Maybe it was a snort. Maybe it was a guffaw. Or maybe you just said, “C’mon,” but tell me you didn’t at least laugh a little when you heard that Roger Clemens is joining an independent league team in Texas to pitch again Saturday at age 50 now that he has been cleared of lying to Congress about taking performance-enhancing drugs. And you thought Bill Lee was the only one hoping to follow in Satchel Paige’s “Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever” footsteps.
This is rich. Clemens has joined the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League, a team that presumably has a mosquito as its mascot. Well, I’ll bite. Clemens’ agent told the world his client’s fastball had recently been clocked at 87 mph. That’s throwing faster than R.A. Dickey, the odds-on favorite for the National League Cy Young Award this season, though his main menu pitch is a knuckleball.
For a fleeting second when I heard the news that “Clemens” signed to pitch for Sugar Land, I thought it must be Roger’s son. No kidding. My second thought was to wonder if performance-enhancing drugs such as Viagra and Geritol are banned substances in baseball. Hey, some guys like to play fast-pitch softball at 50 and Clemens decided no other hobby quite satisfied like striking out bat-wielding, scowling men in form-fitting outfits. My guess is Clemens would have tried this by now if he hadn’t otherwise been occupied with getting himself acquitted in court. Now he is free to play ball and wants to. Leave it to Roger to create some buzz wherever he goes.
It’s hard to know just what to make about this comeback five years removed from Clemens throwing his last Major League pitch and with his name due to appear on the ballot for Hall of Fame consideration for the first time. There are precedents for graybeard pitchers. Paige made a cameo appearance for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 when he was 59 years old to help claim his pension. He shut out the Boston Red Sox on one hit over three innings.
In 2010, Lee, like Clemens another former Red Sox hurler, won a game for the Brockton Rox, a minor-league team in the Boston suburbs at age 63. A year or so earlier, I saw Lee return to his college summer league team, the Fairbanks Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League, and win a game for the team 40 years later. Lee beat the young men of the opposition on wisdom, not speed. His fastball might not have cracked 70 that night.
Clemens might be able to throw fastballs 70 mph when he is 70, kind of like a golfer shooting his age. We all know the Clemens track record. He has won a record seven Cy Young Awards. He won 354 games in a 24-year Major League career with the Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros and New York Yankees. His last big-league season Clemens went 6-6 with a 4.18 earned run average. He was 45.
This could turn out to be a one-game exhibition for the Skeeters and Clemens as a couple. No doubt it will be a roaring success at the box office when Sugar Land entertains Bridgeport. If Clemens pitches lousy, though, it’s hard to see him keeping it up. It would be too embarrassing if he can’t get the mix of minor-league types out that he figures to face. Then there is the flip side. Some baseball observers believe Clemens is using the independent league team as a showcase to see if he can get a nibble for a brand-new Major League contract for 2013. That would be Major League-audacity.
Is this all for fun? Is it part of some grand plan? Could be that Clemens views this dalliance with the Skeeters as a way to provide a fresh, fun image to the public, moving another step away from any taint stemming from his drug trial. In his own mind Clemens probably believes he can still get big leaguers out. Some will root for Clemens to go out and throw a no-hitter. Some will hope that Clemens’ best stuff gets bashed all over the ballpark. Maybe it’s all about finding a stage for Clemens to introduce his new knuckler against live hitters
My guess is that his performance will be somewhere in the middle, a non-commital showing that will create more questions than it answers–so that Clemens will have to take the mound again five days later. At the very least the show will be worth a few yuks.