Clemens moved breezily through the heart of downtown Red Sox Nation, sauntered down Pesky Place, made a left at Yaz Lane, gaze wandering the streets, searching for a new protégé. Like a taller version of his celluloid mentor John Milton (The Devil's Advocate), his eye contact came equipped with a smirk, a mischievous look that twinkled, beckoned.
It was an otherwise beautiful day in the Soxhood, a bonhomie coursing the streets, the bright sun bathing the kindly citizens with the warmth of both summer and first place in the standings. A few of the kids, Ellsbury and Buchholz included, I think, were jumping rope in the street. The thumping melody of The Dropkick Murphys' ode to "Tessie" faintly reverberated from inside Freddie Lynn's second story walk-up. Donning my Pudge Fisk throwback jersey, I was just back from my daily sojourn to El Tiante's vending cart, with a Fenway Frank in hand and a Pawtucket Times under the other arm, headed for my stoop to enjoy some lunch and then an afternoon of stickball with Dewey, Spaceman, Rooster, and the boys. That's when Satan approached to make his pitch (so to speak).
"Come with me to Yankeeland," he said, "and I promise you riches you've never before seen."
I was curious, I admit. The great unknown. The legend that had been passed down here in The Nation taught that Yankeeland was a horrible place, a dystopian cesspool of ne'er-do-wells -- thieves, prostitutes, grifters, Damons, Jeters -- all presided over by an alternate universe Biff Tannen wannabe who went by the nickname, "Big Stein." It may have even been haunted -- by the ghost of Thurman Munson, recently joined by Cory Lidle, or so the whispered rumors held. It was, in other words, the polar obverse of this peaceful, beatific hamlet. But this Clemens, this all-timer ... he was from here, a native. We used to cheer him like none other. He wouldn't show his face in these parts if he wasn't on the up-and-up. Or so I reasoned.
I should have turned my back, I know that now. But I was drawn in by his sharp eyes, and engaged. "What sort of riches?" I asked.
"Are we negotiating?" he asked, a creepy smile spreading across his face.
Greed suddenly gushed over me. I winked, and exclaimed, "Always!"
And that's the moment my fantasy baseball season came to a sudden demise.
It is often said that the only thing more boring than reading sports opinionating on a personal "blog" is listening to some hapless rube complain about his fantasy team. Well, you're going to have to hope that these two principles cancel themselves out, ‘cause here I go. [Note: the latter premise may have already been debunked by Sam Walker's entertaining book, Fantasyland - read this blog's positive review of Fantasyland, here.]
Success in fantasy baseball requires arctic ruthlessness, the emotionless efficiency of a Cyberdine Systems Model T-1000. You want loyalty? Get a dog. You want to cheer for the Sox, supplicate yourself to the Yanks, kvell over the Twins? Fine, but you'd better find a way to disconnect it when managing your team, or it's hasta la vista, baby. Learn to repeat this like a mantra as you up the bid on that fantasy stud A-Rod and his lady's handbag full of delicious roto-goodies: "I don't own the player, I only own his stats." And then don't ever watch him play lest you find yourself rooting for him; just read the boxscores and luxuriate in the numbers.
When the full history is written, my league, The Branch Rickey League, will deserve to go down in the annals. Formed in 1986 at The University of Michigan Law School (of which Mr. Rickey was a graduate, Class of 1911), it stands as a 10-team, AL-only, "4X4" old school rotisserie league, and after two decades of jockeying for bragging rights, "the pot," and the right to host the next season's draft, the participants can be accurately described as a predatory school of baseball sharks. The rosters in the BRL are 28 deep, so the free agent pickens are slim, by design. This is the backdrop against which Clemens, The Angel of Darkness, came on the American League scene.
