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Roger Clemens: Extreme Competitor or Evil Genius?

AP Photo/David J. Phillips

Yesterday, Roger Clemens was back in the headlines, and for the first time in five years, it was because of baseball activity. Clemens, 50, signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League yesterday and is scheduled to make, at this point, one start this Saturday night. Many are hypothesizing that this is Clemens’ attempt to return to the big leagues for the first time since 2007, when he was with the Yankees. If this is true, it begs a much deeper question of why? Why return to the majors when you’re 50, you’re rich, in good health and well past your prime? Why risk potential embarrassment? Why do it when you’re on the brink of qualifying for the Hall of Fame ballot? Is he doing it because he can’t stay away from the game (much like a certain quarterback we know all too well) or because he has ulterior motives?

To me, this whole situation wreaks of an old man with self-esteem issues scared to get his feelings hurt. Clemens in this case is much like a dorky high schooler in April who declares loudly and boldly to all that will listen that he’s foregoing prom that year because it’s a communist event made to support Hallmark, tux shops and Trojan condoms. Of course while he’s standing tall on his soap box, everybody listening knows that he’s simply afraid of being rejected. Right now, Clemens knows that if he can play his way into shape and get offered a contract when the MLB rosters expand next month, the moment he appears in a game will automatically push his name off the ballot for another five years.

Why is this important? These next 3-5 years are going to see some of the most notorious and successful players of the steroid era reach the Hall of Fame ballot. These players will set the precedent — instead of Clemens — for determining what is acceptable “supplemental behavior” for Hall of Famers. For example, Barry Bonds comes on the ballot this year, baseball’s home run king and one of the most reviled characters of the last few decades. Despite the differences in positions, Bonds is the closest comp to Clemens when it comes to determining Hall of Fame worthiness. Both were the best at what they did for a long period of time. Bonds won seven MVPs during his illustrious career; Clemens won seven Cy Young trophies during his. Bonds finished with an all-time high 762 home runs. Clemens finished with 354 wins, the second-most by a pitcher in the last 50 years (one behind Greg Maddux). Both had their reputations marred by accusations of PED use and court hearings resulting from such. Both were on track to become Hall of Famers before their PED use started. Simply put, if Bonds is elected into the Hall of Fame, there is no sane reason why Clemens won’t be as well.

Another opportunity an additional five years presents to Clemens is the chance to do some massive image repair. Obviously, the steroids and court trials are damning to his reputation, not to mention the fact that he was never all that likable in the first place (just ask Mike Piazza). Five years presents enough time for Clemens to become an advocate for X cause, support Y foundation, become minority owner of Z team. If Bonds gets elected, Clemens can come out and set the record straight about his use of PEDs, much like his good friend Andy Pettitte has done (which has worked remarkably well). He can become an ambassador for Major League Baseball on the dangers of drug use. If history has taught us anything, it’s that we hate liars more than cheaters. The point is, Clemens and his cadre of advisers can take an additional five years to give Clemens a PR tour befitting of a war hero in order to boost his Hall of Fame status.

I’m not Roger Clemens — nor do I play him on TV — so I can’t honestly say I know what he’s thinking or what his motives for playing in an independent league are. Only he truly knows. But what I do know is that Clemens’ name is going to be on the HoF ballot this year if he stays retired, something that he worked towards his whole career. Why delay that by five years to go pitch for a team, like the rumored Astros, who are so horrible this year their team WAR is practically zero? Did he lose his $150 million in career earnings? Or is he manipulating the system for more favorable odds? We’ll never know for sure, but if Clemens ends up pitching one inning for the Astros before “throwing out his shoulder,” don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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