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Roger and Me

BY RICH HERSCHLAG
05.25.2007 | SPORTS

God isn't making any more land. Apparently, He isn't making any more pitchers either. While developers in New York City compete for air rights over bodegas and vacant lots next to prisons, the New York Yankees have elected to pay Roger Clemens a ludicrous sum under ludicrous terms to take the mound a few times this summer. For Clemens, who reserves the right to see how the pennant races are shaping up before jumping into the fray, the deal fits like a glove. And for the Yankees, who have so far this season combed Little League rosters and scouted Central Park beer leagues for starting pitching, the deal seems like a no-brainer.

Where supply meets demand meets pay-per-view, anything is indeed possible. The terms, which include $28 million for a handful of starts and no requirement to travel with the team, may represent a low-water mark in the era of pampered athletes. Yankee fans desperate for a winner wearing pinstripes seem past the point of caring about contractual nuances. However, a long list of additional perks has, until now, been scrupulously withheld from both the media and the general public.

Clemens will be airlifted to the mound moments before the first pitch. Number 22 will challenge hitters from behind a batting practice screen. Although Clemens will not be required to come off the mound to field ground balls, there is an incentive clause in his contract to grab reachable balls hit back to the box. A designated fielder may be activated after the fifth inning.

A variety of historic baseball rules and regulations will be suspended during Clemens' appearances. Free substitution will be allowed so that, for instance, Rocket may be relieved in a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third inning and return to start the fourth inning. Rocket may sit out against lefty hitters and return to face righties. He may also be spelled during unfavorable pitch counts. Lower paid middle relievers will inherit all runners. However, should Clemens opt to remain in the game, runners in scoring position with less than two outs will trigger a combat pay clause with a generous compensation-per-pitch multiplier.

Between innings, Clemens will be whisked away by helicopter to a luxury skybox. There, in a fully automated multipurpose salon and spa, he will receive a tanning session, collagen and B1 shots, and a complete buffet featuring baby back ribs dripping with A1 Steak Sauce. Ben-Gay and Gold Bond medicated powder will spray out from a series of high pressure nozzles, and computer guided vibrating heads will provide a full body massage upon voice command. A cornucopia of performance enhancing drugs will be made available at all times. Major League Baseball's anti-doping laws are suspended. Green M&Ms will be removed.

Back on the field, the catcher's signs will be scanned by electronic device and transmitted to a relay box in Clemens' cap. Radar gun readings may not be reproduced or rebroadcast without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball and Roger Clemens or his authorized representative. Scuffing the ball is grandfathered. Spitballs are grandfathered. And soon, grandfathers will be grandfathered.

Although there has been a great deal of conjecture about Clemens' $7,500-a-pitch deal, that figure is, in fact, a gross oversimplification. Strikes on the outside corner are worth 15K. Fastballs up and in are good for 20K. A hit batsman is worth a cool 50K if done in retaliation. Yet while Clemens' contract is the envy of millions, it really isn't all it's cracked up to be. Until some remaining language is worked out, warm-up tosses, pick-off attempts, and balls in play are all free of charge, a stipulation that seems to violate the spirit of Baseball's Basic Agreement.

Clemens will undergo post-game treatments in a sensory deprivation tank, shielding him from some of the more intrusive questions asked by members of the press. When he chooses to attend a press conference, questions will be vetted by the Yankees' front office and the Bush White House. Don't mess with Texas.

Like military intelligence and jumbo shrimp, the term "free agent" has entered the modern American pantheon of oxymorons. Yet there is little doubt that this deal will indeed produce a winner in New York -- Roger Clemens. As far as the success of the team goes, the Yankees also can't lose. Should they fail to make the playoffs or exit the postseason early at the hands of a hungrier club with a payroll less than the GDP of Somalia, there is always that other twenty-million dollar man for George, Mike and the Mad Dog, and working stiff fans like me to blame -- Alex Rodriguez.

About the Author
Rich Herschlag is the author of a new book, Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times Into Home Runs (HCI, 2007). His other books include Lay Low and Don't Make the Big Mistake (Simon & Schuster, 1997) and Women Are From Manhattan, Men Are From Brooklyn (Black Maverick, 2002).

Also an engineer, he runs a consulting business, Turnkey Structural, that specializes in the rehabilitation of residential and commercial buildings. Also a radio commentator, he can be visited at RichsRant.com.

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