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Clemens' decision will turn on competitve desire

by Tracy Ringolsby
December 7, 2004

DENVER—Roger Clemens is in the position most any American would welcome.

He doesn't have to work. And if he does want a job, he can pretty much get one any place he wants.

At 41, Clemens has shown he can still compete at the big league level. He just picked up his record-setting seventh Cy Young Award, his first in the National League.

Now the biggest question he is facing is if he is ready for retirement. The early indications are Clemens will decide to pack it in. But then a year ago at this time, all signs were that Clemens was ready to put an end to his career as a big league pitcher as well.

But he never did sign retirement papers with the Yankees, and by the time spring training rolled around, there was Clemens, pitching for the Astros, the team he has been rooting for since his teens. The Astros would like Clemens back in 2005, but he has put them on hold.

The decision comes down to whether Clemens still has the competitive desire.

The man is, after all, coming off a season in which he was 18-4, and provided the emotional lift for the Astros not only to rally for a wild-card playoff spot, but also to win a playoff series for the first time in franchise history.

"It depends on where he is with what he wants to do with the rest of his life and his family, and how important competing is to him," said Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who pitched until he was 46. "So that strictly comes down to a personal deal. I believe if Roger wants to come back next year, he can come back and be very effective.

"The routine he has, not having to travel every day, has been compatible with him. It will be interesting to see what he does."

His Own Routine

Clemens had a deal with the Astros that allowed him to break away from the team if he wasn't scheduled to pitch so he could be with his family, and none of his teammates objected to it.

"We knew that before he ever signed," second baseman Craig Biggio said. "He called a bunch of players, and talked about his plan before he came here. What's there to complain about? That's part of the deal that brought him here. There's no hidden agenda."

The Astros certainly couldn't complain about the results. Clemens, 42, now ranks 10th on the all-time win list with 328, is fifth among active players with a 3.18 ERA, and his 4,317 career strikeouts trail only Ryan. What's more, he has won 10 or more games in 18 of the last 19 seasons, including each of the last 10.

Not only has Clemens been a 10-time all-star, but he's also made the all-star team each of the last two years and three of the last four.

"He is one of the best pitchers the game has ever had," Ryan said. "If you look at his records and what he's done and his consistency . . . That's the thing you judge it on, consistency. He's very dedicated. The only way that you can put a career together like he has is that you have to have that passion and dedication."

Diamond Notes

The plot thickens in Arizona. Original Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard has joined the franchise as a vice president and special assistant to general manager Joe Garagiola Jr.

That's interesting in light of the fact that former agent Jeff Moorad, who is the proposed new chief executive for the team pending approval by major league owners, already had begun to interview candidates to take Garagiola's job, including former Expos and Red Sox GM Dan Duquette.

Since being fired by the Rockies in September 1999, Gebhard was a special assistant to Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty, but in a restructuring of the Cardinals' management team, Gebhard had been reassigned as the West Coast supervisor for amateur scouting.

Rudy Jaramillo has earned a reputation as one of the game's best hitting coaches, and he is now the highest-paid coach in history. The Rangers re-signed Jaramillo after several clubs came calling with other jobs, giving him a three-year deal with a value that exceeds the $500,000 a year Dave Duncan earns as pitching coach in St. Louis.

Jaramillo was a finalist for the Mets managerial job, and could have joined the Mets as the hitting coach. He also was in line for a job with the Yankees, if Don Mattingly had become the bench coach. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez spent three years working with Jaramillo in Texas, and had been pushing for him to be added to the Yankees staff.

Randy Johnson has made 13 career starts against the Cubs. His record in those outings is a dominant 12-0, 1.98. Plus, he's 4-0, 1.00 at Wrigley Field. So is there any wonder why the Cardinals have been so interested in pursuing the Diamondbacks lefthander?

When righthander Troy Percival signed with the Tigers, it ended his 10-year run with the Angels. He left as Anaheim's all-time leader with 316 saves. Only Trevor Hoffman (Padres), Mariano Rivera (Yankees) and Dennis Eckersley (Athletics) recorded more saves for one team.

Tracy Ringolsby is the national baseball writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. You can contact him by sending e-mail to

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