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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Boston 8, New York 4.

1. Yes I know, Roger Clemens is going to get his 300th win one of these days.

2. It will have to be against someone other than the Red Sox.

3. Although now that I think about it, from the standpoint of a Red Sox Fan, it wouldn’t be an entirely bad thing if it were to come against the Sox, since if it did, it wouldn’t come for another month, since the next time the Sox face the Evil Empire after this series is at Fenway on July 4.

4. I don’t hate him enough to hope he breaks his arm or something. I do loathe him enough that, ideally, his big moment of triumph would come in front of 8,508 indifferent fans at Tropicana “Field” against the hapless Devil Rays. Montreal would be good too, although the Yankees don’t play them this season. (That would be even better – it’d mean Clemens would likely be pitching for another team by the time he wins his next game, or that he doesn’t win another game this season.)

5. The next time Clemens pitches is probably going to be in Detroit, and given how feeble Los Tigres are these days, he’ll probably get his win there. I think that might satisfy my ill wishes for him.

6. Although maybe they can sell out Comerica that day. That would be a very good thing for baseball.

7. Even better for baseball, and for Clemens- and Yankee-haters everywhere, would be a season-long quest for Win #300, where attendees pile into what would otherwise be half-empty ballparks across the continent, so that they might bear witness to history in the making.

8. At the same time, those fans will wonder if we will be seeing the last Win #300 ever. Greg Maddux, 36, is 24 wins short at present; though he is struggling this season, I think can he make it to 300. Tom Glavine is the same age as Maddux, but at 242 wins is two full seasons behind his longtime Braves teammate. Randy Johnson, a late bloomer, was rolling right along until this season, but is 38, on the DL, and 75 wins short. There doesn’t seem to anyone beyond Clemens and Maddux on the horizon, unless Mike Mussina starts regularly putting up 20-win seasons, or Pedro Martinez has a career longevity that few anticipate for him given his injury history.

9. Then again…never underestimate the capacity of the game to change. People have done so at their peril.

10. It’s been about 13 years since Nolan Ryan won his 300th game, an unusually long time – historically - for baseball to between 300-game winners. There has been no active 300-game winner since Ryan retired in 1993. I don’t expect that to happen afterwards, since I think Maddux will hang around long enough to notch his 300th.

11. I missed Clemens’ first chance at 300 entirely due to working a long night, but when I woke up around noon, I didn’t see any pictures of Roger Clemens, on either the front page or on the front page of the Sports section, of the Washington Post. From that I knew he didn’t get his win, and that the Sox most likely won the game, which they did.

12. When people ask me “Are you rooting for him?” I just look at them funny, as if they had just asked me if I wanted to watch a “700 Club” marathon. Are you crazy?

13. Clemens and Wade Boggs. Imagine that the two greatest players you can ever remember playing for your team both left on bad terms, dissed you and your fellow fans more than once in public statements, and then won it all - not only with another team, but with the team that you least want to see win anything. . (Carl Yazstremski was in the twilight of his career by the time I started watching baseball, I was too young to truly appreciate the prime of Jim Rice’s carrer, Dewey Evans wasn’t quite at the top tier, and the book on Pedro, Nomar, and Manny remains open.) Redskin fans can now imagine what it would be like if John Riggins and Joe Thiesmann never won a Super Bowl for you – but did win one for the Cowboys. Now multiply that a couple times, and it’s not hard to understand why we boo the hell out of both Boggs and Clemens whenever their names are mentioned.

14. But a lot of us still pull for Drew Bledsoe, as hard as that is to do when he’s with a division rival. And of course we all were pulling for Ray Borque winning a Stanley Cup with Colorado, despite the presence of longtime Canadien Patrick Roy. We would have been happy for Carlton Fisk had he won it all with Chicago – not that there was any danger of that happening, the White Sox being the White Sox and all.

15. This column from the Bill Simmons archive pretty much sums it up.

16. However, I have to admit that Simmons’ newer entry doesn’t quite get the tone right. Like I said, I’m not rooting for him to break his arm into eight pieces or anything, nor do I think most of us in Red Sox Nation feel quite that way. Of course, some of us do.

17. I was watching the first 20-strikeout game in April 1986. It was something to behold. Since I was only 12, I didn’t really comprehend the history of what was going on.

18. One thing that people forget about that game is that Mike Moore was matching Clemens on the scoreboard, if not in the record books, for most of the evening. In fact, the Mariners drew first blood in the top of the 7th and led 1-0 on a solo homer by Gorman Thomas. The Sox broke through when Dewey Evans hit a 3-run dinger in the bottom of the 7th, chasing Moore, and that was all that the Rocket needed. From that homer on, the historical significance swamped everything.

