Roger rockets south

An open letter to “the Nation” on the issue of Roger Clemens who has gotten your goat. Once again!

Calm down mates. Face it, you would have been bored if this baseball season had turned into a dithering cakewalk for your town team. Plodding through the dog days of high season sitting on a runaway lead would have become unspeakably dull. It would have vastly diminished the prize you so lust for if your erstwhile nemesis -- those infernal pests from Gotham -- had settled meekly in the cellar.

For all these reasons you should be delighted that the Yankees took Roger Clemens, the middle-aged “Rocket,” off the bread lines in an act of tender mercy.

Otherwise the task might have fallen to you and your team and -- in your heart of hearts -- you would much rather win without him. Riding high with what you cheekily contend is the best pitching your pets have featured in the modern era you would never have wanted to appear to be groveling for his interventions. That would have been “the spin,” you know, and the mere suggestion would have been painful.

You firmly believe you don’t need this guy. But you did rather want him to need you. After all, it was allegedly vital to him that he sign with a winner, was it not? Didn’t the dim-witted Texan check the standings before making his decision? It was he who was supposed to come to you, cap in hand, begging for the sort of redemption only the Nation can bestow.

That is what all the hearts and flowers stuff that has been playing lately in the media was really all about. You know, the stuff about him “coming full circle” and returning sweetly to “where it all began” so that he could bring to an “appropriate” close his glorious career. It was going to be all about Roger seeking forgiveness and you all extending it with so much noblese oblige. As if all that were ever anything more than sentimental mush. It made good copy but who actually bought it? Certainly not Clemens.

Face it my dear card carriers of the so-called “Nation,” you were conflicted. You’ve never been quite sure how you truly feel about this guy. Even in the best of times when he was a raw-boned if reasonably amiable oaf with unreal promise and a grand swagger you viewed him with the airy condescension New England sophisticates typically extend to those whom they regard as “hicks” from Texas. It was not unlike the way you merely tolerated LBJ. Understand this much; the “hicks” not being anywhere near as dumb as you want to believe pick up on these vibes.

Recall all those times you denigrated him when he last cavorted in pinstripes, reducing his wife to tears on a couple of memorable occasions. Was any opponent ever more derisively scorned at Fenway than Clemens in the 1999 playoffs or the tong wars of 2003? You didn’t mind when he got exiled to Canada. In fact you were quite amused believing that would teach him some manners. But when he turned the tables and re-invented himself in the Bronx winning some rings in the process, you couldn’t take it and you hammered him. Few foes in any age -- not even the historically loathed likes of Reggie Jackson, Mickey Rivers or Billy Martin -- got more of a blistering from the good sports of Kenmore Square. If you have forgotten all that, you can bet Mr. Clemens never did.

Even more to the point, your reasoning in turning on him so viciously remains rather hard to fathom. After all, it was not as if he had spurned you. He got run out of this town -- tail between his legs -- by a general manager who soured on him and skillfully manipulated ever-pliable public opinion into accord. That the very same GM would later get even more harshly exiled himself says something. Or should.

And so what is Roger thinking with his so very dramatic return to the Yankees now?

Delving into his logic has never been easy, practical, or profitable. Moreover, need I emphasize we have not had the chance to chat about his motives on this occasion let alone his tactics and rationalizations. He never was one to trust the Boston media; certainly not in his latter years and we were never on the same page even in the best of times. I’m just guessing, now. But then so are all the other people who purport to be telling you why he just did what he did.

My handle on the question goes like this.

Clemens returned to the Yankees because he recognized he was indebted to them. They treated him first-class, the best any organization ever treated him. They gave him legitimacy. All his most cherished landmarks came in pinstripes; the 300th win, the 4,000th strikeout, a Cy Young at age 39, three straight trips to the World Series, two rings. He came to New York rankled by the tag that he couldn't win the big one and had never been a champ. It was the Yankees who redeemed him, who authenticated him.

He had never played for a manager he liked better than Joe Torre nor for an owner -- and this should really bum you out -- he liked better than George Steinbrenner. He still had friends to whom he believes he is beholden on the Yankees, and don’t ever under-estimate the power that friendship plays in the mindset of this wily old country boy. It’s maybe his best quality.

He had no beef with the new Boston ownership but no friends there either, save for Al Nipper who is way down on the pecking order. As for the Astro’s, their owner -- who bugs everybody sooner or later -- had irked him with the odd little games he’s inclined to play. The last straw came when they let his buddy Pettitte walk. You fail to appreciate the power of friendship in Clemens’ act at your peril.

Most important of all -- I think -- was Clemens’ recognition that he had stiffed the Yankees in 2003 and needed to make good. It was with a bit of con job that he departed New York in 2003. Professing to be retiring for the good of the family and all that, he accepted all the honors and goodbye gifts and tearfully wandered west only to surface two months later with a sweetheart deal in Houston. It was all done within his rights but it was nonetheless more than a little disingenuous.

Yet the Yankees never complained. Steinbrenner and Cashman never protested. Torre and the players never rebuked him. The simultaneous defections of Pettitte and Clemens derailed the Yankee juggernaut and plunged the organization into the funk, entirely centered on pitching, that persists to this hour. Yet no one in the outfit has ever laid any blame on Roger who at the very least had misled them. I can just imagine what the reaction would have been had he pulled the same stunt in Boston.

My guess is that this is Roger’s way of atoning for all that. Trying to ride to their rescue at their moment of acute emergency may be his most sincere caper ever. It would have been a lot easier to sign on with the Red Sox. And don’t let the talk about the money fool you. That “Evil Empire” claptrap won’t wash anymore. Had he wished to sign with them, the Red Sox would have found a way to make the money work

The larger question has to do with how much the old boy, veering on his 45th birthday, has left. And the answer may well be, “not much”. There’s a certain amount of madness attached to this entire issue.

But give the Rocket credit. He has just pulled off about a 20-million-dollar score for some part-time summer work and you all still think he’s dumb. I got news for you mates. The joke is on you.

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