Thursday, March 20, 2003

It must be difficult to decide how many more good years a superstar has left in the tank. The Red Sox vastly underestimated Roger Clemens prime by about eight years. But to be fair to them, sometimes it seems Roger needs a kick in the pants to get going. For example, in last year's debacle of a performance against the Angels, Roger came out with gas and the Angel hitters couldn't catch up. It was like butter for the Yankee pitcher. The next time through the lineup, Clemens started getting cute with splitters and sliders and was lit up. One memorable moment was with Tim Salmon. Salmon did not come close to Clemens fastball. He then came up in a crucial situation with men on base and Clemens got cute and Salmon crushed him. Clemens needed a pitching coach or a catcher to kick him in the kabuckus and told him to throw hard and harder.

Anyway, I'm off the subject. A recent story shows that Arizona just signed Luis Gonzalez to a three year contract extension. The reports are that he had a bad shoulder last year. Be that as it may, Gonzalez was 50% less effective last year than he was the year before. Granted, he had a career year in 2001, but that's the point. He had a career year. Gonzalez is 37 years old. I'm not convinced this was a good idea.

Pudge Rodriguez faced similar questions with Texas. Texas didn't like the odds and cut him loose. Florida took a chance but only a year's worth of a chance which is smart. If they catch lightning in a bottle (one of the weird cliches of our time), then great. If not, well, it was only one year. You have to be careful at this point in a player's career. I remember when Darrell Evans was playing for Detroit. For a few years, he hit a mash of home runs. But it was late in his career, and every year you had to look at him and ask how many years he had left. I seem to remember that the Tigers played it just right and Evan went to the Braves (I think!) and was never the same after. The Tigers of old always seemed to play these cards very well. Trammell and Whitacker played together for a decade and left just as their peak did as did Kirk Gibson.

Larry Anderson of the Red Sox is another example of a player whose best years were behind him. The Red Sox, who as have been mentioned, not only blew it on Clemens but gave up on Wade Boggs exactly two years too soon. The Padres on the other hand let Gwynn hang around too long. But the choice isn't only difficult for the teams, it's difficult for the player.

Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Sr, Rickie Henderson, Tom Seaver and Carlton Fisk are all examples of players who played longer than they should have. Sandy Koufax, Mark McGuire, Don Mattingly and Nolan Ryan are all examples of players who judged it just right. Okay, Ryan was 46 you say. But at 46, he was more effective than most pitchers half his age. Kenny Lofton should hang it up. Tim Raines was smart enough to do so this year. It has to be incredibly difficult to leave a sport that you have played your whole life. But a player's dignity and pride has to balance out that difficulty with reality and call it a game after playing as long as one possibly can in an effective manner.

The Dallas Cowboys showed class and dignity with how they handled what they felt was the end of their franchise player's effectiveness. Major League teams can do the same thing with long time superstars that have hung on just a bit too long. Of course, Emmett Smith might come back and have a couple of great years for another team...and of course, he may not.

By the way, how soon until the NCAA thing gets over so that ESPN can concentrate on baseball?

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