Darren Oliver’s Been Retiring For Six Years

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Darren Oliver is the Brett Favre of useful journeyman middle relievers.

For individuals like Favre, Michael Jordan, Bill Parcells and Oliver, retirement is a state of mind, state of being, alluring option, threat, or all of the above.

But there are differences in status and need.

The Packers had to take Favre’s annual vacillation because they had no choice. The last time he tried it with them in 2008, they walked away, shunning Favre and avoiding the organization-wide distraction that had the potential to split the club into destructive factions. If they let him do it again, they knew it would repeat in 2009, 2010, 2011 and possibly never end until Favre was carted off the field once and for all. Most importantly, the last time Favre pulled the trick (with the Packers anyway—he did it twice more with the Jets and Vikings), Aaron Rodgers was ready and they finally told Favre to take a hike.

Jordan’s return with the Bulls was understandable considering that he retired at age 29 and did so, in part, because of his father’s death. When he came back again, it was with the Wizards and he was a part owner of the club with the biggest selling point he had to make more money for himself was…himself.

Parcells’s personality and energy levels were such that a team could only deal with him for 3-4 years and he’d only last there for 3-4 years. It was a trade they made for his acumen at rebuilding moribund franchises in exchange for the public insubordination, power struggles and behind the scenes complaints about the one thing that was always first and foremost in his mind: money.

Oliver isn’t in the conversation with the above examples and isn’t as costly. He’s a reliable, versatile veteran reliever who’s well-liked by his teammates and by baseball in general. The Blue Jays would miss him, but would there be a drastic difference in the clubhouse or on the field if he’s not there? Probably not.

But Oliver is making an unreasonable demand/threat to be traded to Texas to pitch closer to home for the Rangers or he’ll simply retire from the Blue Jays. It’s nervy of Oliver to make a request for a raise when he signed the contract with the Blue Jays for a guaranteed $4.5 million after 2011 and was leaving the club he wants to rejoin, the Rangers. He made $4 million in 2012, had a buyout for $500,000 and an option for 2013 at $3 million. Oliver equates this as a paycut, but would he not have signed if the deal was reversed and he got $3 million in 2012 with $4 million in 2013? He could have stayed in Texas after 2011 if he wanted so badly to be in Texas. That he went all the way to Canada isn’t the same thing as him having signed with, for example, the Cardinals. He went to the Blue Jays for the money. Now he wants more money or to be sent back to the Rangers. There’s no harm in asking, but it speaks of an entitlement that, in other industries and for a non-essential cog, would be responded to with an angry frown and a “get outta here” reply. In sports, it’s seen as nothing unusual.

With the new thinking in baseball having been imported from other industries using data, corporate terminology and separation of channels, the one remaining obstacle to that complete transformation is the athletic ego and short-term nature of an athlete’s ability to contribute. In banking, Oliver’s age of 42 is judged as in his prime; in sports, it’s ancient. As lucrative as his contract seems, perhaps he’d like to go back to Texas to take advantage of the no-state income tax and not have to pay to live away from home, amid other factors that are costing him more money and giving him less take-home pay.

Oliver has “retired” and unretired when it’s suited him. Now he’s again telling the Blue Jays that he’s not going to pitch for them one way or the other, so they might as well trade him to Texas.

It’s an empty threat that the Blue Jays aren’t going to bow to. In fact, given his history and that he’ll have the option of collecting $3 million plus the very real opportunity at a post-season share or going home, he’ll shrug and pitch for the Blue Jays and then sign with the Rangers again after the season after “contemplating” retirment.

There’s no reason for the Blue Jays to entertain this somewhat absurd request because, in the end, Oliver will likely be sitting in their bullpen on opening day.

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The Roger Clemens Comeback Attempt

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Whatever Roger Clemens’s agenda is, he doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone as to why he wants to pitch again. It could be boredom; it could be a conscious decision to return to the big leagues to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility (and delay the embarrassment of not getting elected); it could be to prove that he can pitch cleanly at age 50; or it could be for no reason whatsoever.

Does he deserve the ridicule he’s receiving? I don’t see why he does. If Jamie Moyer was able to come back (and back, and back, and back) and teams signed him, then why can’t Clemens pitch for the independent team in Texas, the Sugar Land Skeeters, and see if he still has any juice (pardon the double entendre) left in the tank?

Athletes have retired or taken time off and tried comebacks before. There were the ludicrous (Pedro Borbon); the shocking and ill-fated (Jim Palmer); the otherworldly (George Foreman); and successful (Michael Jordan). It’s not impossible.

There’s every possibility that Clemens would pitch in the majors and embarrass himself as Orel Hershiser did when he hung on one year too long with the Dodgers in 2000 and his body wouldn’t cooperate with his still-fertile baseball mind. Moyer adjusted to his declining fastball with savvy and control. Clemens’s biggest downfall was when then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette uttered his famous, retrospectively accurate, and cold-blooded assessment of Clemens when he chose to let him leave the Red Sox by saying the pitcher was in the twilight of his career at age 33. Any pitcher at age 33, without the use of drugs or a superhuman will to stay in shape and Nolan Ryan-like longevity, would be in the twilight of his career. But it’s easily forgotten when assessing Clemens’s last year with the Red Sox and focusing on his 10-13 record for an 85-77 also-ran that Clemens had terrific secondary numbers that season including 242 innings pitched and an American League leading 257 strikeouts. Duquette might not have wanted to pay Clemens for 4-5 years when he probably would’ve gotten production for 2-3, but Clemens could still pitch.

We’ll never know what he would’ve accomplished for the Blue Jays had he not allegedly done what it’s been pretty well documented that he did to enjoy the renaissance from 1996 veteran who could still recapture his greatness in spurts to the consistent dominance he exhibited in the 1980s, but there was something left.

Could Clemens return to the big leagues at age 50 and get hitters out if he adapts to what he is now and doesn’t try to recapture what he was then? If he uses his brain and doesn’t try to bully the hitters with a fastball to the head, then he can. Does he want to do that? I don’t know. He wasn’t prepared to do it in the late-1990s and that’s what got him in this position of being persona non grata to begin with and almost got him tossed in jail. It also made him a lot more money than he would’ve made otherwise.

He might need the money now given how his fortune was likely decimated by ongoing legal battles.

Major League Baseball would exert not-so-subtle pressure on any team that entertained the notion to sign Clemens not to do it. They don’t want to see him or hear from him again. But there’s nothing to stop a club if they truly decide to sign him and nothing MLB can do about it.

Scott Kazmir is also pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, but no one thinks it’s a joke because Kazmir is trying to resurrect his career and is only 28-years-old. If nothing else, he can transform himself into a lefty specialist and will be back in the big leagues once he acknowledges that the strikeout machine he once was is gone.

Clemens was once faced with the same quandary and chose to bring back the strikeout king through illicit means that have yanked the Hall of Fame and historic greatness away from him. Had he stayed clean and just accepted the ravages of time both he and Barry Bonds—not exactly well-liked during their careers—would be viewed with a post-career respect as having done it clean in what’s known as a fake and dirty era of steroids. Instead, they understandably joined in to again prove that they were better on what was a level playing field of most everyone using PEDs.

Would Clemens have the clarity to accept what he is now and put his ego aside to get batters out? Or would he revert to exerting his will on the hitters when he doesn’t have the weapons to do it and be humiliated back into retirement?

He has the capability to get hitters out if he takes the Moyer-route, but it’s doubtful that he has the willingness to endure the abuse he’d receive if he tried, so I wouldn’t expect this “comeback” to go much further than with the Skeeters.

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