If Roger Clemens takes the mound for the Yankees on June 1 at Fenway, nobody on either team is going to care much whether he flew in on a private jet from Texas that morning or was beamed down just minutes before gametime from a UFO hovering above the ballpark.
Because for all the bellyaching about the deal Clemens just signed, the only thing that will matter by then is whether the man can still pitch.
``I don't think I would ever do it because of the fact I personally think it would disrespect the team and your teammates,'' current San Diego pitcher and former New York teammate David Wells said recently. A moment later, he added, ``That's not the Yankee way.''
addux questioned whether a deal that requires Clemens to show up only when he's scheduled to pitch would benefit either side in the long run.
``I can't imagine doing that,'' Maddux said. ``I like the game. I like the atmosphere. I appreciate what it has to offer. I want to play the whole year.''
From the sound of things, it's easy to get the impression that the ``star system'' just came into being, that every ballplayer was treated the same from the beginning of time until just before Clemens popped up in Yankee Stadium during the seventh-inning on Sunday.
Yet he's been roasted as disloyal by a band of fellow mercenaries who now wish they'd had the chutzpah to ask for more perks themselves. And Clemens has come in for even worse scorn from the pundits. Some gripe that he's escaped the abuse heaped on Barry Bonds for bending club rules, and that his commitment to the team hasn't been questioned, the way NBA star Allen Iverson was after his infamous ``We talkin' about practice!'' rant.
A few have even trotted out comparisons to Michael Jordan, saying the six-time NBA champion never took advantage of the special treatment his status accorded him. That's just wrong.
The Bulls didn't make the trades Jordan was always throwing out, but then-coach Phil Jackson was smart enough to tailor just about everything else, from practice sessions to seats on the bus heading over to games, to accommodate his one-man team.
Soon after returning from the Barcelona Games in 1992, worn out by the rigors of Olympic duty with the Dream Team and playing late June the two previous summers in the NBA Finals, Jordan sat in a golf cart one afternoon and detailed a plan to skip training camp and sit out the season until sometime in January. It never happened, mostly because the Bulls scheduled a charity contest midway through the exhibition season that Jordan decided he couldn't skip.
But when he retired from basketball the first time, in the fall of 1993, Jordan did it in part because a sabbatical was out of the question. All Clemens' deal now proves is that times have changed, that one man can be a market unto himself.
What he does share with Jordan, and Tiger Woods for that matter, is an outsized desire to win and enough clout to write his own ticket. It's not that big a departure from established tradition, since Clemens had much the same arrangement with the Astros the last three years and the returns left both sides feeling they got their money's worth. Besides, even that arrangement grew out of a deal the Texas Rangers made with Nolan Ryan late in his career, allowing him to show up when his turn in the rotation came around and tending to his business as he saw fit the rest of the time.
It didn't hurt Clemens' cause that the Yankees pitching has been disastrous thus far, or that he's lasted long enough so that the price of a quality starter, even one who turns 45 in a few months, has climbed into the stratosphere. Plenty of guys who won't eat up nearly as many innings are making similar money - including a few members of New York's current staff - and the arrangement already has the blessing of Yankees captain Derek Jeter, manager Joe Torre and everybody in the front office on up to owner George Steinbrenner.
There are a number of reasons why Clemens would sign, though he said after a workout Tuesday in Lexington, Ky., ``when it's all said and done at the end of the year, I'll tell you the exact reasons why I did what I did.''
We'll save you the suspense of waiting. There's the money, the chance to come and go when Clemens pleases, money, the chance to perform on the biggest stage the game offers, money, and the irresistible urge to show everybody else he can still pitch. And money.
Or, as Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks put it: ``He thinks he wants to retire. He thinks he wants to play. Well, which is it? It's a little of both.''
Good for him.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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