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Clemens Leads Crop of 40-Somethings
by Tracy Ringolsby
DENVER--When Houston owner Drayton McLane was busy convincing Roger Clemens to give up retirement last winter, more than anything McLane was looking for credibility for a franchise that, despite its annual success, had never captured the Houston baseball fans.
He got that, and more.
At the age of 41, Clemens put together the type of beginning--7-0, 1.99 in his first seven starts--that has created speculation that he could become the fourth 40-plus pitcher to win 20 games in a season, might extend his record Cy Young haul to seven, and could even start the All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park in July.
Ironically, it was Clemens who started for the American League the last time the All-Star Game was in Houston, in 1986, and actually claimed the game's MVP award. And adding to the irony this year would be the possibility that his catcher in the NL starting lineup could be Clemens nemesis Mike Piazza.
Clemens is getting the headlines, but he's not the only old-timer still enjoying a young man's game. Clemens is one of 24 players who is in at least his 20th pro season. Clemens signed with the Red Sox as a first-round draft choice out of Texas in June of 1983.
Of those 24 players, eight of them were foreign signs. Of the 16 players signed out of the annual draft, eight of the guys who are still making a living in baseball even though they are on the backside of 40 are lefthanded pitchers.
What's that about being lefthanded and breathing?
Actually, a decent team could be put together, although it would be heavy on catchers with Benito Santiago (Padres, Puerto Rico, Sept. 1982), Sandy Alomar (Padres, Puerto Rico, Oct. 1983), Pat Borders (Blue Jays, sixth round, 1982) and Greg Myers (Blue Jays, third round, 1984).
The infield has first baseman Julio Franco (Phillies, Dominican Republic, June 1978), second baseman Mark McLemore (Angels, ninth round, 1982), shortstop Omar Vizquel (Mariners, Venezuela, April 1984,), and third baseman Lenny Harris (Cincinnati, fifth round, 1983).
Leftfielder Ruben Sierra (Rangers, Puerto Rico, Nov. 1982,) would be joined by center fielder Ellis Burks (Red Sox, first round, Jan. 1983) and right fielder Larry Walker (Expos, Canada, Nov. 1984,) with DH Edgar Martinez (Mariners, Puerto Rico, Dec. 1982).
The pitching staff would have lefthanders John Franco (Dodgers, fifth round, 1981), Terry Mulholland (Giants, first round, 1984), Jamie Moyer (Cubs, sixth round, 1984), Jeff Fassero (Cardinals, 22nd round, 1984), Tom Glavine (Braves, second round, 1984), Kenny Rogers (Rangers, 39th round, 1982) and Al Leiter (Yankees, second round, 1982), and righthanders Clemens, Jeff Nelson (Dodgers, 22nd round, 1984), Greg Maddux (Cubs, second round 1984), and Jose Mesa (Blue Jays, Dominican Republic, Oct. 1981).
• Jeff Scott, one of the top talent evaluators in the game but a victim of the politics with the Cardinals during the offseason, is in the independent Atlantic League as the pitching coach for the Pennsylvania Road Warriors, who play their entire schedule on the road.
• Former Cubs and Rangers pitching coach Oscar Acosta is back in the Yankees organization. Not only will he be the manager and pitching coach for the Yankees' Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team, but he's also running the rehab program for pitchers in Tampa, where his primary focus had been getting Jon Lieber healthy.
• All the quarterbacks for the Dallas Cowboys are ex-professional baseball players, and two of the three played in the big leagues. Quincy Carter played in the minors for the Cubs. Chad Hutchinson pitched for the Cardinals in 2000. Drew Henson played third base for the Yankees in 2002 and last year.
HIDDEN GEMS (box this on the page)
Joe Klein, Texas' minor league and farm director back in the spring of 1982, was in uniform, overseeing an extended spring training workout at the team's complex in Plant City, Fla., when scout Joe Marchese showed up and convinced Klein to go with him to a Plant City High School playoff game so Klein could see a 135-pound, lefthanded shortstop.
"We sat out behind the outfield fence and Kenny (Rogers) was in right field (during infield)," Klein recalled. "He threw two balls over the third baseman's head and two over the catcher. Joe kept talking about his arm action and making him a pitcher. Joe finally said, `I want to get that kid in the 40th round.' "
The Rangers wound up taking Rogers in the 39th round.
"I kidded Joe over the years that I liked the kid so much I couldn't wait until the 40th," Klein said.
The young lefty had a long road from the draft to success. He remembers tripping over the rubber on the bullpen mound in his first throwing session after signing. He had left ulnar nerve surgery in 1987.
Today? He's still in the big leagues, pitching, 22 years after he was drafted.