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Why Roger Clemens is going to pitch for the Astros

Aug 31, 2012, 9:13 AM EDT

Roger Clemens Getty Images

I was totally not surprised when it was revealed yesterday that the Astros are going to scout Roger Clemens’ September 7 start for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Heck, I was not surprised when the September 7 date was announced itself, because that set things up for a normal four days rest allowing Clemens to pitch against the Cubs in that mid-September series. Which I identified as the best option a week ago.

But if it’s not a big surprise that Clemens is going to pitch for the Astros, let us take a minute to ask why he’s going to pitch.  In this, I think my opinion differs slightly from most people’s.

The most common answer I’ve heard for this is that pitching now sets his Hall of Fame waiting period back five more years, buying him time.  I agree that this is one consideration for Clemens, but I doubt it’s the main one. Mostly because I don’t think five years will make a big difference for him one way or the other. If he didn’t pitch and was eligible for the vote now, he’d still be eligible five years from now when, according to this theory, the sentiment towards PED users may change. If that sentiment hasn’t changed five years from now, I question if it ever will, rendering those five more years on the back end superfluous.

No, I think the real reason Clemens wants to pitch again is so that the final paragraph of his obituary — and the final image from any documentaries made of the man — ends with triumph as opposed to infamy.

Think about it: if Clemens were to die without having pitched again, the final chapter of his story will be ending the 2007 season injured, not coming back after being named in the Mitchell Report and then fighting prosecution — and winning an acquittal most people scoffed at anyway — for the last several years of his public life.  The last image in that SportsCentury bio or whatever would be him in a suit, with a bad haircut, walking down a Washington D.C. sidewalk with his sleazy lawyer.

But even if he pitches one inning against the Cubs, and even if he doesn’t do terribly well, the last image will be of him walking off the mound in a major league uniform, tipping his cap to adoring fans in his hometown. If he strikes out some September callup all the better.  The image will be one of redemption, even if there is nothing especially redeeming about his story.  The implication will be that, questions about him aside, he was able to compete in the majors at age 50, so how dare anyone question what he was able to do when he was 37.

Images matter. Final chapters matter. By pitching in the majors one more time, even if it’s just to one or two batters, Clemens — and posterity — will get to see him closing out his public life on his terms, not someone else’s. And I can’t help but think that’s incredibly important to a guy who spent so much time in the spotlight.

  1. pmcenroe - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    I think we can all agree on one thing. Our last image of him triumphant or not, is going to be with a bad haircut.

    • kiwicricket - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:28 AM

      I always thought it was 50/50 on the suit or the haircut being the worst. There were some compelling arguments on both sides.
      The frosted tips on a 50yr old probably trumps it though.

      • thekcubrats - Aug 31, 2012 at 1:33 PM

        He’s not thinking that 5 years from now will make a difference, but that five years tacked on to the end of his 15 years of voting eligibility might. Might take that long for the vapors from roid hysteria to finally burn off.

        And oh yeah, when exactly did he ever have a good haircut? I mean, besides the one that Dave Stewart routinely gave the big puss, back when the Rocket was supposedly originally dominant?

  2. dirtyharry1971 - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Funny i just had a dream about Clemens last nite, It was sooo cool too. I was in houston and i got to catch him while he warmed up. Later that night he pitched for the Astros, threw a complete game 2 hitter against the Cards. Then we headed off to the bar after the game and i played a few rounds of darts and he threw 25 bulls in a row!! And right there my alarm went off and the dream was over. Man i wish that one kept going!! Anyway Roger, always admired you as you were a hero of mine growing up in the 80’s and “real” baseball fans wish you nothing but the best. Good luck in everything you do and once again, thank you bro….

    • proudlycanadian - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      Yankee fan dirtyharry1971 now claims that he was a big fan of Clemens when Clemens pitched for the Red Sox!!!!!!!! In other news, Harry is trying to find out if Obamacare will pay for a reduction in the length of his nose.

  3. mrstpaul - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    “The last image in that SportsCentury bio or whatever would be him in a suit, with a bad haircut, walking down a Washington D.C. sidewalk with his sleazy lawyer.”

    Spot on. Good article, Craig.

    • mcs7584 - Aug 31, 2012 at 12:10 PM

      His last image might be walking off the mound but regardless will be preceded by all that has happened over the past decade, which is completely relevant to his story and not likely to be omitted from the baseball history books. Pitching two or three innings for a 113-loss team (projected) against a 99-loss team (projected) is hardly “competing,” regardless of age. Whether it’s to reset his HOF clock or somehow restore his image, it’s nothing more than a stunt and I tend not to think very highly of those who exhibit narcissistic behavior.

  4. franklb - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Thoughtful analysis, Craig, but I really don’t think it’s that complicated, because I don’t think Clemens has thought that far. I think he’s banking on distancing himself from Bonds and others, and letting the extra five years to eligibility make people more nostalgic about him, just as people have become about Jack Morris. It’s all about the Hall of Fame.

    • spudatx - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:00 AM

      I had a similar thought as I read this piece. At the end of the day, his reputation in the long-term seems dependent on how the hall of fame voting goes as it will follow any on-field performance. If it’s all thought of in documentary form, that will be the last image – Clemens not securing enough votes and falling off the ballot. Well, unless he buys every kid a puppy, then that will be the last image in everyone’s mind. But, I don’t think Clemens likes puppies.

      • lazlosother - Aug 31, 2012 at 1:01 PM

        Clemens loves puppies. They taste like chicken.

    • Detroit Michael - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:01 AM

      On the other hand, Clemens’ best chance may be with a future incarnation of the veterans’ committee, not the BBWAA voters, and this postpones when a veterans’ committee can vote him in. I doubt that’s the way Clemens’ thinks — he’s highly likely to be overconfident that he can persuade the BBWAA voters — but I think as a practical matter the five-year delay doesn’t help his Hall of Fame candidacy.

  5. fuddpucker - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Rog prolly took the roid rage thing too far. The lying and treating people bad will come back to haunt him.

  6. Jeff J. Snider - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    Three thoughts:

    1) It seems like younger folks tend to be less up in arms over steroids, so I think the attitude of HoF voters in general will shift over time towards the idea that a Hall of Fame without the best players of the era isn’t legitimate, as the old guard moves on and younger voters move in. But change in the votership happens slowly, so I can see the logic in wanting to add five years to the timeline.

    2) I can also see some advantage to not being the first big debate. So far, we’ve had Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell, who both have the stats to be in the HoF, but neither of whom is a no-doubt slam dunk like Clemens and Bonds. Maybe Clemens wants all the arguing to be about Bonds, and then by the time Clemens is eligible, the arguments have all been made (successfully or otherwise).

    3) I find some fault in the logic of “this idea doesn’t make sense to me, a rational and unbiased observer, which is why it’s not what is motivating Clemens.” He’s not really noted for his rational thinking, is he?

  7. Stiller43 - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Re: the 5 year debate

    I think its not necessarily that the sentimate will change… i think its moreso he can lay low for 5 years with nobody really mentioning him as opposed to being eligible right now and the first thought of him is in court.

    Maybe in 5 years people go “roger clemens…oh yeah, that great pitcher!” and not “roger clemens, you believe what happened in his trial a few months ago?!”

    And of course sentiment towards PEDs could change by then as well.

  8. theawesomersfranchise - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    Because he said is isn’t and he’s a filthy liar?
    Because he is a narcissist and moron who thinks he won’t get destroyed by MLB hitters?

    Bring Roger on out so all the clueless idolaters can line up and cheer for him. Hey why not invite all the Lance Armstrong fools, sit them next to the Joe Paternoists.

    Juicing since the 80’s who’s entire career is a fraud Roider Roger Clemens.
    Btw – You refereed to his lawyer being sleazy…..Astros owner and Roger Clemens are much more filthy and sleazy than any lawyer.

  9. missthemexpos - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    If Clemens has a somewhat okay outing, will any other former players with the PED cloud hanging over them also want to try something similar?

  10. cggarb - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    I really hope a couple September callups take him deep. (But haven’t the Cubs already called up every prospect and journeyman in their system?)

  11. stlouis1baseball - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Good article Calcaterra.

  12. test2402 - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    What a looser this guy is. Freaking guy in the shop thinks he knows everything. Bullshit.

    • seattlej - Aug 31, 2012 at 1:02 PM

      Well, he does know how to spell…

      Man, I fuckin’ love irony.

  13. steve7921 - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Classic Clemens…. his whole career has been about ROGER. He doesn’t care about anything else…just walk off into the sunset and live your life. Why come back and pitch now? Because you care about YOUR legacy and YOUR chances for the HoF….Selfish is what I call that!

  14. proudlycanadian - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    I understand that Clemens may be more interest in golf these days than baseball. This week he is playing in the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Challenge.

  15. mashoaf - Aug 31, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    Three words, for his pre game ritual before the Cubs game… Random Drug Test…

    • mazblast - Aug 31, 2012 at 3:47 PM

      I love it. Make sure the video cameras are there, with a close-up on his face.

  16. nolanwiffle - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Say what you will about the man, but as a fan of the game, I certainly enjoyed watching pitch when he was at the height of his powers.

    I will never understand the vitriol some people have for someone they’ve never met personally.

    • linedrivehit - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      So I have to have met someone for me to dislike them for ruining a whole decade of the greatest game ever? I havent met Bonds or McGwire either but they all should just disappear from the record books.

