May 8, 2007

Big Apple’s $18-million pitching prize rotten to the core

I hate Roger Clemens.

His recent announcement that he’ll return (surprise, surprise) to baseball—this time as a New York Yankee—has only cemented my disdain for him. For three consecutive years, Clemens has gone through a similar dance: “retirement,” hemming and hawing about “retiring,” claiming that he’s “99-percent retired,” and then eventually, inevitably, and with much fanfare, announcing about one month into the season that he’ll come back for one more year. 2007 proved no exception to this rule.

Of course, Clemens’s return is always punctuated by lots of talk about how much he loves the game and how confident he is that [insert newest team here] will win the World Series. What nobody talks about is the exceptionally hefty price tag that Clemens puts on his return—the tag that shows that he isn’t just coming back “for the love of the game.” This year, in not even a full season of play, Clemens will take in $18 million.

What really galls me about Clemens, though, is not his greed under the guise of goodwill—in professional sports, this often comes with the territory. It’s his embarrassingly desperate but undeniably successful pleas for attention and generally obnoxious personality.

On the first count: Why, pray tell, has Clemens continuously waited until the last possible moment to make his decision? Is it perhaps because he enjoys the media frenzy when he does decide to play again? Or is it because he likes the protracted bidding wars between teams? Possibly it’s just that he savors would-be teammates, general managers, owners, and team presidents calling him up personally and begging him to join their teams.

In the end, it’s painfully obvious that Clemens loves the spotlight even more than most. In his most recent “comeback,” for example, Clemens made the announcement—of course, for maximum effect—during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium.

This also illustrates Clemens’s selfish nature; by waiting until midseason to join his newest team, Clemens hurts only that team, not himself. The Yankees are off to a bad start this year (14–15 at the time of this writing), in part because of erratic starting pitching. For Clemens, this situation allows him to ride in as a “savior” on his white horse. Clemens, however, didn’t save the Houston Astros, his most recent team. In fact, when the going got tough and the Astros got worse, Clemens got going—to New York.

To compound his poor image, Clemens has consistently displayed an abrasive and repugnant personality. He famously threw the barrel of a broken bat at Mike Piazza and later claimed he thought the bat was actually the ball. Who knew that pegging is allowed in Major League Baseball? Clemens also has a deserved reputation as a bean-baller. Actually, he only had that reputation before he went to the National League, where he had to hit—and therefore face—a potential beaning himself. Mysteriously, Clemens was able to rein in his headhunting tendencies after moving to the senior circuit. Now that he’s back to the American League, however, you can expect an upsurge in his…bravado, if you will.

When Clemens was with the Red Sox, he complained about having to carry his own luggage through the airport (poor baby!) and about the poor amenities at Fenway Park. Clemens has also been linked to illegal steroids, and a few years ago, he was ejected from his son’s little league game for allegedly spitting on the umpire.

I guess it’s a bit boorish to hate a pro athlete. Maybe it’s thinly veiled jealousy or just the fact that he’s beaten my Cubs time and again. But there is good reason to dislike Roger Clemens: He may be a great pitcher, but he doesn’t seem like a good guy. Maybe my dislike of Clemens ultimately stems from the fact that he proves what Homer Simpson once said: “Good things do happen to bad people.”