19. Later in that season, it was odd seeing that two of the guys in Seattle’s lineup that night – Dave Henderson and Spike Owen - wearing Boston uniforms after a mid-summer trade. Henderson ended up on the Giants the following year, then the As, which meant he played in five postseasons in a row. The weird thing is how well Hendu did in the 1986 postseason – he hit only .196 during the ’86 season after coming over from Seattle, and hit only .234 in ’87 before being shipped to San Francisco to make room for Ellis Burks.

20. During rain delays of Red Sox games in the late 1980s, they would sometimes replay footage from the April 29, 1986 game. It used to give me goosebumps. I wonder what that footage would do for me now, since I haven’t seen it since Clemens flew the coop.

21. Insert forlorn, world-weary sigh here.

22. The first time I saw Clemens pitch in person was a late September 1986 2-1 extra-inning loss to the Blue Jays; the Sox were trying to clinch a mathematical AL East tie at the time, which they would do the next afternoon. Like every game – or so it seemed - in 1986, he was on, just so on it wasn’t funny.

23. And yet, deep down, you just knew in the back of your mind he was the kind of guy you’d hate if he was on another team. Not “hate” in the “damn, I’m envious of the other team who has him” sense, “hate” in the “what a dirty player” sense. Simmons explained a lot of this already, so I don’t need to in depth. I’ll mention the Mike Piazza imbroglio and move on.

24. There are a lot of guys like that, not just Clemens, in the history of pro sports. Jose Canseco was like that once, before he became more of a joke than anything else. Bill Romanowski is like that. Keyshawn Johnson is like that. At least a few Pistons fans have admitted that Bill Laimbeer was like that. Hockey goons are generally like that.

25. That last thought reminded me of how weird it was to see Chris Nilan don a Bruins jersey late in his career. If you were a Bruins fan in the 1980s, Chris Nilan was the embodiment of evil, which made the whole experience very awkward as long as it lasted.

26. I don’t remember feeling that betrayed as long as Clemens was in Toronto, toiling for what was otherwise a humdrum team. The Jays had only delusions of mediocrity while he played there, and, let’s face it, even when the Jays were really good in the late 80s and early 90s, it was hard to care all that much about them one way or the other.

27. Then he used some sort of shady clause in his contract to force a trade to, of all people, the Yankees. Not just any team, not to a team in his home state of Texas (which he had prattled on and on about to the media), but the team. Not that he should base his entire life on what Fenway fans will do, but, do you honest think you’ll get anything but the lustiest boos when you show your face there?

28. Granted, Dan Duquette did no one (least of all himself) any favors by trashing Clemens as he was walking out the door. The Duke had above average talent evaluation skills, and was quite adept at getting useful players (Brian Daubach, Troy O’Leary) for nothing, and for some shrewd trades (Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb, Pedro Martinez for Carl Pavano and Ryan McGuire. ) He had no people skills though, undermined his handpicked manager (Jimy Williams, who also did much to undermine himself, to be sure) by taking sides with the likes of Carl Everett in clubhouse skirmishes.

29. Speaking of Duquette’s ultimate replacement as GM (Mike Port was only interim) 29 is the age of Theo Epstein. Which is the same age as the Answer Guy. How depressing.

30. At the time of the Clemens signing, it seemed like the logical thing to do for the Sox was to let him leave. Apart from one brief two-month flash of brilliance at the end, Clemens’ performance since he had signed his last huge contract in 1992 had generally been well short of his usual standards.

31. He left because someone, namely Toronto, wanted to pay him more to leave Boston. Of course it was about the money. It’s nearly always about the money.

32. Sometimes I wish pro athletes were more willing to just admit that it was about the money, since, well, of course it’s about the money. Who wouldn’t take another job, similar to your current one, if it paid a million dollars more than your current job? Are fans really that stupid that they think it’s not about the money?

33. Then I remember pro sports is supposed to be a distraction, a mythical world where grown men play a boys’ game, and all the troubles of the outside world somehow don’t matter once you’re in the sanctum of the ballfield. Yes, baseball is a business. But people who chant the “baseball is a business” mantra risk a fundamental misunderstanding of the product that is being sold. The product is not “widgets.” The product is not just about the literal athletic feats on the baseball field. The feeling you get when you walk into Fenway Park and gaze at the Green Monster, or the awe on your face upon looking at the monuments just beyond the outfield fence at Yankee Stadium, or the simple architectural marvel of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, is part of the product. So is the feeling that you’ve stepped into a more innocent time when you walk the streets of Cooperstown, New York. That sense of “warm and fuzzies” is the goose that lays the golden eggs for baseball, and for sport.

34. Has the world gotten harder for me to ignore or brush aside for baseball because I’m older and wiser, or because baseball has lost something intangible?

