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Clemens is coming

Alert the pillow-fluffers and put the grape-peelers on double-time. Roger Clemens will be gracing us with his presence.

By GARY SHELTON
Published May 15, 2007


Sometime early this afternoon, you can expect Roger Clemens to walk into the Tampa Yankees clubhouse like he owns the joint.

Which, if you check the fine print, he might.

Ah, what a lucky bunch of peasants we are. Provided he can fit it into his schedule, the emperor will grace us with his presence today. Alert the pillow-fluffers and put the grape-peelers on double-time. Clemens is coming.

Considering all of the build-up about Clemens, possessor of The Contract That Annoyed Baseball, it stands to reason that a grand entrance is required. Perhaps Clemens will ride in on the shoulders of four litter bearers. Perhaps he will be accompanied by a brass band playing Rocket Man. Perhaps there will be children scattering rose petals.

Soon enough, however, he will blow through the doors of the clubhouse and just like that, the Tampa Yankees will have the largest payroll of any baseball team in the area.

Of course, given the Devil Rays' budget, that might have been true last week, too.

The bucks start here, in other words. Just as soon as the Yankees can change the sign out front to Roger Is a Legend Field, Clemens can attempt to answer whether he is worth a contract so rich and ridiculous he has made the owners of other rich and ridiculous contracts so jealous they cannot breathe.

The way I understand Clemens' contract, he is going to get about $18 million (once his $28-million is prorated), and he gets to work when he wants to, and he has the power to pardon, and he can bestow knighthood whenever he wants, and he gets to cut in front of you at Busch Gardens on those days he does not pitch. Not only that, but if he wants to throw a bat at Mike Piazza again, everybody can just shut up.

If you don't think that's a lot of money to pay for a Rocket, consider this: The Freedom 7 capsule cost a little more than $15-million.

Ah, it's good to be the Rajah.

Next week, perhaps they will put his picture on money.

I kid, of course, because none of this is really Clemens' fault. He didn't invent greed, he has merely taken it a new level. Clemens has a better contract than everyone else because he has more leverage than anyone else and the Yankees have more desperation. He merely signed the contract everyone else would love to have.

Still, you can hear the gnashing of teeth throughout baseball. There are those who are irked at Clemens for asking for such a contract, and those who are irked for the Yankees for giving it, and those who are irked at the combination of the two.

For those of us who are not emotionally invested, this is great fun. I don't know about you, but I'm half-tempted to hand a five-dollar bill to Clemens myself, just so I can see some guy from Boston's head blow up from the angst. With any luck, it will be Curt Schilling's.

By now, most of us are numbed to the contracts given to professional athletes. This one, however, was so over-the-top (especially for a 44-year-old man who won seven games last year) that you couldn't help but notice. And frankly, you couldn't help but wonder this:

Why $28, 000, 022? Would Clemens really have said no to $26-million? Did the Yankees balk at $29? And while I realize the extra 22 dollars was because of Clemens' jersey number, wouldn't you think a record money-grub would have convinced him to change to No. 99, just to get the extra 77 bucks?

How much would Clemens have asked for if he had won eight games last year? How about 11?

David Wells had a problem? David Wells?

In the immortal words of Navin Johnson (The Jerk) it isn't the money. It's the stuff.

More than anything, it seems to be the part-time commitment that seems to rankle everyone when it comes to Clemens. No one should expect Clemens to pinch-run anytime soon or to punch anyone with his expensive fist during a brawl. Still, there is a one-for-all, all-for-one mythology with sports. By golly, we expect our mercenaries to act like team players.

The other thing that is lost here is that a portion of Clemens legacy has been altered. He's no longer just about the 348 victories or the 4, 406 strikeouts. He's about the money. He's about the stuff.

Is Clemens worth the money? Who can say? Adam Sandler gets the same kind of money for a movie. But it seems to me that for this to work out, Clemens needs to be on the mound for the Yankees in the World Series.

We'll see. The saga begins here on Friday night against the murderer's row that is the Fort Myers Miracle.

As it turns out, it's also $1 beer night. Although it should be mentioned that, to help defray costs, hot dogs will cost $175, 000 each.

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.