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Hoping for a Clemens comeback?

by Matt Smith

There’s an interesting article on Sports Illustrated.com about the Astros and Roger Clemens. Everyone (well, almost everyone!) acknowledges what a great pitcher Clemens has been and it’s natural to think that the Astros would love to have him back if he decides to pitch in 2007; however John Donovan’s story puts a different spin on things:

“The daily breathless buzz about whether Clemens will retire for good or pitch again, and for whom? When it finally goes away, no tears will be shed in Houston’s clubhouse. The forced acceptance of a teammate — any teammate — who chooses when he wants to begin a season? There won’t be any missing that, either.

The whispered uneasiness about the so-called “Rocket Rules,” those one-of-a-kind, bend-over-backward accommodations that the Houston front office has made for the 348-game winner? The Astros will be only too glad to live without them, too”.

Donovan is quick to stress that the Astros would welcome Clemens back if he wants to join them, but by the same token they won’t be desperately unhappy if he decides not to. Reading through the article, it’s not hard to see where some discontent could fester among the rest of the roster. Of course the Astros want to win and if Clemens can help them do that then many little niggles can easily be overlooked, yet baseball is a team game and if one player (however talented he is) gets an easier ride than the rest then you run the risk of creating a lot of frustration that can boil over at any point.

Last season in particular I felt Clemens’s behaviour was pretty selfish. It’s fine for Roger himself to wait until late in the day before deciding whether he wants to play again or not, but it’s not very helpful for the Astros’ front office when they are trying to build a competitive team. The situation was made worse by the (now changed) rules that meant the Astros could not re-sign Clemens until the season had started having failed to agree a new deal within a specified time period. Still, Clemens seemed happy to sit things out and work his way back on his own schedule and ultimately he missed most of the first half of the season.

You can put several arguments up in his defence, not least taking into consideration his age. Isn’t half a season of Clemens better than none at all? Well maybe, but it’s not unreasonable for the other Astros to feel a bit cheated by it. I can imagine being in their position and not being happy about the “great hero” riding in to town half-way through to try and be the saviour. The way the Astros organisation sat with ball in hand begging to Roger to come back must have been demoralising to the rest of the players as it makes them look kind of pathetic.

I don’t really blame Clemens for all of this. He has earned the right to do what he likes really and if he wants to stroll in at the mid-way point then that’s up to him. It’s down to the team to go along with it or not. I think now is the time for the Astros to make a break from the past and to put faith in the other players. Clemens said recently that he was 80-20 leaning towards retirement and if he’s only planning on doing a half-season campaign then perhaps he should bow out now?

Put your money on Roger leading the Astros to their first World Series in 2007 then!

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