Because the best times are also often the hardest times, it isn't always as easy to be thankful for our blessings as it should be. Maybe Roger Clemens and Jim Palmer should have a little talk.
This week, Clemens was suspended for the first five games of next season and fined $10,000 by American League President Bobby Brown for his obscene language and uncontrolled behavior during the American League playoffs.
Clemens still is mad, doesn't think he deserves to be punished and plans to appeal Brown's decision to Commissioner Fay Vincent, according to Gene Orza of the players union. "We feel its totally excessive," added Clemens's agent.
Also this week, Palmer, 45, told the Denver Post that: "My arm is much better now than the last year I pitched. I'm going to start throwing three days a week next week in Baltimore. I'll know what I can do in about three weeks.
"I can always be a broadcaster and I just signed a new three-year deal with Jockey, but nobody has ever come back after being inducted into the Hall of Fame. . . . I won't know until I try."
At 28, Clemens is at the peak of his career. In recent days, he finished second behind Bob Welch in the Cy Young Award voting and third behind Rickey Henderson and Cecil Fielder for MVP. He makes more money than Massachusetts. Yet, in public, Clemens does a pretty good imitation of a man who's not enjoying himself.
In that regard, he bears a strong resemblance to Palmer in his prime. Then, the great Orioles right-hander, who is currently on your Wheaties box and maybe on your underwear too, was often feuding with his manager, bickering with teammates, complaining about his salary or worrying about injuries that medical science could not always detect.
Palmer wasn't an unhappy man then, but he constantly chafed under a low-level irritation that seldom went away. He seemed burdened -- by his gifts, his responsibilities, his fame. He had much that others wanted, yet he once moaned to his manager that his cap was hurting his forehead.
"Then take it off," said Joe Altobelli.
Now, Palmer dreams of getting back to the aggravations that once made him so eccentrically irritating that, on the mound, Earl Weaver once yelled: "I'm sick of your crap. Come on, let's fight."
This is the sixth straight winter Palmer has speculated on a comeback. He even brought it up at his induction into the Hall of Fame last summer. "I would hope he'd call us first," said Orioles GM Roland Hemond yesterday.
Palmer enjoyed his career and the people around him during his playing years. But not like he might have. It's not hard to find the root of his demon. Lots of us have it.
In this society, the "good times" are often assumed to come in that period of life when a man or woman is functioning best in his or her role. You're really selling those widgets or winning your cases. Or maybe you're managing to raise three kids without clobbering 'em.
In a society so attuned to competition and achievement and measuring up -- trying to please your boss or your spouse or your kids or your public -- it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what you do and whom you please is the sum total of what you are. And that if you ever fall short of meeting those demands, something terrible will happen. Palmer said his first baseball lesson was: "Your arm is all you are."
In such an atmosphere of Expectation Living -- and Clemens may already be there -- the best of times can seem like the worst. From there, it's only a short step to self-pity.
Weaver said of Palmer: "He's got to get rid of all this emotion he wastes on blaming other people for everything that goes wrong. He has to say: 'That's my fault' or 'I can overcome that.' Now, he's always pitying himself."
Two years ago, Clemens stunned his Boston public with an off-hand complaint about how Red Sox management was to blame because he had to carry his own bags on road trips. How can a basically fine man work his mind into such a bizarre corner?
At the moment, Clemens is cornering himself again by protesting Brown's mild discipline. Clemens was under enormous stress, much of it self-imposed, all season. In the playoffs, he snapped. He screamed obscenities at the home plate ump. He ranted at the A's. And that was in Games 2 and 3. In Game 4, he took his act on the field and got one of baseball's most infamous ejections.
These days, Palmer is out of the pressure cooker. But he wishes he had Weaver back. He dreams of baseball as pleasure -- a kind of post-Hall of Fame career where everything would be gravy. "At my peak, I was throwing 95 miles per hour, but I was 15-5 when I was throwing only 85-86 miles per hour," he said in Denver. "I think I could be throwing that hard again in a week."
One of the oldest and truest of homilies is that we flourish most when we try to concentrate on the moment-to-moment process of living rather than tormenting ourselves with expectations, goals and demands.
These are the best of times for Clemens. And for Palmer too. If they could only concentrate on where they are, not where they were or where they're going. Of course, that's true for many of us. We probably ought to give thanks every day for the good times and the hard times we're enduring. Doing it one day a year would be a place to start.