Monday, May 7, 2007

Something Short of a Team Player

Let me make a few things perfectly clear. First, I have nothing personal against Roger Clemens. That would be impossible since I don’t even know him.

Second, I have nothing but admiration for what Roger Clemens has accomplished as a professional baseball player. In his twenty-three year career he has compiled a won-lost record of 348-178 and a career ERA of 3.10. He has won seven Cy Young awards and a Most Valuable Player award. He will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot once he stays retired long enough to become eligible. He is one of the greatest pitchers ever to play the game.

Third, I have no particular problem with his desire to choose for which team he will play. There is a logic that would say that he has earned that right. And, under baseball’s labor rules, he could change teams every year as long as he always operates under a one-year contract. Clemens announced on Sunday that he will be joining the New York Yankees in a few weeks. I regret that he chose to join the Evil Empire, but that’s his business. Besides, I wouldn’t want him on my Braves, for reasons I’ll get to soon.

Fourth, I can hardly blame him for getting as much money as he can for doing his job. I understand that his contract with the Yankees will allow him to earn some $18.5 million this year. Such an amount is unfathomable to me. Nevertheless, I would offer Clemens the still excellent advice of John Wesley: “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” I think that if someone was to offer me $18.5 million to preach (please resume reading once you stop laughing) I’d be able to save plenty and gladly to give plenty away. The economics of baseball make no sense to me, but the fact is that players of Clemens’ quality make that kind of money. He could hardly be expected to take less than he is offered.

I do have some problems with some aspects of Clemens’ arrangement with the Yankees, an arrangement that I understand is similar to the one he had with the Houston Astros last season.

First, he is just now signing a contract and he will not begin playing with the Yankees until he spends a few weeks getting ready. So, unlike his teammates, he did not participate in Spring Training. Unlike his teammates, he did not deal with the unpredictable weather of the early part of the season. Unlike is teammates, he has not suffered through the very slow start that the Yankees have experienced this season.

Second, it is being reported that Clemens will have some of the same travel privileges that he had with the Astros last year. For example, when the Yankees go on a road trip on which he is not scheduled to pitch, he does not have to travel with the team and can instead go home to his family in Texas.

The issue for me is not whether Clemens has earned such privileges. The issue revolves around the fact that baseball is a team sport. Clemens is not a golfer or a tennis player or a boxer; he does not participate in an individual sport. He is a baseball player and one cannot play baseball by oneself. A team sport is not built around each player showing up to do his job only when his specific skill is needed or only when it is most convenient for him to do so. A huge part of being a baseball player is being a member of the baseball team—to be there to celebrate the other players’ accomplishments, to be there to share in the team’s low points, to share the stresses of living on the road, to eat the post-game buffet with everyone else, and to pay the same price as everyone else for the privilege of being a professional baseball player. I think it is important that the rookie making the minimum salary and the veteran playing under the mega-millions contract share in the total experience of being teammates.

Clemens’ arrangement basically turns him into a hired gun rather than a teammate. He will no doubt help the Yankees win a few more games. I doubt seriously that he will make them a better team. Of course, we’re talking about the Yankees here, and I’m not sure that’s a big issue for that organization. But it should be. And that’s why I’m glad he’s not joining my Braves. I think they’ve got a good team going.

There are huge differences between a baseball team and a church. Still, being a pastor, I can find parallels between just about anything and the church. The church, the New Testament teaches, is the body of Christ. Each member of the body is important. We need for each member to identify, to develop, and to use her gifts for the good of the body and for the sake of the ministry of Christ. Unfortunately, we do have many members who want to come and go as they please, who want to serve when it’s convenient for them, and who don’t want to give themselves whole-heartedly to the following of Christ. The truth is, though, that we’re all in this together and we’re all in it for the sake of Jesus Christ. The church’s ministry is much better off if we worship and work together as full-fledged and equally committed members of the team.

No comments: