Would You Welcome the Rocket?

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Roger Clemens is making yet another comeback, this time with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugarland Skeeters.  In his workout, he was hitting 87 m.p.h. and displaying a better than average curve and slider.  While he has stated that he is only concerned with making this one start for the Skeeters on Saturday (August 25th), it was reported that scouts from the Houston Astros were on hand watching Clemens’ work out, which begs the question- have we seen the last of the Rocket in a big league uniform?

There wouldn’t seem to be much left for Clemens to prove in a baseball uniform, given his 354 career wins, 4,672 strikeouts, and a record 7 Cy Young Awards; so it seems logical to take him at his word that he is just coming back to compete this one time, and wait to see what develops.  For certain big league franchises, however, it might be worth their time and effort to talk him back in to one last comeback, even at 50 years old.  The Houston Astros, currently the bottom feeder in all of MLB with only 39 wins could surely use someone of Clemens’ star power to boost their attendance.  As of right now, the Astros are averaging 21,140 games through 62 home dates, fourth from the bottom in MLB.  With 15 home games in September, it’s conceivable that Clemens could make 4 home starts (5, if he signed and went to Houston right after his Skeeters’ start) for the Astros, guaranteeing them sellouts.  With the additional revenue and exposure it would garner for the team, it would seem to be a no-lose situation for the Astros to make a formidable offer, maybe something along the lines of the pro-rated veteran’s minimum salary along with a 250k-500k per start bonus for the rest of the season.  The same could be said for the Boston Red Sox, I might add.  While their position in the standings is better than Astros, their ‘sellout streak’ could find itself in jeopardy come September, and Clemens would certainly serve as a polarizing figure to get fans out to the ball park.

The questions then becomes would Clemens make the come back?  Does he still have the drive to be at least a marginally successful big league pitcher?  What is the potential upside for him?

The first two questions can be answered together.  Clemens would only attempt a big league comeback if he thought that he could still be successful, and if he expected to succeed.  He is not going to come back simply to embarrass himself, not after everything he has done in his career, and everything that he has been through since.  Padding his numbers really wouldn’t matter all that much (though with two wins he would move past Greg Maddux in to 8th all-time on the career wins list) when he refused to make his last start for the Red Sox in 1996 that would have given him the chance to break a tie with Cy Young for most career wins in franchise history.

That may simply have been pragmatism on his part, though.  The 1996 Red Sox sucked (at least when Clemens pitched.)  He went 10-13 for the Sox that year despite throwing 242 2/3 innings, striking out 257 (league leader), and putting up a 3.63 ERA.  Compare that to his 2001 season with the Yankees where he went 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA.  If the Red Sox had been a little better in 1996, he might have taken the mound, and he might be the Red Sox career wins leader, but I digress.

Whether or not he cares to admit it, Clemens cares about his place in history.  He can issue denials all he wants, but he cares.  He cared when Dan Duquette said he was in the “twilight of his career”, and won back to back Cy Young Awards with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997-98.  He cared enough to continue pitching well in to his 40s to give the Houston Astros their one World Series appearance.  And he cares about getting in to Cooperstown.  A lot.

I pointedly left Clemens name off of my list of known cheats a few weeks back, because I didn’t want to believe he was a cheater.  As a kid, he was one of my three favorite players (along with Wade Boggs and Rich Gedman.)  I was going to make it to the big leagues, and I was going to emulate one of the three of them (or all three of them) on my way there.  All through the Brian McNamee affair, and even with evidence cropping up that he may well have cheated, I didn’t accept it.  Call it denial, but for me it was part of being a fan.  Clemens was one player that I thought sure wouldn’t cheat, but despite that, his exoneration in June hasn’t cleared him anymore than when the Black Sox were found not guilty of throwing the 1919 World Series.  In the court of public opinion, Clemens was still a cheater, and if he doesn’t throw another big league pitch, he will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time later this year.

I have struggled with what to believe with Clemens, and at this point, he is the only one person who knows whether or not he cheated.  If he did, and it can be proven, drop the ax on him and strip him of everything he has ever done.  However, if he knows he is innocent, a big league comeback, no matter the duration would be the best opportunity he had to garner votes for the Hall of Fame, as it pushes back his eligibility for the Hall another 5 years.  In this moment in time, PEDs is still a hot button issue in MLB, and he is likely to face the same fate as many others who have been accused of cheating:  he won’t get the votes needed to get enshrined, and he’ll be wasting valuable years of eligibility for nothing.

By 2017, however, who knows where voters will be.  It is entirely conceivable that those voters who are in favor of enshrining anyone, regardless of whether or not they cheated could have grown in number, and when combined with those who are simply willing to turn a blind eye because he was found “not-guilty”, it may help him eke out an election to Cooperstown, or garner enough support so that it is his numbers that are focused on in later years rather than the PEDs accusations.  It also extends his last year of eligibility to 2031, and if anyone out there is willing to make a guess at what the climate for cheaters will be then, I’d say they’re crazy.  What I would guess is that voters then will be much more likely to vote for him (if he isn’t already elected) than they would be in 2012.  If he doesn’t come back now, his 2012 ballot performance may doom any chance of his future election.

Then again, there will always be those like my friend Mike who had this to say about Clemens’ comeback:

Obviously he’s using this as a stepping stone to the majors. His claim is that he wants to put on a good show for the fans? Like he’s all of a sudden not Roger Clemens – he’s the guy who does it for love of the game and fans.

Wants to make it back to the show for 2 reasons. Delay the HOF vote and dupe 35% (at first) of MLB fans into believing that if his ERA is under 5 at his age, that means he never roided up.

So there is still hope that in 19 or so years, there will be at least one voice speaking out against Clemens and his ‘alleged’ PED usage.  The question that Clemens will have to answer is whether or not he thinks he is a more viable candidate from 2012-2026, or 2017-2031.  If he comes back, and he’s smart about it, he pitches for the Astros (‘hometown’ team) as they’re in the National League and he’s only facing a 7 man lineup most nights.  That will help keep his ERA under 5, and bolster his case that he is indeed, and always has been, PED free.

Do you think Clemens cheated?  What are your thoughts on his latest comeback?  Would you vote for him to get in to Cooperstown in 2012?

Let me know:

tbone.kline@gmail.com or @tbone44444444 Also like More Than A Fan on facebook, and follow More Than a Fan on Twitter @MTAFSports

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