Roger Clemens wants another major-league start
Never take anything that happens with Roger Clemens at face value. That's why the Rocket's latest bizarre comeback attempt, this time with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League, bears closer examination. With Roger most decisions are deep down about his ego and his legacy.
His comeback this time is certainly not about the money. I don't know what a Sugar Land Skeeter might make in one month, but over the course of his career with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros, Clemens earned an estimated $160 million since 1984 and with the sound advice of his representatives, Randy and Alan Hendicks, based in Houston, it's certain that he is set financially for life.
So at the age of 50, born the same date, the same year as Jays manager John Farrell, what is there about pitching again that would possibly bring Clemens back to toeing the rubber one more time? Face it, you wouldn't ever see Farrell making a pitching comeback for the Jays at the same age -- although at times this year the Jays could have used him. So why would Clemens attempt it? Ego and legacy.
What is it that specifically has Roger thinking comeback? One thing could be that Jamie Moyer, at the age of 49, also born in '62, just three months younger than the Rocket, managed a 2-5 mark in 10 starts for the Rockies this year. That shows Clemens there are teams interested in vintage talent.
Second would be Clemens and his place in the Hall of Fame, in history, and the negative public reaction that he received from fans and the media even after being acquitted of obstruction of justice and perjury on June 19. That reaction would have stunned him. Clemens sometimes listens too much to those that love him. That can be the worst thing in life, when dealing with adversity.
Clemens' reality is he sees himself as The Rocket. There are stories that as a young Red Sox star, he insisted when he entered the Boston branch of Planet Hollywood, that they stop the music and play Elton John's Rocket Man just as he and wife Debbie made an inconspicuous entrance. That's ego.
Now, following the negative public reaction that he surely felt following his recent acquittal in D.C., he has to do something to restore the Rocket's legacy. It's a negativism that hangs in the air, permeating a skeptical public, including the baseball writers that are entrusted annual voting for the Hall of Fame. There is a strong opinion that Clemens will not be voted in on the first ballot at the end of this year, five seasons after retiring. Clemens is on a ballot with Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and others that were implicated and included, if not found guilty of participating in the Steroid Era. Not his fault, but whenever one is mentioned, all are mentioned. Clemens needs to disassociate himself. That's about legacy.
Clemens insists that he joined the Skeeters, already armed with former major leaguers Jason Lane, Scott Kazmir and Tim Redding, because he loves the game and believes he can still pitch.
“His fastball was clocked at 87 mph; all of his pitches were working,” said Randy Hendricks, one of his agents and one of his best friends, representing him since his Texas Longhorns days. “He threw a three-inning simulated game after an extensive workout warm-up.”
Clemens insists his comeback has no ultimate target or goal, even though pitching for the hometown Houston Astros when rosters are expanded in September would seem the likeliest. But he can't announce that is his goal right now. He can't because what if others are right and he breaks down in his first Sugar Land start, or can't bounce back physically. So he will pitch one game at a time, then another and by then it will be September. The Astros are a mortal lock for 100-plus losses. What harm could there be?
If the Rocket was throwing well enough to not embarrass himself for even one major-league start, a Roger Clemens Day at Minute Maid Park could be a strong possibility. The place would be sold out and Clemens could hope he makes fans forget about the perjury trial, about steroids, about any tainted legacy.
All this trouble, of course, started because Clemens was worried about his legacy and asked if he could appear before Congress to be able to defend himself against being mentioned in the Mitchell Report. He went to Capitol Hill and was fooled by the reflected blinding light of his own fame into thinking that even in the halls of congress he was still the Rocket, still an American hero, still in control.
As Clemens waited for his appearance, he signed autographs for Senate pages and starstruck politicians. He believed that he could handle this like he handled his post-game scrums. Find a comfortable spot in the clubhouse, tell the writers and TV folks what they wanted to hear and if a question came up that he didn't like, start moonwalking out of the room, smile and it was over.
He found out the hard way that it doesn't work that way in Washington. In hindsight, he should have just taken his Mitchell Report lumps, kept his head down for five years and waited for his name to be on the Hall-of-Fame ballot. Had he done that he would have been an easy first-ballot entrant to Cooperstown. Instead he chose to take on Brian McNamee, Andy Pettitte and Congress. In hindsight it was the worst decision he could have made. Now he's just made another one.
“He's always loved to compete,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Clemens. “That's who he is. He kept coming back. There were times he felt he couldn't quite go a full season, but he gave it as much as he had. He loved to compete. That's a hard thing to replace is that competition. Guys miss it.”
What Clemens understands he gets from a trip to Sugar Land, then maybe the Astros for even one start is that his name will be taken off this year's tainted ballot. He will instead be on the ballot sent to writers in Dec. of 2017. Hopefully, by then, it will have died down. Writers will have become more tolerant of the Steroid Era. His own name will be five years removed from the tumult of '12. His legacy will be preserved and the Rocket becomes a sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Cue Elton John.
Now anyone that has closely followed my columns over the years, since I joined the Star in '95, is aware of how I love conspiracy theories. Here's a current one. Brad Mills was fired by the Astros Sunday. On Monday, Roger Clemens announced that he was making a Sugar Land comeback. Maybe Mills didn't think it was such a good idea for a September promotion and was let go before it became an issue.