Yesterday, Roger Clemens returned to professional baseball(and I am using that term loosely) as he pitched for the Independent Atlantic Leagues Sugar Land Skeeters. Clemens didn’t look bad for a guy who hasn’t pitched professionally in 5 years, as he threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings with 2 strikeouts and one hit, reaching 88 MPH on the radar gun. He even struck out former Kansas City Royal Joey Gathright, who’s claim to fame wasn’t what he could do on the field but for jumping over a car. Really. But all in all Clemens looked impressive for a 50 year old.
So what is the Rocket’s end game here? I tend to think there are multiple reasons for his return. For one, I think he misses the spotlight. Some guys fiend for it. They need it. When it goes away, they don’t know what to do. I think Clemens is one of those guys. I also think he just loves baseball enough that when he is not around it, he doesn’t know what to do. If you think about it, his entire adult life has been spent as a baseball player, so in a lot of ways, this is all he knows. Getting the chance to go back out there, even if it is just in the independent league, is still getting to be around the game he loves. But I think this isn’t the main reason he is back.
No, the real end game here is a return to the Major Leagues, period. Why would a guy, who has accomplished as much as Roger Clemens, want to return to the bigs at the age of 50? It’s really an easy answer, and I am not alone in this thinking. Clemens is eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot this upcoming winter, and with all the steroid talk connected to the Rocket for years now, there is a good chance that he will not be voted in, even though he is one of the top ten pitchers EVER. No, Clemens wants to come back to delay the vote, and possibly even leave a different image in the voters minds. Scenario time: What if Clemens comes back, at the age of 50, and pitches at a more than passable level? He could say that it wasn’t the steroids that helped him, that even at 50 he can get major league hitters out. Now, the honesty of the situation is that there are some voters he will never be able to sway. But if he is able to change people’s perception, in his mind it could help his case for the Hall. Clemens has always taken his legacy seriously. For years, he talked about his place in the game, so he understands what is on the line here. It also gives him a chance to separate himself from Barry Bonds, who is also eligible for the Hall of Fame this winter, who himself is the poster boy for the “Steroid Era” in baseball. Being on the ballot the same year as Bonds will make voters tie them together as what was wrong with the game during this period. Distancing himself from that only helps his situation.
So will we see Roger Clemens in a major league uniform this year? I think we will, and I think the Houston Astros will give him an opportunity to pitch sometime in September. Yesterday, the Astros and Kansas City Royals both had scouts at the Skeeters’ game, checking out Clemens’ start. There is a joke within the fact that those were the two teams scouting Clemens, but I’ll make that joke at a later time. If(when?) Clemens makes a start in the big leagues this year, his eligibility for the Hall of Fame will be delayed for another five years.
Even if all he does is pitch a couple games this year, he will get to leave a different impression of himself and his career to the baseball community. It’s sad that we are even discussing this situation, as Clemens should be a no-brainer when it comes to his place in the game. Two twenty strikeout games, the third most strikeouts of all time and seven(7!!) Cy Young Awards are just a few of the Rocket’s many accomplishments in his 23 year career. The fact that he wants to come back and possibly sully that tells you all you need to know. Although to be honest, can his image be more tarnished than it already is? Probably not. Maybe this is the best way to sway public perception of him. Or maybe we’ve all moved on and just don’t care anymore about the players who didn’t want to play by the same set of rules of everyone else.