There are horror movie villains with less lives than Roger Clemens.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner, who often goes by “The Rocket” and whose rock-solid Hall of Fame candidacy took a giant hit when he was embroiled in a steroid controversy that ended in June with a jury finding him not guilty of lying to Congress, will return to the mound Saturday, August 25 — exactly three weeks after his 50th birthday — when he pitches for the Sugar Land Skeeters, a team based near Clemens’ home in Houston that plays in the independent Atlantic League.
So far, Clemens — who was clocked at 87 mph while throwing for scouts prior to his signing by Sugar Land — is insisting he’s just pitching for fun with Sugar Land and has no interest in returning to the major leagues.
“I’ve been to the major leagues and back a couple times,” Clemens told reporters at a press conference Tuesday, August 21. “I’ve retired and unretired, so I wouldn’t consider thinking that far ahead. I’m just going to try to get through Saturday. I think I can compete a little bit.”
But considering Clemens retired and unretired at least three times between 2003 and 2006, and has a vested interest in pushing back his eligibility for the Hall of Fame, few will be surprised if he ends up in a Houston Astros uniform sometime before the end of this season.
Including, apparently, Astros owner Jim Crane, who told Fox 26 in Houston that he’d be willing to talk to Clemens if he wants to play for the Astros. Clemens pitched for the Astros from 2004 (following his first retirement) through 2006 (following his second — or was it his third — retirement) and he has a personal services contract with the team that kicks in when he retires, whenever that is.
In addition, the Astros had a scout watch Clemens when he threw for Sugar Land last week and will have a representative at Sugar Land when Clemens pitches Saturday.
“If it all goes right and he comes to us, we’ll talk to [Major League] [B]aseball about it,” Crane told Fox 26.
“I think the fans might like it. It might be fun and certainly get a few people in the ballpark. I don’t see anything negative about that. But the Astros wouldn’t want to do it for the money, the extra gate or anything like that.”
Maybe not, but the Astros could certainly use the boost Clemens would provide. The Astros are a miserable 39-86 through Thursday, August 23, including 7-43 in their last 50 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the worst 50-game stretch by a baseball team since the Philadelphia Athletics went 7-43 way back in 1943.
Not surprisingly, the Astros’ struggles have impacted their performance at the gate. Houston ranks dead last in the National League in attendance at 21,140 per game, a major league-worst drop of 5,165 fans per game from their 2011 totals.
Clemens would have even more to gain by appearing – even just once – for the Astros. In addition to becoming the answer to a cool trivia question (he’d be the first player to appear in a Major League Baseball game at age 50 or older since Minnie Minoso played for the Chicago White Sox in 1980), he’d push back his Hall of Fame eligibility another five years.
Major League Baseball players must be retired five years before they become eligible for the Hall of Fame, and Clemens – who “last” pitched in the bigs for the New York Yankees in 2007 – will be placed on the 2013 ballot if he doesn’t pitch the rest of this season.
But with Hall of Fame voters largely ignoring players who either tested positive for steroid usage, admitted to using steroids or were suspected of it, it would behoove Clemens and his candidacy to play this year.
Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, each viewed as a sure-fire Hall of Famers during their playing days, have yet to get as much as 25 percent of the vote in their six and two years on the ballot, respectively. Jeff Bagwell who never tested positive for steroids but whose power and physique led many to suspect him of using performance-enhancing drugs, has yet to get 60 percent of the vote in two years on the ballot. A player must get 75 percent of the vote to gain enshrinement.
Based on his numbers alone, Clemens (354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, a 3.12 ERA) would seem to have a shot at becoming the first-ever unanimous Hall of Fame inductee. But Clemens may have an even longer climb than McGwire, Palmeiro, and Bagwell after a sordid trial in which his former trainer, Brian McNamee, provided used syringes that he said contained Clemens’ blood and DNA.
By 2018, though, voters may be more willing to forgive steroid users both admitted and implied. Clemens, of course, said the Hall of Fame isn’t on his mind.
“Sure, the Hall of Fame is great, I’ve told people that,” Clemens told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. “But it’s not going to change my life either way.”
So for now, at least. Clemens will merely sell tickets for and bring attention to Sugar Land. According to the Associated Press, the Skeeters sell out most Saturday night home games and had just 500 tickets available before Clemens announced his return.
The Skeeters will certainly maximize Clemens’ appearance. Sugar Land vice president for business development Christopher Hill told The Houston Chronicle that Sugar Land will try to have Clemens jerseys for sale Saturday and hopes to offer a Clemens bobblehead in the future. The team also got a $10,000 sponsorship for a team photo that features Clemens. In addition, the game will be broadcast live by ESPN Classic.