For the 348 games Roger Clemens has won in his Major League career, he just can’t win.
The New York newspaper editing intelligentsia must have salivated when Clemens declared that reporters and commentators needed to get their facts straight when referring to the special services clause in his contract. The salivation must have turned to full-on drool when his former manager in Houston, Phil Garner, told ESPN Radio that Clemens’ absence did, in fact, become a problem with guys in the clubhouse — that when it would have been more appropriate for him to be in team workouts or sit in the dugout talking shop and rooting for his teammates, that he would be playing in charity golf tournaments.
The latter brought the local editors together to engage columnists in the latest game of “Soapbox Soundoff.” Granted, this is a columnist’s function, to provide opinions and occasionally drop a holier-than-thou missive in 700 words. As fans and consumers, we accept that. But I maintain that in this instance, the local print media waited a day too long to get preachy and play the “Yankee Way” card.
Last week I wrote that “if the reality (of Clemens' arrangement) didn’t match the perception, why make a big deal of it three years later?” (Correction: I stated that it was a story for three years, but I was wrong. Last year was the only year of his three seasons in Houston that he joined the team midseason.)
Fast forward a week. The majority of the “Clemens’ absence demeans Yankees’ integrity” columns were released Tuesday. Why wait a day? Why not throw in the biting commentary into the context of the “Roger is back, and here’s what it means” stories released on Monday? The editors and writers knew that a major condition of Clemens signing with the Yankees for the remainder of this season was the team’s willingness to bend where they stood steadfast for the past two years.
These same editors and writers know that the “Yankee Way” was compromised when they traded for Kevin Brown in December 2003. Brown had clearance to fly to and from his home Macon, Ga., when he was not pitching in order to spend time with his family. An even more notable exception to the “Yankee Way” than the Knucklebuster was Thurman Munson. I’m dating myself here, so I’ll elicit the help of you guys in the comments, but because of Munson's elevated status on the team and the way the writers respected him, I can’t see too many — if any — columnists or editors criticizing Munson for getting his pilot’s license and flying to and from Canton, Ohio, to see his family. In conversations I've had with writers and broadcasters who knew him, they admired him for what he did.
The most interesting column on the topic, in my opinion, came last Thursday from the Post’s George Willis, who opined that Clemens’ big-money, half-season contracts and carte blanche treatment will start a trend for fortysomething MLB veterans. Willis provided a different perspective. He didn’t try to explain what separates the Yankees from everyone else, or express dismay that the organization sold itself out. Willis also had a great hook: the ubiquitous Reggie Jackson told Willis he was jealous of Clemens’ arrangement. This, to me, was the best part of the column. Jackson later noted that as a hitter, you have a chance to be in the lineup everyday; thus, it’s more important to be with the team every day than if you’re a starting pitcher (did Barry Bonds form his opinion of pitchers from talking to Reggie?), but it’s obvious he fancied himself talented enough and powerful enough to have commanded such an arrangement.
Reading and rereading the Jackson quotes, I couldn’t help thinking that he still harbors enmity toward Munson and was taking a shot at him. His comments in the Sport Magazine article 30 years ago are as famous as any ever spoken by a Yankee. Their effect still divides members of that championship team. (Quick aside: Four years ago at Old Timers’ Day, a small group of reporters, including myself, gathered around Sparky Lyle to get his take on the Yankees retiring Jackson’s No. 44. Disgusted at the inquiry, Lyle took a drag from his cigarette, huffed the smoke out through his nose and said, “I’m not saying anything about that, because I don’t have anything nice to say.”) Furthermore, Jackson told reporters last October he didn’t see a similarity between Cory Lidle’s death and Thurman Munson’s. The circumstances surrounding their crashes were different, but the parallel is an easy one to draw.
Thankfully, the coverage shifted from the "no 'I' in team" soapbox to the daily chronicle of his workouts in Lexington, Ky., staying there to watch his son Koby play a minor league game, then on to Tampa for workouts leading up to his first preparatory start in the minors.
And as the team headed west, with the papers sending only their beat guys, Clemens became a note item and the Yankees’ offensive anemia came to the fore.
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Speaking of notebook items, thumbing through Monday’s missives, all the dailies led with the offensive struggles, with A-Rod, of course, being the poster boy. I couldn’t help but notice the subtle differences in what each paper chose for “sidebar” and “notebook” stories.
NEWSDAY Notebook lead: Games taking Torre’s mind off his brother’s fight for life following a kidney transplant. Other notes: Clemens to throw in Tampa Tuesday leading to Friday start.
NEW YORK TIMES Notebook lead: Torre’s mind on brother Frank Other notes: Clemens’ schedule; Rotation for Mets, Boston series
Full sidebar on Bob Abreu’s prolonged slump
Notebook lead: Clemens’ schedule Other notes: Jason Giambi back despite foot injury; Jeter, Posada streaks
POST Notebook lead: Clemens schedule Other notes: Giambi ailing; Torre’s return to New York; Torre considered sitting Damon and Abreu; Villone to be called up?; Jeter commits first error in 23 games
Notes on Clemens, travel musings, in Peter Abraham's blog (link is on right rail).
STAR-LEDGER Notebook lead: Clemens Other items: Proctor accepts suspension (from Sunday)
BERGEN RECORD Notebook lead: Jeter, A-Rod errors Other items: Abreu slump; Jeter, Posada hit streaks DeSalvo gives scorecard from Saturday’s win to his brother
It’s fascinating to me how similar stories spanning so many outlets can have such different information due to the difference of one or two words. For example, regarding the Clemens story, Newsday stated Tuesday’s throw day would put him on track for a Friday start, while the Times and the Post also presented the situation as an “if/then” item. The Daily News definitively claimed “Clemens will start Friday,” and if he comes through that OK and starts games at the graduated levels of the minors, he’ll be in line to start June 2 at Boston. In addition, there was conflicting information regarding the Giambi injury. Newsday reported the injury as plantar fasciitis, whereas the Daily News and the Post said it was a bone spur. Which one is it? They’re two different injuries.
The lesson: no matter how good the reporter is (and Kat O’Brien, George King and Mark Feinsand are all good), their stories can’t automatically be accepted as true.