Roger Clemens, Adam Greenberg, And The Value Of One Measly Roster Spot

Houston, TX, USA; Sugar Land Skeeters pitcher Roger Clemens pitches in the first inning against the Bridgeport Bluefish at Constellation Field. Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

Roger Clemens and Adam Greenberg were both very different candidates for a surprise September appearance. Neither one will likely see the field, though, and here's why that might be a good thing.

I watch baseball for a lot of reasons. I enjoy the symmetry of the game and its dimensions -- how a chopper to short perfectly straddles the line between hit and out. I'm fascinated with the isolation of the hitter/pitcher match-up, which is something unique in the major team sports. I like watching mascots in foam costumes run around the perimeter of a ballpark because sometimes they trip.

Mostly, though, I watch baseball because I want to be entertained. It's why you watch it, too. There are different ways you can be entertained, but that's the reason we watch. And on Tuesday, two entertaining (if unrealistic) scenarios were shot out of orbit.

The first had to do with Roger Clemens, 50-year-old man and known rascal, possibly considering a comeback with the Houston Astros. Clemens is a pretty odious individual by most accounts, but as a man who proudly wears this t-shirt, I err on the side of being entertained first, and worrying about personalities second, if at all. And Clemens pitching in a major-league game would have been pretty damned entertaining.

How would his stuff look? Would he get shellacked? Would he look like the Clemens from five years ago? Would he pitch again if the first outing was successful? What if he finished the season with a string of successful outings? Who do you think would win in a fight, Roger Clemens or Brett Farve?

Alas, we'll never know what a Clemens cameo would look like in the year 2012, as he has ruled out a return to the majors. He says he's just having fun in the Atlantic League, and while he might be fibbing, this is probably as close as we'll get to answering any of those hypothetical questions up there.

The second unrealistic scenario had to do with former Cubs outfielder Adam Greenberg, who was previously a baseball footnote before this video started making the rounds last week:

The video might seem a little mawkish and heavy-handed until you distill the story to its essence: In Greenberg's only major-league plate appearance, his career ended when he was drilled in the head. As a plot point to a movie, that seems unbelievable. But it happened. And a few years later, it lead to an online petition, asking the Chicago Cubs to give Greenberg one more at-bat.

The Cubs' response: No, thanks.

The stories of Clemens and Greenberg aren't similar in the slightest until you dig a bit. This was about being entertained, even if by a couple of publicity stunts. These were chances to debate and watch baseball in unique, once-in-a-generation ways.

At first, I was disappointed that neither one was going to happen. But a line in the Chicago Tribune's article on Greenberg slapped me straight.

To make a team's 40-man roster, Greenberg would have to get someone else removed, perhaps spoiling that player’s big league dreams.

There's a consequence to these potential public-relations bonanzas. Professional baseball -- and the salaries and careers that go along with it -- is serious business. And, by extension, those 40-man roster spots are pretty serious, too. A player on a 40-man roster has a much better chance of getting called up, even if as back-of-the-roster fodder for a week. The Giants have given Francisco Peguero seven at-bats this year. Why? Not because he gave them their best chance to win, but because he was already on the 40-man roster and they needed a warm body.

If Peguero wasn't on the 40-man roster, he certainly wouldn't have been called up. And considering his unimpressive minor-league track record, that could have meant there was a chance he never would have been called up. When a fringe player is removed from a 40-man roster -- or blocked from ever being added in the first place -- his path to the majors goes from difficult to completely unlikely.

I wanted Clemens to pitch. I wanted Greenberg to get another at-bat. I wanted to be entertained. But upon closer reflection, I want baseball to be the same meritocracy that I'm used to. And that meritocracy allows for brief cameos from players we'll never remember, but who will have a game or two they'll never forget. That's not a bad trade-off. Being entertained for a few minutes is overrated in comparison.

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