35. Sometimes I wonder about the “what if” possibilities of 21 being retired at Fenway. The Red Sox had been very strict about retiring numbers; generally, a guy had to finish his career in Boston, and be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. (Joe Cronin of course played for other teams, but finished his career in Boston, and played 11 of his 20 seasons there.) For Carlton Fisk they backed down a little – he spent more time with Chicago and hung his spikes as a White rather than as a Red Sock. He got let through because he was a New England native and grew up a Sox fan, the fans almost universally loved him, his departure was blamed entirely on management, and he never reached a World Series with the “other” Sox, and, well, if most people in Chicago can’t be bothered to care one way or the other about the Pale Hose most of the time, why should Bostonians? And, well, while it is possible to lay much of the blame for the bad blood between Boston and the Rocket on management, the other factors there don’t hold at all. When Clemens leaves the majors, someone else should get to wear #21. The Fenway fans will get used to it.

36. Elegantly simple, I’d say. 9. 4. 1. 8. Ted Williams. Bobby Doerr. Joe Cronin. Carl Yazstremski. It seems like some teams now will retire anyone’s number.

37. When I originally conceived of this idea, I wanted to write one thought about each of Clemens’ career wins. Then I realized quickly that Clemens would have won his 300th by the time I was able to muster 299 different paragraphs, even if I were to let myself ramble with abandon. So I tried to come up with a number. No way could I get to 299. I had already passed 21, his number. I was close to 39, his age. I settled on 64, the number of wins (regular season only) he has notched since turning over to the Dark Side.

38. The rude thrashing the Red Sox gave Clemens in Fenway Park in their lone win of the 1999 ALCS against the Yankees was almost enough by itself to dull the pain of watching the Yankees win the four other games on the way to their World Series. Almost.

39. That game also reminded me of how bad his record was in the post-season with the Sox. He always seemed to come up short, and while the pen and the defense would sometimes blow it for him, he seemed to look more beatable in the clutch. (Yeah, Sports Guy goes over that too, including the way Dave Stewart always seemed to beat him.)

40. Maybe it’s because I’m a Red Sox/Celtics fan and a bleeding heart, but I’ve always found it inconceivable for someone to pull for the Yankees or Lakers. Are there people who cheer for the Empire when they watch the “Star Wars” trilogy? Are there people who watch “Revenge of the Nerds” and root for the Alpha Betas? If you are both a Yankee fan and a Laker fan (I know a couple of these people), you are stealing oxygen from organisms who deserve it far more than you do, including several different types of slime mold. And this fly buzzing around my room that I haven't gotten around to killing yet.

41. A few of those questions make me wonder if I was accidentally assigned the wrong country at birth. However, then I remember the whole phenomenon that is Manchester United, the most popular pro sports team in the world, other than our little corner of it of course. I'd like to think that if I were an Englishman, I'd hate Man U. And David "Spice Boy" Beckham.

42. The answer to life, the universe, and everything. (ObGeek Reference.) Also, 42 is/was Mo Vaughn’s uniform number.

43. Sometimes I do wonder if Mo Vaughn will get massive enough that his gravitational pull will attract objects to him. I used to wonder the same thing about Roger Clemens during those years when his ERA would creep into the 4.xx range.

44. Then I remember that if there was any danger of pro athletes transforming themselves into singularities, the NFL is by far the likeliest league to present such a danger, particularly amongst offensive linemen.

45. I actually know a former NFL offensive lineman. He appeared in “The Replacements,” as a hardcore union-type player who picks up and drops Keanu Reeves’ car. He’s also got nearly the head for trivia I do. I meet the most amazing people doing document review; in a logical world, most of the people doing this stuff probably have better ways to use their various and sundry talents. This includes me.

46. My friends – especially the non-Red Sox variety thereof - laugh at me when I refer to Clemens as “The Great Judas.” I’m not sure they understand that I do this mostly to entertain them. The rest of the country thinks New Englanders are crazy anyway.

47. Back to baseball. The Yankees have been slumping, which usually means it’s about time for George Steinbrenner to make a stupid, panic-like trade. (See also Jiminez for Witasick, Big Bucks for Mondesi) Sending Nick Johnson elsewhere for a mediocre middle reliever sounds good to me, though he’s on the DL at present. I’m not especially high on Juan Rivera, but couldn’t you use a backup catcher more, George? Heh. (You may laugh, but Ed Wade of the Philles somehow turned a backup catcher into Kevin Millwood.)

48. And before you comment, no, Raul Mondesi is not anywhere near this good. And yet there he is, second on the team in general production behind Alfonso Soriano.

49. And while we’re on the subject of Soriano, would someone please tell the pitchers of the American League that there is no need to throw him strikes? (OK, so Nomar and Ichiro swing at most everything too, but they usually can reliably make contact when they do. Soriano looks like the 21st century’s answer to Juan Samuel from here, including the rotten defense.)

