Why The Rocket May Not Be The Answer

“Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone” – Elton John

Not even close really. It was a Sunday after the 7th inning stretch when Roger Clemens seemed to hover over home plate with a microphone in his new/old boss’ box.

“Well, they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you it’s a privilege to be back,” he said. “I’ll be talking to y’all soon.”

Not necessarily “I have a dream”, but pretty par for a Texas boy I guess.

One year and $28,000,022. Cute how he got the $22 bucks at the end to represent his jersey number. The prorated amount will land The Rocket around $18.5 mil. For you non-math majors, that’s around $4.5 million a month.

The Yankees will be all in at about $26 million after they add a cool $7.4 luxury tax cost to what Rocket gets.

Here’s how that talk went with his wife:

Roger: Honey the Yankees want to….
Mrs. Rocket: Yes!

Seems this is what he meant by retirement to spend more time with his family in 2004 when he handed the Yanks his resignation. This before he started the Roger Clemens annual travelling show and auction celebration the past two Springs.

We find ourselves at a pivotal point in pro sports that apexes at this Yankee event. I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the Yankee dynasty and this current ownership (G. Steinbrenner) regime.

The Yankees stand as the giants among the Davids. They’re the deep pocketed, major market winners. It’s exhausting if you’re the opposing pitcher basically pitching against an All Star powered lineup.

But for years the Yanks have neglected growing their own (I’m talking talent in the minors Frappers) in lieu of spending/gambling on expensive older players that of late have quickly deteriorated in front of their eyes. Think Kevin Brown. Or Randy Johnson. It’s a classic example of mortgaging the future for immediate gratification.

Championships have proven elusive the past few years however (the last 6 to be exact) even though the Yanks always have the highest payroll in the Bigs. Baseball has proven bigger than the participants by showing that chemistry and timely peaks matter.

Underdogs and small market, small payroll clubs have proliferated in this first decade of the new millenium. The Yankees, once known for their solid minor league farm network, prove that a solid farm system coupled with tons of money can create a dynasty (championships ’96, ’98’ ’99’ and 2000). Taking shortcuts by trading and neglecting your farm for players at or on the downhill side of their peak equals chemistry issues and falling short of your expectations.

Even though they throw mad amounts of jack at players, by interrupting the backflow of their youth, they have managed to level the playing field with other less privileged teams. Smaller market and budget clubs build through their minor system, pick off strategic free agents for specific roles, rise to the top, and hopefully win it all before losing players to big contracts. Then they simply strive to recreate the same cycle of events.

The Yankees’ cycle sustained itself at the top level for a longer period, while to date, no World Series winner in a year starting with 20 has been able to repeat the feat in a year starting with 20.

This brings us back to the Rocket. I’ll admit I’ve been wrong in the last two years about his durability at his age, but I’ve been right about Randy Johnson. The Yanks in this injury scarred year are desperate to get in the running in their division.

The biggest gamble is not on the part of the Bronx Bombers however. The gamble is on Clemens himself. It’s one thing to play for a team where the fans appreciate your contribution like in Houston. It’s completely another when you play a market that could care less about your whole body of work but judge you on a play by play basis.

Clemens is being rushed to be in the game as soon as possible this season to expectations that appear to be no less than to singlehandedly take this struggling iconic franchise on his back and take them to past glory.

Can a once every five game participant be expected to do that? Every Yankee fan and the Yankees’ $26 million investment say that it better be that way.

The Rocket did last year’s Astros and yours truly’s fantasy team no favors when he auctioned off his favors like the last unasked high school girl to the prom.

Everyone in Houston was stoked to “land” his services, but I can argue that he actually was arrogant by costing the Astros the ability to steer their own ship into the playoffs had he afforded them an additional 4 to 5 wins. Their rudderless ship struggled to make the playoffs and never seemed to be in synch. This was not all his fault as injuries decimated the Astros team. But it didn’t help. It would be like a Little League team letting little Johnny who did not participate in any practices to come along and bump little Jimmy and start the whole season.

It’s yet another example of how life now much of the time imitates “reality” (TV) as far as plot and story lines.

And Roger is not known for his pleasant demeanor.

Whether it’s his reputation for pitching high and tight on batters that do well against him (even his own son Koby), flat out head hunting (Piazza), chucking a broken bat barrel at a batter (Piazza again), or his recent turn at an aged pitcher taking on a photographer ala Kenny Rogers and Randy Johnson, Clemens still has the fire that only pro athletes can get away with in society.

When he does finally retire, do yourself a favor and make sure you never get caught traipsing across this old dude’s lawn.

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