Column: MLB should keep the Rocket grounded
Say it ain't so, Bud. Tell us, unequivocally, that the Rocket is destined to flame out in the relative obscurity of the Independent Minor Leagues, not on a Major League mound.
When Roger Clemens signed a contract to pitch for the Atlantic League's Sugar Land Skeeters, the blogosphere was replete with speculation that it was an audition for a return to MLB. Clemens tried to douse those flames by saying he was merely intent on having fun, nothing more. But with Clemens, who has engaged in almost as many comebacks as a punch-drunk fighter, there is always an end game. A return to MLB had to be in the back - if not the forefront - of his mind, especially if he pitched well. And by all accounts, he did just that.
Even if he didn't show Major League stuff, at least Clemens didn't embarrass himself. On Saturday night before a packed house in a suburb of Houston, he pitched three and one-third innings, giving up a lone hit and leaving to a standing ovation from the hometown fans. The performance shouldn't have come as a surprise. Clemens rarely embarrassed himself, at least not with his pitching performance on the mound, during his 23-year Major League career. Responding to a reporter's question after the game, an ecstatic Clemens said he would never close the door on MLB.
Having thrown his last MLB pitch five years ago, Roger will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this winter. However, should he pitch in the Major Leagues before the end of the season, Clemens would postpone his HOF eligibility for another five years. Would an additional five-year wait temper the voters' perception of him as a steroid cheat? Who knows? But a delay would serve to separate Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher in the modern era, from another perceived steroid cheat, Barry Bonds, the bookend to Clemens as this era's greatest hitter, who will also be on this year's ballot.
We shouldn't blame Clemens for any of this nonsense. Whether trying to relive life's most enjoyable moments, attempting to forestall the inevitable march of time half way to the century mark, or merely an effort to control his environment, something he did so successfully for all those years on the mound, the Rocket is doing what we all would like to do, if only we could.
After the Mitchell Report identified him as one of baseball's steroid cheats, Clemens' life spiraled out of his control. Not content to quietly retreat from the turbulence and limelight of baseball's steroid era, Clemens vehemently denied those charges to one and all, including a Congressional committee, sworn testimony that resulted in an indictment for perjury. After a jury found him not guilty earlier this summer, Clemens claimed complete vindication, despite the perception of many that he reinvented himself in mid-career with the help of PEDs. If so, he wasn't alone and his statistics, like those of any player in MLB history, should be judged in light of his competition.
At least two MLB clubs, the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros, had scouts in attendance to monitor Clemens' recent performance. The Rocket pitched for the Astros from 2004-06 and is said to be golfing buddies with new owner Jim Crane. The Astros have the worst record and, more importantly as it relates to Clemens, the fourth worst attendance in MLB this season. They are desperate to create some buzz heading into what may be the most significant off-season in the team's history. Not only must they rebuild a moribund franchise, but the team is gearing up for a change of leagues next season, from the NL Central to the AL West. The move was imposed on Crane by MLB as a condition of his purchase in an effort to balance the leagues.
Clemens in an Astros uniform for a September start would provide a shot in the arm for the fans and the organization. It's also something that should never happen. No way should Clemens be allowed to suit up and provide a sideshow during the most important time of the baseball season. Bud Selig prides himself in doing what is in the best interest of baseball. This is an opportunity to prove that.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com