Monday, January 08, 2007

Old-Timers Play On

There may be a chronic shortage of quality starting pitching in this era, but there is no shortage of old-timers from earlier times who still feel the itch, headlined by Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and that perennial will-he-or-won’t-he legend, Roger Clemens.

Johnson was just traded back to the Arizona Diamondbacks last week after a less-than-happy two year tenure in the Bronx. Twenty wins shy of the 300 total that guarantees enshrinement at Cooperstown (as if Johnson really needs to worry about that ultimate destination), Johnson agreed to return to Phoenix only after being offered a two-year, $26 million extension of his contract so that he can reach the hallowed mark. The 43-year old Johnson went 17-11 with the Yankees last season, but his ERA ballooned to 5.00, 1.78 points higher than his career mark, and he struggled with injuries throughout the campaign. If we are to believe all parties involved, his biggest problem during his time as a Yankee was playing in the world’s alleged biggest media circus, not diminishing health or skills. There must be some truth to that notion since Johnson literally got into a tiff with reporters the day he landed in NY two years ago while on his way to the press conference announcing his arrival.

Maddux, meanwhile, remains an effective pitcher at age 40, but in signing with San Diego during this off-season, is joining his fourth club since 2003. The accelerating rate at which he is filing change-of-address cards with the Post Office has not reached hanging-on proportions, yet, but the direction is a little suggestive of those greats who refused to acknowledge father time is ultimately the great arbiter behind the plate. See Steve Carlton for details. Maddux won fifteen games for the Dodgers in 2006 while losing 14. He still fields his position with the best of them, and it should be noted that those skills, too, are in short supply on today’s pitching mounds. See the Detroit Tigers staff for details.

Clemens is en route to becoming the most famous part-time player, let alone starter, of his or any other generation. Who else can announce to the baseball world for the third year running that he will begin play in earnest sometime around the All-Star break and still be the object of so many general managers’ affections? Speculation regarding his latest “comeback” from “retirement” has him signing with the Yankees, who are alleged to be the team whose cap Roger wants to wear when he enters the Hall of Fame in 2050, or whenever his five-year waiting period following official and final retirement elapses. To those of you who don’t know, the folks in Cooperstown get the final say regarding whose cap an entrant can wear, but as far as I can determine they have never been challenged or whether or not a member of the Hall can un-retire and play again.

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