The Roger Clemens Comeback Attempt

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Whatever Roger Clemens’s agenda is, he doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone as to why he wants to pitch again. It could be boredom; it could be a conscious decision to return to the big leagues to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility (and delay the embarrassment of not getting elected); it could be to prove that he can pitch cleanly at age 50; or it could be for no reason whatsoever.

Does he deserve the ridicule he’s receiving? I don’t see why he does. If Jamie Moyer was able to come back (and back, and back, and back) and teams signed him, then why can’t Clemens pitch for the independent team in Texas, the Sugar Land Skeeters, and see if he still has any juice (pardon the double entendre) left in the tank?

Athletes have retired or taken time off and tried comebacks before. There were the ludicrous (Pedro Borbon); the shocking and ill-fated (Jim Palmer); the otherworldly (George Foreman); and successful (Michael Jordan). It’s not impossible.

There’s every possibility that Clemens would pitch in the majors and embarrass himself as Orel Hershiser did when he hung on one year too long with the Dodgers in 2000 and his body wouldn’t cooperate with his still-fertile baseball mind. Moyer adjusted to his declining fastball with savvy and control. Clemens’s biggest downfall was when then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette uttered his famous, retrospectively accurate, and cold-blooded assessment of Clemens when he chose to let him leave the Red Sox by saying the pitcher was in the twilight of his career at age 33. Any pitcher at age 33, without the use of drugs or a superhuman will to stay in shape and Nolan Ryan-like longevity, would be in the twilight of his career. But it’s easily forgotten when assessing Clemens’s last year with the Red Sox and focusing on his 10-13 record for an 85-77 also-ran that Clemens had terrific secondary numbers that season including 242 innings pitched and an American League leading 257 strikeouts. Duquette might not have wanted to pay Clemens for 4-5 years when he probably would’ve gotten production for 2-3, but Clemens could still pitch.

We’ll never know what he would’ve accomplished for the Blue Jays had he not allegedly done what it’s been pretty well documented that he did to enjoy the renaissance from 1996 veteran who could still recapture his greatness in spurts to the consistent dominance he exhibited in the 1980s, but there was something left.

Could Clemens return to the big leagues at age 50 and get hitters out if he adapts to what he is now and doesn’t try to recapture what he was then? If he uses his brain and doesn’t try to bully the hitters with a fastball to the head, then he can. Does he want to do that? I don’t know. He wasn’t prepared to do it in the late-1990s and that’s what got him in this position of being persona non grata to begin with and almost got him tossed in jail. It also made him a lot more money than he would’ve made otherwise.

He might need the money now given how his fortune was likely decimated by ongoing legal battles.

Major League Baseball would exert not-so-subtle pressure on any team that entertained the notion to sign Clemens not to do it. They don’t want to see him or hear from him again. But there’s nothing to stop a club if they truly decide to sign him and nothing MLB can do about it.

Scott Kazmir is also pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, but no one thinks it’s a joke because Kazmir is trying to resurrect his career and is only 28-years-old. If nothing else, he can transform himself into a lefty specialist and will be back in the big leagues once he acknowledges that the strikeout machine he once was is gone.

Clemens was once faced with the same quandary and chose to bring back the strikeout king through illicit means that have yanked the Hall of Fame and historic greatness away from him. Had he stayed clean and just accepted the ravages of time both he and Barry Bonds—not exactly well-liked during their careers—would be viewed with a post-career respect as having done it clean in what’s known as a fake and dirty era of steroids. Instead, they understandably joined in to again prove that they were better on what was a level playing field of most everyone using PEDs.

Would Clemens have the clarity to accept what he is now and put his ego aside to get batters out? Or would he revert to exerting his will on the hitters when he doesn’t have the weapons to do it and be humiliated back into retirement?

He has the capability to get hitters out if he takes the Moyer-route, but it’s doubtful that he has the willingness to endure the abuse he’d receive if he tried, so I wouldn’t expect this “comeback” to go much further than with the Skeeters.

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6 thoughts on “The Roger Clemens Comeback Attempt

  1. If the reports are true that he’s still throwing in the high-80s; I don’t think there is a doubt he’ll attempt another comeback, and teams (I’m looking at the Astros) will give it to him despite Selig&co.’s apoplexy about giving this man a major league spot.

