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Archive for Saturday, December 10, 2005

Commentary: He’s Clemens; that’s good enough

December 10, 2005

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— Let's do it like this: You can enumerate the reasons why the Yankees shouldn't sign Roger Clemens, and I'll shoot down your arguments in four words or less.

He's 43 years old.

But he's Roger Clemens.

He broke down physically at the end of last season.

But he's Roger Clemens.

He'll be ultra-expensive.

But he's Roger Clemens.

Starting pitching ranks among the least of Yankees concerns.

That said, he's Roger Clemens. All right, so I took an extra word on that last one.

Nevertheless, the Yankees, in the midst of their Winter of Admirable Restraint, need to go against logic, because that's what you do when the greatest pitcher in baseball history becomes available.

With the Astros surprisingly cutting ties with their hometown hero, the Yankees must summon their inner college basketball coach and recruit, through every means of communication possible. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada should flood The Rocket's Blackberry with e-mails, reminding him of Yankee Stadium's October electricity. Joe Torre should telephone Clemens and, in that calm, reassuring voice, say, "Roger, we want your right arm, but even more, we want your heart."

George Steinbrenner, still a snail-mail guy, should pen one of his famous personal letters, expressing fondness for one of his all-time favorite warriors and subtly mentioning the dispensable $20 million he has stashed away in a Cayman Islands bank.

This can happen. Yes, it's a longshot. But to say there's no chance is to say that Clemens can't be tempted by money, glory and jewelry. Which would pretty much make him a robot.

If Clemens is robotic in any way, it's in his dominance over most of the last 22 seasons. Yes, he fell apart some in September and October, culminating in his early departure from World Series Game 1 because of an ailing left hamstring. Yet keep in mind, it was no ordinary time for him. He was grieving over the loss of his mother, Bess, which would mentally and physically wear down most of us.

And don't forget, there have been other times when Clemens appeared physically spent, from Dan Duquette's infamous "twilight" remark after the 1996 season to three years ago, when the Yankees hemmed and hawed over bringing the right-hander back for 2003 after an injury-plagued 2002.

The man with 341 career victories, who compiled a 1.87 earned-run average in his age 42-43 season, deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The Rocket also would bring much-needed leadership to the Yankees' pitching staff. Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina are who they are; they're not going to raise Shawn Chacon or Chien-Ming Wang to new heights. Clemens, to the contrary, prides himself on setting the bar for his teammates, on sharing tips on mechanics and opposing batters.

In declining to offer Clemens arbitration, the Astros have agreed to wear the black hat in this scenario, no small thing. Essentially, they foolishly pushed him away, unwilling to wait out his decision.

So now the Yankees can look like the good guys, for once, offering employment to a guy let go by his company.

All right, maybe that won't play in Houston. But it should play very well at the next Yankees organizational meeting.

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