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Mr. Clemens, you're late for work again

Am I the only baseball fan in the world who is stupendously annoyed to the point of distraction by the parlor dance every spring that goes on with a certain Hall-of-Fame-bound pitcher? I speak, of course, about Roger Clemens, who for several years now has been allowed to bless us with his presence on the Major League Baseball scene at precisely the moment that suits him and his busy schedule.
To answer my own question, I would appear to be, since at least in the newspapers and magazines that I read, hardly a discouraging word is heard about conduct that would have been unthinkable for an earlier generation of ballplayers.
The most compelling, repetitive aspect of spring for me recently has been a stunned disbelief that anybody tolerates the prima donna that Clemens has become by virtue of his seven Cy Young Awards and the admittedly remarkable ability to keep his heater humming past age 40.
I have joked that perhaps one of these days he’s going to lament that he would prefer only to pitch in odd-numbered innings on alternating Thursdays in cities that conform to specific demographic, sociological and climatological guidelines set forth by Clemens’ agent. Gee, sounds silly when you put it like that, but only about 12 percent sillier than the ground rules the pitcher actually tosses out there every spring.
I know that it’s customary for older folks to carp about changes that take place over time, and indeed, some of that grousing can be discounted or even ignored based simply on that disclaimer, but the pesky case of Roger Clemens is – ironically – a very special case, perhaps even as unique and exalted as Clemens himself believes. Just not in the way that he believes.
But in this one, the implications for the game that I have loved for more than a half-century are profound. With all the historic changes that MLB has endured since I started paying attention in the late 1950s, the pampered, indulgent treatment afforded Clemens is the most discouraging because it is, at its core, the most dramatically antithetical to the fundamental underpinnings of a team game.
The staggering salaries that are doled out routinely to players who couldn’t make a turnstile spin if their pensions depended on it (fortunately for them, they do not) have turned off millions of fans, but fiddling like this with the team concept and the responsibilities that have traditionally been attached to it is even scarier.
And I am not bitter that Clemens is headed to Cooperstown (he’s asked that he be allowed to be portrayed in street clothes on his HOF plaque and that the plaque itself will only be exhibited from June 15 to Labor Day). I was always a Doc Gooden guy, and I used to track their careers, head to head, as I assumed they both would eventually ascend to immortality. I didn’t dislike Clemens; I just rooted for Doc.

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Ed Tyree is one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve encountered in this hobby, and that’s saying something, because over the nearly 30 years that I’ve been going to shows and otherwise taking part in the social aspects of collecting, I’ve met and often become friends with a whole bunch of nice people.
I’ve only met Ed Tyree a couple of times, quite a few years back when we (Krause Publications) still used to run the Tuff Stuff shows in Richmond, Va. But we’ve talked over the phone from time to time, and he is a frequent contributor to our letters to the editor section in Sports Collectors Digest. And those letters usually have 1980s National League slugger Dale Murphy front and center on Tyree’s agenda.
Ed has made it something of a crusade to get Murphy more HOF “cred” than he currently receives – about 9 percent in the 2007 vote – and it’s an alternately noble and quixotic undertaking. Tyree has gotten a good deal of newspaper coverage for the Murphy candidacy, and he has frequently written to Commissioner Selig and the Hall of Fame to tout Murphy’s numbers, but it has to be disheartening to see such paltry vote totals for a player of such prominence for the better part of a decade.

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I am still trying to get comfortable with this blogging business, and one of the areas where I think my unfamiliarity shows pretty plainly is in the area of responding to e-mails that show up as a result of earlier blogs or are simply commentary about the hobby in general or SCD in particular.
One of the areas where I get snagged is in the notion that I have to respond to every allegation and assertion, either in this fashion or individually. I’ll do my best to react to such commentary, but it’s kind of an old rhetorical trick to suggest that such responses by definition have to be all-encompassing and that failing to address any specific item constitutes evasion. Ultimately, I’ll always be faced with picking and choosing topics.
To the questions about how can a reporter cover hobby figures who are friends, I can only suggest that the relationship with our advertisers is not the adversarial paradigm (I’ve always wanted to get that word into a column, er, blog) that you might find between the fourth estate and government, for example. It is a major element of my job to balance friendships I have with any number of dealers and hobby figures with the need to fairly serve the readers and I try to do that on a daily basis.
I count Alan Rosen as a friend, but that’s a designation I would also apply to a number of people in the hobby that circumstances dictate are fequently part of our news coverage. I would list an expansive list of other well-known hobby figures that I regard as friends, but my fear is I would leave somebody out and maybe hurt some feelings.
As my old third-grade teacher used to say, “You know who you are.” And I think that’s part and parcel of the hobby. I have a number of people in the hobby who are mad at me, in some cases perhaps justifiably, but it’s not something I am proud of or wear as a badge of honor. Any evaluation of our publication or any other is going to have to be done through the prism of an imperfectly crafted relationship; expecting it to be something more grandly contentious doesn’t push the debate forward.
It is my hope that this blog and by extension SCD will be fertile ground for broader debates about the issues affecting the hobby. The new ground rules, which I have conceded I am only now barely getting accustomed to, make things easy enough that the content can be as weighty as the serious issues facing collectors or significantly less than that.
I am rooting for the former.

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