Roger Clemens has made two appearances as the star of the Sugar Land Sideshow. Now it appears that the 50-year-old – yes, 50 – Clemens may be ready to move to the Midway in Astroland.
Five years after he threw his last major league pitch (for the Yankees against the Indians Oct. 7, 2007), Clemens could take his place in a lineup with Bertha the Bearded Lady, Alphonso the Fearsome Fireater, Mehanahope the Living Mummy, Sebastian the Snake Charmer and El Hoppo the Living Frog Boy.
This would seem to be the appropriate milieu for a 50-year-old retired pitcher who seems intent on unretiring. I include him with these other sideshow figures (freaks?) because by coming back to pitch at his age and after his five years of retirement, Clemens is making himself into a carnival act.
The Astros are willing accomplices in this crime against baseball sensibility because the comments of their owner, Jim Crane, have been encouraging and they have spoken to Major League Baseball officials about the prospect of Clemens pitching for them.
Commissioner Bud Selig was not available Wednesday to discuss Clemens, but another baseball official indicated that while there is nothing stopping the Astros or any other team from signing Clemens, M.L.B. would not be pleased if it were to happen.
Clemens said earlier this week that if he were going to pitch in the majors again this season, he would want to pitch against a contender.
“I can tell you right now and they would know too, that if I was going to go do it, I am going to pitch against a contender; that’s who I want to knock out,” Clemens said in a Houston television interview. “Why would I want to waste my time running around and getting in shape? I get over to Minute Maid, I’ll crank it up and get it over 90 for a contender. We’ll knock them right out of the playoffs. That would be the fun. Pitching against somebody that’s not in contention wouldn’t be any fun for me.”
That might be honest and candid, but it’s also typically arrogant of Clemens: Give me the chance to come back, but I’ll only do what I want to do.
The Astros, of course, would love to have Clemens pitch a game at Minute Maid Park, where big crowds have not been seen in the home team’s dreadful season. The Astros’ attendance of 1,441,589 is the National League’s lowest and only 25,000 or so from being the majors’ lowest.
But M.L.B. officials have told Crane that if he does sign Clemens the Astros could use him only against a non-contender. That would severely limit, if not make impossible, Clemens’ ability to make his desired comeback.
As of Thursday, the Astros had 10 home games left, four with the Phillies and three each with the Cardinals and the Pirates. All three teams have to be considered contenders for wild-card spots.
If Clemens really wants to come back, he could spend the off-season working, throwing and getting in pitching shape. That routine, however, might be more than Clemens would be willing to undertake.
What is motivating him to resume his career? Very likely it’s not that he has missed pitching and wants to do it some more. It’s possible that Clemens wants to delay his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Say that again.
Most retired players who think they have a chance to be elected to the Hall would want to speed up their eligibility. Players need to wait five years after they retire to appear on the ballot. They then stay on it for15 years as long as they get 5 percent of the writers’ vote.
Clemens, however, is no dummy. He has seen in the past few years that players who were associated with steroids have not fared well in the voting. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, for example, have not reached the 25 percent plateau when 75 percent of the votes is needed.
Undoubtedly at the suggestion of his agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, Clemens presumably decided it would be wiser to delay his candidacy, knowing that if he pitched in the majors this year or any year, the clock on the 5-year wait would start anew. In another five years writers may feel differently about players who used performance-enhancing drugs. Or they may just forget that Clemens had been involved with them.
Clemens, after all, was acquitted of lying to Congress, and what he allegedly lied about was using such substances. On the other hand, the Federal jurors who heard the testimony in the trial are not Hall of Fame voters. The writers who vote will not base their decisions on trial testimony, and they will not have to ignore evidence that the judge wouldn’t let the jury hear.
If voters want to ignore the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Clemens used illegal substances, they could vote for Clemens when they receive their ballots later this year, concluding that the seven-time Cy Young award winner had a career worthy of the Hall of Fame. If, however, they oppose Clemens because he cheated, whether or not his cheating helped him gain any of those awards or any of his 354 victories, they won’t vote for him.
What they don’t need is one or more Clemens games. If the two games and eight shutout innings he pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League satisfied his ego or his curiosity, fine. Now go back into retirement and spare the rest of us the specter of a grown man groveling for votes.