As Season Approaches, Some Topics Should Be Off Limits
By MURRAY CHASS
Things I donít want to read or hear about anymore:
∂Roger Clemens saying he hasnít decided if he will play this year or retire, and if he decides to play, which team he will play for.
Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers ever, the greatest of his era. They could put him in the Hall of Fame today and Iíd have no problem with it. But let him walk into the sunset quietly. Let him pitch batting practice to his minor league son all day, every day, if he wants, but let him remain quiet on the subject of his major league future.
ďClemens revealed very little about his future,Ē a news report from Florida said last week, ďexcept to confirm heíll be spending quite a bit of time at Osceola County Stadium in the next month or so.Ē
The report quoted Clemens as saying: ďIím not thinking anything. Hopefully until May this will be the last time I have to address it.Ē
But it wonít be. Every time Clemens appears in public, a reporter will ask him if he has decided what he wants to do, pitch or retire. And if the answer is pitch, will it be for the Astros, the Red Sox or the Yankees?
Ever since Clemensís agents, the Hendricks brothers, engineered his trade from the Blue Jays to the Yankees in 1999, Clemensís status has consumed more newspaper space and television and radio time than that of any other pitcher. Enough already.
Last year, Clemens created a bad precedent for baseball, calling his own shots on when he would start pitching and what days he would honor his team with his presence, belying the concept of baseball as a team sport.
When Alex Rodriguez was a free agent six years ago, the Mets accused him of wanting them to create a 24-and-1 plan, one way for 24 players and another way for the 25th, Rodriguez. It wasnít true then, but it has become so with Clemens. Itís good for Clemens, bad for baseball.
∂People saying the Yankees arenít being fair to Bernie Williams.
No one, not Clemens, not Nolan Ryan, not Julio Franco, plays forever. Williams isnít exempt from that reality. If he were still one of the Yankeesí three best outfielders, or a more productive hitter than Jason Giambi, or a first baseman, he would be in Tampa, Fla., preparing for his 17th season with the Yankees.
But he is none of those things, so the Yankees donít have a spot for him. They are moving on. Williams should do the same. If he wants to continue playing, he should have his agent, Scott Boras, find him a job with another team.
If Williams canít face the prospect of playing for another team, he should graciously retire and accept that he has had a great, if not a Hall of Fame, career.
∂Players like Curt Schilling, Mariano Rivera and Andruw Jones saying they will be free agents after the 2007 season.
Could they wait until we get there? Do they know how many players have made similar preseason proclamations and wound up re-enlisting with their teams before they could become free agents?
If players think their threats are going to panic their teams into giving them the contract extensions they want, they havenít been paying attention.
∂Players saying that if theyíre not signed to new contracts by the start of the season, they wonít sign during the season.
Itís an empty threat. Rare is the player who turns down a lavish offer in May or June. Oh, five years, $75 million, you say? Well, all right. I could do that.
∂Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter no longer going to dinner together or having sleepovers.
The declining relationship between the guys who play the left side of the Yankeesí infield has not prevented the team from winning the division championship in their three seasons together.
The Yankees havenít won the World Series, but they didnít win it in the three years before Rodriguez arrived either.
Many precedents exist for teams being successful despite internal turmoil, which the Rodriguez-Jeter relationship doesnít even rise to.
The Oakland Athletics won three successive World Series (1972-74) with a clubhouse loaded with ill feeling among players. The Yankees won the World Series in 1977 and í78 after Reggie Jackson said it was he, and not Thurman Munson, who was the straw that stirred the drink.
I fear that some observers of the Yankeesí scene will not let the Rodriguez-Jeter relationship rest. They will find it an occasional easy story to write, the way reporters in another section of their newspapers write about Britney Spears.
But the social interaction between Rodriguez and Jeter is irrelevant and immaterial.
∂Statistics mongers promoting VORP and other new-age baseball statistics.
I receive a daily e-mail message from Baseball Prospectus, an electronic publication filled with articles and information about statistics, mostly statistics that only stats mongers can love.
To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didnít care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didnít know what it meant either.
Finally, not long ago, I came across VORP spelled out. It stands for value over replacement player. How thrilling. How absurd. Value over replacement player. Donít ask what it means. I donít know.
I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, thatís their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fansí enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.
People play baseball. Numbers donít.