      • stlouis1baseball - Aug 31, 2012 at 1:37 PM

        “So I have to have met someone for me to dislike them for ruining a whole decade of the greatest game ever?”
        Ummm…Clemons, Canseco, Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro, etc… had nothing to do with “ruining a whole decade of the greatest game ever.”
        They simply played by the rules as they were enforced during this time period.
        MLB (and Bud Selig) however…THEY “ruined a whole decade of the greatest game every played” by turning their heads while balls were flying out of the park at record pace and dudes were swelling up as big as houses. All in the interests of moving the turnstiles.
        Blame MLB all you want (I know I do). But your (and everyone else’s) anger towards the players is missplaced.

      • electstat - Sep 1, 2012 at 12:42 PM

        Since Tom House admitted to using during his career in the early 70s and said that they were all over when he was in the minors in the 60s, I guess you have a lot of player to hate. Good thing we don’t have Hank’s blood around from his playing days to test. And before you make the lazy response of Hanks body compared to the players in the 90s – remember that players today work out all year long, players back in the 70s and before had real jobs during the off season.

      • pjmarn6 - Sep 2, 2012 at 4:05 AM

        stlouis1baseball You mean to have ethics and morals and know right from wrong has to regulated in order for people to have those qualities? If it wasn’t against the law to kill, it would be alright to go out on the street and blast away because there were no laws against it?

        Baseball knows about cheating. Scuffing up a baseball, putting a little Vaseline on the ball is legal? Or a corked bat? Is that legal too? See baseball knows what was illegal until it decided to turn away from juiced players and pretend it didn’t exist………solely for the MONEY!

        Selig is a money in a circus. And all the managers, players and owners who ignored what was going on for the MONEY!

        Asses in the seats, huge cable tv contracts, $1500 seats at ball games. Radio broadcasts filled with hundreds of advertisement, I just turn it off. Completely ridiculous.

        I remember that famous picture of A-Rod with Warren Buffet at the ball park talking investing A-Rods millions. The whole fucking thing is about MONEY. There is no more baseball.

  17. townballblog - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Here’s another theory, Craig:

    Neither the Astros or Clemens have anything to lose. You’ve already touched on Clemens’ motivations – I agree with them – but what about the Astros? Well, since they have nothing to lose how is this any different than 10 cent beer night or Eddie Gaedel? I know, Eddie who? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Gaedel

    My point is, this would be a symbiotic stunt for both of them. Yes, yes, I know http://www.thefreedictionary.com/_/dict.aspx?word=Symbiotic+Relationships

    • ThatGuy - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:31 AM

      Astros have absolutely nothing to lose. Clemans pitching will probably draw another 5-10 thousand in ticket sales just out of curiousity. With a team that bad, any little bit helps.

    • steve7921 - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      How about letting a young pitcher from their system pitch and see if he is ready to help this team next year.

      Do you think think that having an extra 5-10K fans will make this team any better next year? If they want extra fans, have free admission as an apology for a horrendous season!

  18. raysfan1 - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Part of the point of resetting the HoF clock is the resetting his image aspect as well as the tincture time.

  19. linedrivehit - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    All he needs is another shot of juice and he can probably pitch when he’s 60 too. Just think what Bob Gibson could have done if had the juice.

    • electstat - Sep 1, 2012 at 12:44 PM

      You don’t know he didn’t. Steroids were created in the 1800s and even Olympians were using in the 1950s

  20. charlutes - Aug 31, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    50 year old steroid junky plays for worst team in league. Why is this a story, focus on actually talented, clean baseball players Plz no more lame Roger Clemens in the news.

  21. vegagreenleaf - Aug 31, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    If he pitches in the majors again, something is seriously wrong. He’s five years removed from the game and is 50 years old. There have to be better options for the Astros.

  22. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 31, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    Does he still have one of his sons in the Astros system? On the 40 man roster? It would be neat for him to be on the MLB roster with his boy.

    I think for a guy like Clemens makinf the HoF on the first ballot is important, and frankly he deserves it. Writers are not really trying to punish Clemens as much as make an example of him and Bonds. After 5 years, all of the examples will have been made, the sports writers will have finished patting themselves on the back for keeping out the guys they lionized in their playing days, and there should be some precedent for ‘roiders getting into the HoF.

  23. joewilliesshnoz - Aug 31, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    Just what MLB needs, a fat, old cheat, taking a roster spot away from some kid.

  24. stex52 - Aug 31, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    If you can’t give ‘em baseball, give ‘em a circus sideshow.

    And they sure can’t give ‘em baseball.

  25. sabatimus - Aug 31, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    This is just a means of getting him another 5 years of HoF time. I hope he blows his arm out.

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