I was in first place. Again. After spending the first decade in the wilderness, the second decade of the BRL had been largely mine, just as a twentieth century filled with war, strife, and genocide belonged squarely to Beelzebub. I have four titles in my column, and as I sat atop the standings again in '07, I stood vying for an unprecedented (if not previously unfathomable) three peat. Things were going pretty well so far. I had presciently nabbed Jeremy Accardo before the BJ Ryan injury, pairing him with Joe Nathan to plug my saves hole. My hitters were collectively putting up strong numbers, even as some of them (Hafner, Dellucci, Tejada, Monroe) remained stuck in neutral, revving up to carry the water during the second half. Other than the loss of a couple of mildly valuable middle relievers (Crain, Duschscherer) and the episodic bumps and bruises of Garret Anderson, I had been relatively free from injury. If I needed just one thing to solidify my standing, it was another top starting pitcher to help lead a second half charge in ERA, as an otherwise well-constructed rotation was still struggling to recover from the damage inflicted by one ill-fated roster spot -- a spot that had begun with the bungled drafting of Jeff Weaver, was succeeded by the waiver claim of Vicente "Piñata" Padilla, and was succeeded again with the desperate free agent claim of Cha Seung-Baek. There were points to be had in ERA, the staff was just in need of some buttoning up. Clemens was a perfect fit, the proverbial last piece of the puzzle. It seemed.
Not surprisingly, everybody went "all in" trying to acquire The Rocket, and the lottery winner was one of the teams residing in the lower half, already pitching rich, but sputtering offensively - in other words, a pretty good trading partner. I reached out. He asked for Mike Lowell. "Perfect," I thought, cold like an assassin, the sacrilege inherent in trading an upstanding Red Sox Nation citizen for a Yankeeland prostitute not even entering my mind. I had just completed another trade to further beef up my offense, so perhaps I could afford it, and Lowell, who had certainly done yoeman work for me, was historically a first half player, anyway. Clemens twirled his tail, crooked a bony, red finger, drew me into his lair. I accepted.
It took 24 hours for the first impact. "Ow, my shoulder!" cried AJ Burnett, and off he went, to the disabled list. A day later: "Ow, mine too!" wailed Curt Schilling, and away he went as well. Then, as flames burst around him and he cackled with glee, it was time for my new, 44-year old demon pitcher to go about dismantling the offense. First, David Dellucci shreds a hamstring, DL, surgery, extended absence. But hey, at least I have the most durable player in baseball, nothing can happen to him, right? Wrong. Lightning bolt! Miguel Tejada is hit by a pitch, breaks his wrist, outta here. Lucifer Clemens blows into his hand, mockingly re-holsters his flame-throwing finger. But he's not done, yet - Johnny Damon (yes, I own him -- I told you, you had to flip the loyalty switch all the way to "off" and put the safety on) declares, "my rib is shot," and takes a seat, an imminent DL stint looming. All in one week! Five guys! No, not Five Guys Burgers and Fries, my friends - I mean five of my key guys on the shelf. And for good measure, Rajah goes out and lays an egg in his first start (for me).
The Curse of the Bambino. The Curse of Carl Mays. None of them compare to The Curse of Roger Clemens [Quick reminder: he was the starter in "Game Six," and was cruising to victory before a torn blister ended his evening]. I'm telling you, and asking you to warn the world, he's the devil. The incubus. Mephistopheles.
"So many names."
"Ooh. Call me dad." - Al Pacino
Run for your lives.
UPDATE: The Evil One didn't even slow down to allow me to write this post. In tonight's games alone, Gary Matthews left with a hammy, and Derek Jeter (yeah, I own him, too) left with a hip injury.
For more musings on Satan's influence on baseball, see my prior post, No Sympathy For The Devil Rays (Woo-Woo). Can there be any doubt these days that the devil is what is possessing Rocco Baldelli's hamstrings? Please to meet you, Rocco, hope you guess my name.
Since I mentioned my book, The Curse of Carl Mays, and this is a personal weblog existing primarily for shameless self-promotion ... I've been booked to appear on the Mike & Murray Show on Sirius Radio, July 12th. The show airs from 3:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon. I'll post more details as they are known.