players will then put out the word: if you want to play baseball, go to team X. If you want to be one of Dan Duquette’s chess pieces, come to Boston.