Roger Clemens is a solo act in an ensemble sport. He will pitch on his own terms, or not at all.
Last year, those terms were unacceptable to the New York Yankees.
Things change when you can't get anyone out.
Inasmuch as the Yankees' pitching staff has more leaks than the Lusitania, the Rocket's return to baseball's richest, winningest and most tradition-conscious team may be less significant competitively than it is culturally.
When the most successful franchise in American sports proclaims a player to be more equal than others, when it permits him to come and go pretty much as he pleases and to skip those road trips in which he's not scheduled to start, it tells you that anarchy has reached baseball's on-deck circle.
Next thing you know, Alex Rodriguez will demand veto power over Joe Torre's lineup card and Barry Bonds will insist that the stands be evacuated when he hits away from home.
As Dr. Peter Venkman so presciently predicted in "Ghostbusters," we're talking about, "Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria."
Or maybe not.
Though Clemens' contractual privileges run contrary to the clubhouse ethos espoused by that noted stickler David Wells, superstars have been extorting concessions since the book of Exodus. The trick is in persuading the extorted that their principles are of less value than their payoff.
When Kevin Brown left the San Diego Padres for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1999, a clause in his $105 million contract obliged the club to pay for a dozen trips per year between Los Angeles and Macon, Ga. Greg Maddux's contract with the Padres includes a country club membership. Third baseman Troy Glaus, now of the Toronto Blue Jays, once struck a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks that required the club to commit $250,000 for his wife's equestrian training.
Over and above the $51.1 million fee the Boston Red Sox paid for the right to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the $52 million they are paying him over the next six seasons, the pitcher's perks include an interpreter, a massage therapist, a physical therapist, a personal assistant and customized transportation and living accommodations.
It never hurts to ask, and it doesn't always hurt to make outlandish demands.
"The meek shall inherit the earth," said billionaire J. Paul Getty, "but not the mineral rights."
Pop diva Jennifer Lopez reportedly demands that her path be prepared with the scent of gardenia at public appearances, and that her hotel sheets must be Egyptian cotton with an extremely high thread count. Van Halen's standard concert contract included the stipulation that a bowl of M&M's be provided backstage - with all of the brown ones removed.
Clemens, by comparison, is relatively reasonable. If his negotiated absences "disrespect the team and your teammates," as Wells told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, neither the team nor Clemens' teammates have voiced any opposition.
"I could care less," said Yankees slugger Jason Giambi. "I'd carry his bags for him, just as long as he is on the mound."
Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte, who played with Clemens in Houston, considers the seven-time Cy Young Award winner a special case.
"I can promise you he's not out laying by the pool having pina coladas," he said. "It's a unique situation. ... He's one of the greatest pitchers ever to play the game. And if organizations continue to want him to play and pitch for them, this is one thing they need to deal with."
With a monthly salary of about $4.5 million, Clemens can easily afford to make the deal more palatable to his fellow players. He could hire a stand-in to make the road trips to Cleveland and Detroit, to shag fly balls during batting practice, to take his turn in all of the mundane matters that befall a ballplayer between games.
Nothing new there. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Enrollment Act of 1863, authorizing conscription during the Civil War, thousands of potential soldiers were able to dodge the draft by finding a replacement or paying a $300 fee (roughly $6,500 in today's dollars). According to David Nasaw's biography, Andrew Carnegie spent $850 to secure a substitute to fight in his place.
Marriages have been made by proxy (including Napoleon's second, to Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma), and so have movie musicals. Marni Nixon supplied the singing voice for Deborah Kerr in "The King And I," Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady."
Baseball being entertainment, what matters most is the product on the field and not the head count in the clubhouse. Besides, what is the designated hitter if not a stunt double?