    You focus on the ego thing; but I think you’re looking at it all wrong. It’s would be better for his large ego to come back and try to compete with lesser stuff than the other way around. First off, doing so would restart his Hall-of-Fame clock, and he knows that the longer he can delay that, the more sympathetic the voters would become. Secondly, what better way to salvage something of his name than to come back and say, “See, not only was I found not-guilty by a jury but I am holding my own at an advanced age with all the drug testing around!” as some sort of “proof” that he was “clean” the whole time. Third, the Astros have wasted a lot of money in his post-career contract, one they signed when they thought they were getting the “Rocket” as a team rep. He also knows that there is no financial avenue left for him unless he can make it back to the majors- then there is a lot of money to be made from the sideshow, at worst, for all parties involved.

    I think that last point will prove the biggest incentive. I am confident the guy doesn’t need the money; but guys like him like the ability to pull in large sums of money because of the status it conveys. It must kill him that his autograph or appearance doesn’t command a big paycheck- or at least the paycheck he thinks he would’ve gotten before the steroid allegations came out. So what better boost for the ego than “playing nice” and trying to resurrect the career that got you that status?

    And Paul, off topic, but Jeter is now 1000 hits behind Rose and he’ll probably end the season somewhere between 50-70 hits off Rose’s pace in terms of seasons; but if you go by actual birthdate years (Rose mid Apr.-Apr. and Jeter late Jun.-Jun.) he’s actually ahead of Rose’s pace. Whichever way you count it, he is awfully close and I think (despite all the media fawning over his created persona) he really wants the record, or at least the chance to make a serious attempt at it. And I think the Yankees will figure out a way to give him the opportunity, even if they go year to year with him after this contract….

    So what do you think? Do you think he’ll do it? Say he gets to around 3900 before his age 43 season- do you think he’ll drag out his career to get the last 356 hits?

    1. You’re looking at his ego like a rational human being and Clemens is not a rational human being. He’s used to being the bull in the clubhouse and on the field and would see it as altering his methods to succeed—something I don’t know that he can do. He might try, but if the first two hitters got on base, he’d go right back to what he knows and try to blow them away. It would only make things worse, but try telling him that.
      Regarding Jeter, unless he falls flat on his face, the Yankees will continue to sign him and put him in the lineup. I don’t know that he’d accept a year-to-year contract or that the Yankees would embarrass him that way; he might have to accept a position switch and probably diminished playing time, but I do think he has a legitimate shot at Rose’s record and that they’ll let him play as long as he wants.

  2. Re. Jeter’s future:
    I can see him playing shortstop at a high level for 3 plus years. Notwithstanding the stat heads (mis)analysis, Jeter’s glove plays well within the current Yankee infield set-up. Tex’s range allows Cano to drift far to his right, and Cano’s range and ability to throw across his body to first on the run is often spectacular. With a good fielding third baseman beside him, Jeter is left with a small area to patrol; he can continue doing so for many years in the future, Range Factor stats be damned.

    1. Unless they found a defensive wizard, it would probably be easier overall to simply leave him at shortstop. They’re not moving him to the outfield. I suppose they could DH A-Rod and let Jeter play third, but that would be a large production. My guess is that if A-Rod becomes a full-time DH, they’ll just get a new third baseman and leave Jeter where he is as long as he’s not clearly costing them games with poor defense.

  3. Maybe it is less 320of a cost than stat heads assume, but his increrasingly limited range is a disadvantage. His offense will decline too, & the last 3 years he has been rated as less than an average player as a starter. He will decline offensively despite the relative resurgence this year.

    He has his pride & their would be at least discrete pressure on him to leave if, as seems likely if he continued, his final 6 years were a clear demerit for the team. Especially compared to what the Yankees could buy. And he will retire a Yankee.

    I do not think he gets especially close to the all time hits record.

    1. I haven’t looked at Jeter’s stats closely enough to determine whether he’ll get close to Rose’s record. Rose hung around long past his sell-by date to chase the record and if Jeter chooses to, he can do that as well. The Yankees should have enough offense surrounding Jeter so he doesn’t have to be a centerpiece producer and carry his bat and glove. Or they could move him to another position.

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