- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

M?a M?Dat work if you can get it. And seriously, how many pro athletes — 43 years old or not — wouldn’t take part of the season off if they could get away with it? You wouldn’t even have to pay them a salary of $22,000,022, pro-rated. Most of them, I’m sure, would be willing to work for half that.

On one level, Roger Clemens is no different from the temp brought in by H&R; Block during tax season … or the snowbird who, between fishing trips in Florida, moonlights for CVS. As the Christian Science Monitor reported, “A study about working in retirement by AARP, a lobbying group for seniors, found that a strong majority of respondents wanted flexible work arrangements. … Workplace specialists expect the trend to spread as labor shortages loom and baby boomers age.”

So there you have it. The Astros are just ahead of the curve, if you’ll pardon the expression. Ninety-five-mile-an-hour fastballs — complemented by a splitter that dives like Greg Louganis — are hard to come by; and if the possessor of said fastball only wants to work half the season, well, what are you gonna do? In the case of the ‘Stros, dangerously close to falling out of the National League Central race, you say, “Punch in when you want to punch in, Roger. Your uniform will be hanging in your locker.”

Who knows? If this latest comeback succeeds, Clemens might open a 24-Hour Emergency Pitching Service and hire himself out — on a series-by-series basis — to teams in need. Three million dollars a start, non-negotiable. He could rescue the Red Sox in a weekend set at Yankee Stadium, and then, five days later, help the Rangers pad their lead over the Angels. To add to the glamour, he could whisk around in his own private jet, the one with “Rent-A-Rocket” in big block letters.

“This is an historic day and an unusual day,” Houston owner Drayton McLane said when Clemens unretired yet again. “I don’t think this has ever been done in any sport … for a true superstar to sit out the first half of the season and then come back.”

McLane has a short memory. Michael Jordan did pretty much the same thing in ‘95 when he rejoined the Bulls after his Hardball Hiatus. Indeed, a mere 17 games were left in the regular season. Jordan didn’t bring Chicago a championship that year, but he did in each of the next three seasons. (Then he took another break before, if memory serves, playing for a club somewhere around here.)

Michael Jordan, Roger Clemens — you almost have to be that kind of player to pull such a stunt. But what Clemens is attempting, I humbly submit, is even more mind-boggling than Jordan’s feat. After all, Michael was more than a decade younger (32) when he made his first comeback. He had nearly 11,000 points left in him. Rocket might not have 11,000 breaths left in him — not in a baseball uniform, anyway.

Still, it’s hard not to have Rick Sutcliffe flashbacks at a time like this. Remember what he did in 1984? On June 13 of that year, the Cubs, leading the NL East by 11/2 games, acquired him in a trade with the Indians. The rest of the way, he went 16-1, won the Cy Young Award and took the Cubbies to the cusp of the World Series.

That’s the upper end of what’s possible for a pitcher in the last three months of the season. (Sutcliffe’s first appearance for Chicago was June 19; Clemens’ first for Houston is penciled in for June 22.) Unlike the ‘84 Cubs, though, the Astros have some ground to make up; they were 51/2 games out of the wild-card spot going into last night. And unlike Rick, Roger could likely use some Rust-Oleum; he hasn’t pitched since the World Baseball Classic in March.

Plans call for Clemens to make three minor league starts — beginning tonight, when he’ll take the mound for the Class A Lexington (Ky.) Legends at Applebee’s Park. The Legends are making the most of their brush with greatness. They’re auctioning off the chance to take batting practice with Roger later in the week and hope to raise $15,000 for, among other things, clubhouse renovation.

After that, Clemens will throw for Class AA Corpus Christi and Class AAA Round Rock before debuting against the Twins in Houston. (Too bad he can’t push up the start a few days. The toothless Royals are in town just before Minnesota.)

Should be quite an adventure, Comeback No. 2. Just wondering: Because he’s only a temporary hire — and doesn’t expect to play beyond this season — does Roger get dental coverage? If not, good thing he held out for the extra $22.

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