Sunday, May 06, 2007

Yanking the chain

Nice thumb, Rog. Very Fonzie-like. Way cooler than the finger you gave us today.

So much for the theory that Roger Clemens would go back to the Astros to avoid alienating fans in New York and Boston, huh? It's apparent beyond a doubt now that he has roughly the same affection for Boston that Alec Baldwin has for Kim Basinger. . . and after today, I'm fairly certain the feeling is reciprocated by the vast majority of Sox fans, even those who have a No. 21 jersey stashed in a closet somewhere. Heck, Benedict Clemens was dead to me before. At this point, I'm prepared to track him down when he's reincarnated just to boo his sorry . . . well, you know.

Contrary to what he or his agents might say when trying to pit one team against the other in negotiations, we now know with 100 percent certainty that he has absolutely no sentiment for his days for the Red Sox. None. The premise that he might return to pitch for Boston out of some melancholy desire to mend those Green Monster-sized fences and win back the approval of the fans who cheered his first big-league victories has long been based in fantasy.

Today, that fantasy was punctured by a reality that we should have grasped long ago. Clemens's allegiance has never tilted toward a particular city or fan base, be it Boston, New York, Houston or Albuquerque. The Rocket's is not about a team, but to a person: himself. He's a Yankee - again - because New York, it all of its DeSalvo/Pavano/Igawa-fueled desperation, gave him roughly $18 million bucks and the cushy come-and-go-as-you-wish-your-highness schedule for four months of work. Had the Red Sox offered him, say, $33 million, the use of John Henry's jet, and all the free ballpark wieners the "K' kids can eat, let's just say there's a pretty good chance he'd have shown up at Fenway this week to patronize us with some non-sequitur-loaded speech about how it's good to be home in Boston again, duh-huh.

He's nothing but a money-chasing mercenary. And you know what? In a sense, I'm glad he pulled WWE villian act and returned to the Bronx. The greedy, spotlight-craving, incredibly successful Yankees, and the greedy, spotlight-craving, incredibly successful pitcher. It's a perfect marriage, always has been, and it adds even more juice to the rivalry. Besides, it makes it easier to justify the vat of venom I've been storing with his name on it since 1996, when he told us the only place he'd ever leave Boston for was dear old Texas . . . then thought we wouldn't notice when he skipped over the border to Canada once the Blue Jays threw the most money at him. Gotta love that Rocket Geography, where Toronto borders Texas if the money is right. And that was but the first on a long laundry list of transgressions: His manipulation to get traded from Toronto to the Yankees, the ultimate slap in the face . . . the smug rubbing of the Babe's monument after Game 7 in 2003 after his teammates saved him from a shameful farewell . . . today's contrived look-at-me moment where he told the roughly 55,000 mustacheod Buttafuocos at Yankee Stadium that it was a "privilege" to play for them. Seriously, how many more times does he need to rub it in Sox fans' faces?

As much as some fans might have wanted Clemens to come here to be the most accomplished fourth starter in baseball history, we'd be hypocrites to begrudge the Yankees this move. This is obviously a much-needed emotional jolt; the New York bench looked like a bunch of giddy Little Leaguers as he blathered through his speech today. The question is, will he deliver a jolt when he returns to the mound? There's no doubt he'll be superior to the alternatives - the Yankees will become the first major-league team to use 10 starters in 30 games when DeSilva starts today, and rumor has it Sam Militello was about to take a turn in the rotation. The situation in the Bronx is dire, yet surely salvageable given their talent, resources, and the long season ahead. If Clemens can just be steady and reliable, the Yankees' loaded lineup will produce enough runs to make him a winner more often than not . But if they think they are getting a legitimate No. 1 starter, a true savior, they're going to be disappointed. The last time he pitched a truly big game, he lost to Jeff Freakin' Suppan, for heaven's sake, and even Yankee fans will concede he's never entirely shaken his reputation as a bully who shrivels in the biggest moments. Further, Clemens's ERA's in his final two seasons in New York were 4.35 and 3.91, and he's going to be 45 on August 4. Unless he's found the fountain of youth or his buddy Jason Grimsley has concocted something even better, it's fair to wonder if he can hold up until October.

Me, I'm looking forward to watching him limp off the Fenway mound with a mysterious "cramp," his old standby bailout move when thee Sox are lighting him up. (See: Game 3, 1999 ALCS). In the meantime, promise me this, Nationites. Tell me you will not get caught up in his annual, ego-feeding charade again next season. Tell me you'll ignore the talk-radio banshees and the press-box GMs who pine for his return and the easy story. Tell me that the next time he pitches at Fenway Park - which may be as soon as June 1 - you'll ring his ears with chants so clever and cruel ("Where is Rog-AH? In the show-AH!") that Debbie Clemens will reprise her tearful whine from the '99 ALCS: "Why do they treat him like Hitler? What did he ever do to them?"

The better question is this: What hasn't he done?