- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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HOUSTON -- He has already un-retired almost as many times as Cher. But Roger Clemens' latest, greatest comeback from retirement appears to be drawing closer. Much closer.
Clemens has now "accelerated his workout program," says his agent, Randy Hendricks, who claims the Rocket is doing it "to put himself in the condition he thinks he needs to be in if he comes back."
This, of course, is no ordinary workout program. This is the legendary Roger Clemens Workout Program -- a program so insane that Hendricks affectionately refers to it as "Roger's Marine recruitment drill."
This would be the drill that Clemens' teammates have occasionally asked if they could try along with him over the years. And when they were through, Hendricks laughs, most of them were either "throwing up, or saying, 'I quit,' or their body was aching so bad they couldn't move."
Clemens, on the other hand, has never done any of the above. But he is also 43 years old, and less than three months away from another birthday. So before he sends the puff of smoke out of his chimney to signal to the baseball world it's time to announce another return, the Rocket needs to test himself one more time.
"And then," Hendricks says, "Roger is going to have a conversation with his body and say, 'Are we up to this?' And I think if his body says he's good to go, his mind will be with him."
So then the questions become: Where? When? And how much? Though not necessarily in that order.
Hendricks continues to say Clemens will decide "before June 15." But the buzz among his friends in Houston, and from the four teams pursuing him, is that it could be much sooner than that. Possibly as early as 10 days from now. Probably not much later than three weeks.
And how much will it cost the lucky winner of this derby? Early speculation had the bidding starting at $3 million a month. But at least one club involved now thinks Clemens could eventually sign for (ready for this number?) $4 million a month, which could make him the highest-paid pitcher (per week or month) in the history of the sport.
Hendricks won't talk about money, but says all four interested teams -- the Astros, Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers -- understand there "won't be any discounts." And that doesn't seem to faze them.
When the time comes for Clemens to make a decision, though, it won't be a choice based on who builds the biggest pile of dollar bills, Hendricks says. All those piles are going to be high enough that one thing Clemens doesn't want, he says, is to turn this into an auction.
"He'll tell me the team, and then I'll make a deal in 24 hours," Hendricks says, almost matter-of-factly.
So apparently, everybody understands the Nieman Marcus price tag on this man -- even though no team has actually made a formal offer, Hendricks says, if only because he and Clemens have never asked for a formal offer.
"Would [a delegation from] Boston come to Houston, prepare a [recruiting] video and then say, 'We don't have the money'? I think we know the answer to that question," Hendricks says. "We don't have to talk about what anybody's offer is. We've talked parameters, and that's enough. We don't have to make a deal until it's time to actually make a deal."
But that still leaves that other question: Where? And the answer to that one will start a whole bunch of dominoes to topple all over baseball.
Hendricks isn't offering many clues. But he says Clemens understands all the potential ripple effects of his momentous decision. So let's think about those issues for a few moments.
If he chose Boston over New York, would he damage his still-cordial relationship with the Yankees? Would the always-understanding citizens of New York turn on him, or maybe even stop watching his Yankeeography?
Or if he chose New York over Boston, after finally patching up some of the scars from his first messy exit, what would happen if he then broke the hearts of those same people again? Imagine the Hall of Fame deciding Clemens should wear a Red Sox cap on his plaque -- and then having Red Sox fans boo him on Induction Day.
"There is still some doubt in his mind whether he wants to go through this again. But when you ask, 'Should a person who won the National League Cy Young two years ago and then won the National League ERA championship last year retire?' I'd say the logical answer is no."
-- Randy Hendricks, Roger Clemens' agent
Or how about the Rangers? How would he explain to the people in his hometown of Houston that he found the other team in Texas more appealing, or a bigger contender, or even a better fit? Clemens still has to live in Houston, and he has a personal-services contract with the Astros waiting for him, whenever he's ready.
So even Hendricks concedes that if Clemens chooses the Astros, "that would be the one that people would understand most. But then the logical question is: If he was always going back to Houston, why are we going through all of this? And the answer is: Because the Astros didn't offer him salary arbitration. And this was the consequence of that decision."
Astros players and management sure sound confident that one of these weeks Clemens is returning to their clubhouse. But Hendricks continues to insist he isn't certain the Rocket is coming back at all.
"There is still some doubt in his mind whether he wants to go through this again," Hendricks says. "The big thing is that he's been hurt at the end of each of the last two years. But when you ask, 'Should a person who won the National League Cy Young two years ago and then won the National League ERA championship last year retire?' I'd say the logical answer is no.
"Let's say Roger had been 13-8 last year, with a 4.20 ERA, or whatever the average starting pitcher is. If he'd been an average pitcher, I think I'd feel different. But he's not average."
No, he's Roger Clemens. The Roger Clemens. And that's the aura that's driving this latest edition of his never-ending un-retirement. But it's also why Clemens hasn't been able to get that retirement option completely out of his mind.
"Who is he measuring himself against?" Hendricks says. "He's measuring himself against Roger Clemens. He's asking, 'Can I be Roger Clemens again?' He never puts it that way. But that's what I see. If he says, 'I can be that guy,' he'll come back. But if he doesn't think he can pitch up to the standard he's set for himself, I don't think he'll pitch."
That makes perfect sense. But then again, if you examine all the evidence, it's hard to think Clemens will ultimately do anything but pitch.
He has been throwing for weeks, and he still can throw a baseball more than 90 mph. There is way too much money out there for any sane human being to turn down. And he isn't pushing himself through this torturous workout program just to help his golf game.
So get ready. That puff of smoke is coming -- any week now.
"I'm being honest when I say I really don't know what he's going to decide," Hendricks says, "because right now, he really doesn't know. But we wouldn't be here, at this point, if he was not giving this serious consideration."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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