With two scoreless outings with the independent league Sugar Land Skeeters under his belted paunch, 50 year old Roger Clemens is poised to attempt a comeback to the majors with the Houston Astros, either this year or next. Already possessing 354 career wins, Clemens has had one of the most successful, albeit controversial, careers of any pitcher in baseball history. However, since throwing his last major league pitch in 2007 his legacy has been eviscerated. It remains to be seen why fans should embrace his potential return, since it is clear that it is more about the fans being taken advantage of than it is a heartwarming baseball story.
Clemens’ return to the mound appears to be more about damage control than about anything he may have left in the gas tank or because he has something to prove like Jamie Moyer. Even though he was acquitted of all charges during a Federal perjury trial earlier this year, the proceedings seemed like a final death knell to the reputation of Clemens. The verdict was seen by many as the result of an incompetent prosecution instead of a triumph of truth. Now his return to the mound reflects the attempt for selfish gains than continuing an athletic legacy.
The most immediate benefit from Clemens straddling a major league mound again would be pushing back his Hall of Fame clock another five years. He is currently on the ballot for next year’s induction and is a near lock to receive Mark McGwire treatment, languishing in the purgatory tug-of-war between voters who split on the impact of his statistics versus the beliefs about his character and training methodology. With the national PED witch hunt seemingly starting to cool off a bit because of the spectacular disaster of the Clemens and Barry Bonds trials, it would be wise to take a patient approach with Clemens’ Hall candidacy. Under normal circumstances someone with his numbers would be a no-brainer first ballot guy, and to have it any other way would be yet another smear on his already tainted record. Giving voters a chance to step back and breathe remains his best chance to salvage any remnants remaining from a career blown up by a PED mortar shell.
A more subtle, but just as important area of damage control mixed up in the possible return of Clemens is his familial reputation. During the height of anti-Clemens mania the New York Daily News reported the pitcher had a long-term affair with country music singer Mindy McCready, starting when he was 28 and she just 15. The story was immediately confirmed by McCready, while Clemens issued a partial denial through his lawyer, claiming their relationship was nothing more than platonic; something believed by few except for perhaps those who respond to emails from Nigerian princes requesting help extracting money from defunct overseas bank accounts.
Other than the Clemens family, nobody knows how the allegations of his philandering affected them. Even though their situation was dragged into the media, ultimately it was and is their business. What is certain though is that a concerted effort is being made in Clemens’ return to reintroduce him through the media as an adoring family man. When he recently teamed up with his oldest son Koby as a battery mate for Sugar Land, the moment, along with his exuberant family being conveniently placed in a suite, was put on full display. If this comeback was really about playing with his son, this could have been done previously any number of times over the past 5-6 years. Only now has it become convenient for Clemens to leverage the situation to his advantage and make him appear more likable.
Money, as with many other situations in life, is also at the root of the Clemens return. Although he has already earned more than $150 million during his career, The Rocket stands to rake in a tidy mint if he throws another major league pitch. His considerable fortune may have been depleted because of his legal woes or he may just want to add further depth to his holdings, but Clemens is most definitely not doing this for free. Neither is the team that agrees to allow him to toe their rubber. If it is the Astros, as currently believed, they will reap significant financial rewards and free exposure, all boons to such a beleaguered franchise.
Clemens has as much right to continue pursuing a baseball career as anyone else, but we as consumers of the game have the right to view his attempt with suspicion. If this all sounds cynical, it’s because it is. He has a lengthy history of arrogance, vitriol, and suspicious behavior that can’t be done by an improbable comeback. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a newer, softer Clemens; it’s just more of the same.