CHICAGO (AP) -On what feels like Day 175 of the Rocket Watch, Roger Clemens threw batting practice and pronounced himself almost ready for the major leagues.
Again.
This is getting old. I don't know about anybody else, but I'm tired of Clemens' act and wish he would go away. Pitch or don't pitch. Holding a handful of teams hostage while he takes until May to decide what he wants to do, then wrangling a cushy contract that puts him above the game has gotten annoying.
Nobody is worth this kind of angst, not even a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who still has a flame-thrower for an arm at 44.
``It's a huge boost for us,'' New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said Wednesday. ``Now we're looking at four guys who've gotten the job done at the big league level. Our team will be a better team that day.''
But at what price? By giving the right-hander a deal that essentially allows him to be a part-timer - an obscenely rich one, at that - the Yankees are setting a dangerous precedent.
It's no surprise the Yankees went after Clemens. They're closer to the bottom-feeding Tampa Bay Devil Rays than those loathsome Red Sox these days, and we know how cranky George Steinbrenner gets when his high-priced team is underachieving. Going into Wednesday night's game against Chicago, the Yankees were six games below .500 and 11 1/2 behind Boston.
While New York's rotation has stabilized recently, the starters still were 18-21 with a 4.86 ERA going into Wednesday's game. The offense is sputtering, and it's going to take work just to get back into wild-card contention.
Clemens won't solve all of the Yankees' problems, but they believe he's a start.
Two months shy of his 45th birthday, he's still probably better than most guys half his age. He picked up his most recent Cy Young three years ago, and has had an ERA below 3.00 each of the last three seasons. Last season, he had almost as many strikeouts (102) as innings pitched (113 1-3).
But Clemens is a mere mortal, not a messiah. Treating him as such isn't good for anybody, no matter how many games he might win this year.
When Clemens hemmed and hawed last year, saying he really didn't know if he wanted to pitch again, I believed him. His mother, Bess, had died during the 2005 season, and he'd already missed too much time away from his own family. His oldest son, Koby, was starting his own professional baseball career, and it wouldn't be long before his younger boys were off doing their own things, too.
So when his hometown Houston Astros lured him back with the promise that he could opt out of road trips if he wasn't scheduled to pitch, it sounded like the ideal compromise. He could have his career and his family, too.
Only that wasn't quite the case.
Mike in the Morning'' show. ``And that might have been a little bit of an issue.
``But it did not hurt our ballclub.''
Of course not. Notice, though, that the Astros weren't exactly distraught when the Yankees outbid them - and everybody else - for Clemens' services this year.
You'd think after going through his deliberations last year, Clemens would have had a clearer idea of what he wanted to do this year. But no. Or maybe he just didn't want to be bothered with spring training and the first two months of the season.
Whatever, all of baseball was hanging on his every word for months. Would he pitch? Would he retire? Would he be the next athlete to take a spin on ``Dancing with the Stars?''
By the time he finally made his big announcement - perfectly choreographed, right down to the appearance in Steinbrenner's box - Clemens' act had worn thin. Hearing that he's again going to be allowed to skip road trips when he's not pitching made it official.
There was a time when no excuse was good enough to get players time off. Birthdays, funerals, illness - too bad. That's what the offseason was for.
Life in the major leagues is more humane now, and that's a good thing. Angels manager Mike Scioscia left his team for two games last month when his son was graduated from high school, and the Cubs' Derrek Lee missed half of the last month of last season after his daughter was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease.
But Clemens' special treatment is in a category all by itself.
If he wants to be with his family that badly, then stay home. If he wants to play, his place is with his team.
---
Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmourap.org
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