The Exceptional Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens, who will post his 300th win in the major leagues soon, if not very soon, first pitched in the bigs 19 years and a week ago.

His two World Series rings, six Cy Young Awards, and nine seasons with 18 or more wins notwithstanding, that is perhaps his most remarkable number. He's won almost 300 games, but he's started almost 600 of them. He is in his 20th summer of throwing hard, harder, or hardest.

An acrobatic grab in the shortstop hole followed by a quick, accurate throw to first will impress a benchful of big leaguers, as will a line drive homerun so quick to leave the park that no outfielder has time to do anything but turn his head and watch it depart. But the pros admire nothing more than they admire longevity.

Major League Baseball, like the other pro games, overflows with gifted athletes. But the long career --- and twenty years is a preposterously long baseball career --- requires of a player a nearly impossible combination of talent, dedication, and luck. He has to be intrinsically and obviously good enough so that when he falters, as all athletes do, his employer doesn't panic and all the other potential employers don't quit on him. He has to work hard, and then much harder, because gravity makes no exception for great athletes, especially when they get past thirty, and then thirty five, and then forty. And, of course, he has to somehow manage to avoid at least the most serious injuries which relentlessly thin every athletic herd.

Finally, in order to last as long as he has lasted, Clemens, who lost more games than he's won in only two seasons, must be a little nuts, at least by pedestrian measures. Since before the halfway point in his career, he's had ten times enough money to retire, but he has soldiered on. As a 40-year-old, albeit perhaps a not-especially-contemplative 40-year-old, he spends an awful lot of time in close association with men much younger than himself, some of them perhaps even less contemplative than he is. Year after year, though he hasn't had to do it, he has chosen this company, and chosen, also, to spend a third to a half of each year away from his wife and children.

Could many pitchers do what Roger Clemens has done? No, obviously not. Would many who might have lasted a score of years in the bigs have made the necessary choices? No. That's part of what makes 20 seasons and 300 wins exceptional, a milestone, a genuine wonder within the context of the game.

This program aired on May 21, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.


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