50. As an added bonus, King George seems to have stepped in and more or less ordered Joe Torre to give Cuban bonus “baby” Jose Contreras a start or two. Given Contreras’ numbers thusfar, this would seem like a positive step – if you’re a Red Sox fan. Then again, maybe even I could put up respectable numbers against the Tigers, especially in that big ballpark of theirs. This is as good an opportunity as any to get him into the rotation if that’s an organizational goal.

51. You’d think foreign pitchers might be less susceptible to being lured in by the Yankee “mystique” after what happened to Contreras and Hideki Irabu. I mean, Contreras might still be in the rotation in Tampa Bay even if he had pitched just as badly as he has thusfar. He would had to have pitched a little better to crack the rotation in Boston, but “better than John Burkett” is not an especially high bar these days.

52. Is Jeff Weaver the new Ed Whitson/ Kenny Rogers? (The dreaded “sucks in New York, good elsewhere” syndrome.) Or was it simply that pitching in Comerica made him look better than he really was?

53. Damn it, if the Red Sox can’t beat the Yankees at a time when the Evil Empire seems decidedly mortal against everyone else – Toronto and Texas are not exactly the juggernauts of the American League - when can they?

54. There’s a reason Bruce Chen is on his 568th team. OK, maybe it’s just eight. It just seems like he is to Transaction Reports what Michael Jackson was to plastic surgery, or the lead guitarist position is to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

55. Yesterday at the supermarket, I saw a guy wearing a Red Sox T-shirt. On the back was a number 21 with the name “Yankees Suck” on it. I wonder of what vintage that T-shirt was, if it was from the days when Clemens still pitched for the Good Guys. It didn’t look that old, though.

56. It was a shocker the first time someone at a fantasy draft picked someone other than Clemens first. This was in 1993, and in my five years of fantasy/roto baseball, it was the first time I’d ever seen a first pick other than the Rocket in a non-auction league. And yet I don’t recall who that person was – I want to say it was Greg Maddux but I’m unsure. In the early years of my fantasy baseball, in draft leagues, if you had first pick, you had Roger Clemens. It was that simple. Pick anyone else, absolutely anyone else, and people would be ready to send you to a padded room. And “we” had him. Not the Yankees, nor the As, nor the Blue Jays. *sigh*

57. Clemens has won exactly one game against the Red Sox in every season since he donned another uniform. Which tends to be less (but not tremendously so, given that Boston has generally won more than they lost since 1996) than pure chance would predict, given that he has stayed in the division throughout.

58. Clemens’ last win in a Boston uniform was his second 20-strikeout game, a 5-hit, no-walk shutout in Detroit on September 18, 1996. It was unfortunately, the epitome of the meaningless game, a late season affair in a half-empty ballpark between two teams long since effectively eliminated from even the wild-card race.

59. That same season, Clemens lost a 1-0 decision to Detroit. It was the only game in 1996 when the Red Sox were shut out – but for that one game, they would have been the first team in modern history to not be shut out even once all year. (By contrast, this year’s Tigers are on pace to be shut out a record 33 times.)

60. Clemens’ first win came in his second career start, on May 20, 1984 in a 5-4 win at Minnesota, despite surrendering 4 runs, all earned, in 7 innings. (Yeah I know, that wouldn’t be judged a poor start today, but things were different back in 1984.) For his line in all 299 victories, go here.

61. Sometime very soon, Clemens will likely notch his 4,000th career strikeout; he is 15 Ks short as of now. The Tigers, for what it’s worth, are 4th in the AL in strikeouts – Clemens’ own Yankees, along with Toronto and Texas, have whiffed more. One can easily imagine Clemens whiffing 15 of them. However, I think the likely bet for strikeout #4,000 is not his next start in Detroit, nor his likely next start after that, at Wrigley Field.
I’m looking at Friday the 13th, at Yankee Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals.

62. Interleague play. Abomination. (I say this both from the perspective of a Red Sox fan, since the Sox always do horribly against even bad NL teams, and from the perspective of a baseball fan in general.)

63. More proof that strikeouts by hitters are somewhat overrated – the Jays’ offense, the most productive in the league thusfar, also leads the AL in strikeouts. The Yankees are third in runs and fourth in Ks. Of the AL’s higher scoring teams thusfar (Toronto, Boston, Yankees, Texas, Seattle) only the Red Sox are in the bottom half in strikeouts.

64. Clemens’ ten most similar pitchers over his career include (see Baseball Reference) seven Hall of Fame inductees (Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, John Clarkson, and Fergie Jenkins) and two still-active pitchers who are all but certain future Hall inductees (Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson.) The tenth is Bert Blyleven, who probably should be in Cooperstown.

And with that, I’m done with thinking for now.


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