Enough is enough

Originally Published: May 1, 2006
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

Any day now, honest, Roger Clemens promises to make up his mind about where he will (or won't) pitch this season.

Forgive me, but this soap opera lost its appeal some time ago.

As far back as 1996, when Clemens was leaving Boston, he would often mention that he wasn't going to pitch much longer. There were "the little guys" back home with whom he wanted to spend time, and other things to do.

Roger Clemens
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesFull circle? Roger Clemens could end up finishing his career where it started.
Since then, of course, Clemens has won four more Cy Young Awards, two World Series and another 150 games. Good for him. He's arguably baseball's greatest living pitcher and inarguably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But his on-again, off-again dalliances with retirement have grown wearisome, and sometime this spring, Clemens officially jumped the shark.

He was supposed to retire after the 2003 World Series. I was there in Miami that night when the ballpark crowd and the Florida Marlins saluted him and Clemens acknowledged their cheers. He accepted a Hummer -- the Yankees' version of the gold watch -- and headed back to Houston to retire.

Or not, as it turned out. The lure of pitching virtually in his backyard with good friend Andy Pettitte proved to be strong, so Clemens pitched that season and last with the Houston Astros.

This wasn't someone tarnishing his legacy, either. In 2004, he won 18 games and helped pitch the Astros to the NLCS. Last year, given poor run support, he led the NL in ERA and got the Astros to their first World Series.

Then, the retirement dance began again. Miffed that the Astros, at the 11th hour, failed to offer him salary arbitration, Clemens took his ball and went home.

For good? Well, let's not go that far, yet. Clemens is "interested" in four teams -- the aforementioned Astros, the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers -- and the interest is mutual.

Interestingly, each one of the four clubs is linked to another. The Red Sox-Yankee rivalry needs no explanation, while the Rangers and Astros are fierce rivals within the state of Texas. Clemens and his agents, the Brothers Hendricks, surely understand that the last thing Houston owner Drayton McLane wants is for Clemens to do what Nolan Ryan did -- end his career in Arlington.

And so, the posturing continues, played out very publicly. On Opening Day, Clemens showed up at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, where he was able to visit two bidders (Rangers and Red Sox) in the span of one ballpark. Talk about one-stop shopping.

Later, Clemens made his way to Houston, collecting his NL championship ring with his once (and possibly future) teammates.

At every stop, Clemens maintains that his inclination is to retire, but "they" are making it very hard, as if his career path was being dictated by some nefarious cabal. This isn't the Old West, where the aging gunslinger keeps getting challenged by The New Guy. If Clemens wants to retire, all he has to do is say so. And this time, mean it.

In truth, Clemens has a hard time walking away from the spotlight (which is understandable) and the money (which is not).

It's quite possible that Clemens has made more money than anyone else in the game over the past 20 or so years, though Randy Hendricks continues to bemoan the fact that his client took below-market money in 2005 for the privilege of pitching close to home.

Frankly, this public money grab is unbecoming for a legend like Clemens.

No one should begrudge him the money he's earned -- look at his long list of accomplishments and the general success of the teams for which he's played.

Defending his client's self-auction in early April, Randy Hendricks said: "It's another number on the back of the baseball card of how he compares to other people. Why should Roger be the only guy who plays for cheap [money]?"

But at some point, isn't enough, enough? Frankly, this public money grab is unbecoming for a legend like Clemens.

Poor Roger can't even keep his story straight. Some days it's the mental grind that seems too daunting; on others, he's not sure if he can handle the physical demands of a comeback. Still others, he's conflicted about being away from his family, though "the little guys'" he fretted about a decade ago are not so little anymore. One, in fact, is a professional ballplayer, just like Dad was. Or should that be, is?

Each of the four suitors come with a ready-made storyline, none greater than returning to Boston, where his career began and will someday end with his number retired. Should Clemens rejoin the Red Sox, his first win would lift him past Cy Young for most wins by a Red Sox pitcher, and that would only be the beginning.

Red Sox bullpen coach Al Nipper, one of Clemens' closest friends in the game, told the Boston Globe the other day: "I think we [the Sox] have a chance."

Maybe, maybe not. Sorry, but the suspense isn't killing me anymore.

Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.

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