Roger Clemens pitched quite nicely through the twilight of his career.
Now he is trying to pitch through the twilight of his life.
At age 50, and with the blessing of new Astros owner Jim Crane, Clemens will be back pitching with Houston sometime this September, everyone around baseball expects.
Nothing's certain when one is 50, of course. But no one believed Clemens -- not even the 12 jurors who voted to acquit him, presumably -- when he first suggested his first appearance a few days ago for the Sugar Land Skeeters wasn't part of an overall plan to get back to the majors with the Astros, whose new owner seems to be in Clemens' back pocket already.
Actually when it comes to the truth, it's just the opposite for Clemens. The very way you knew Clemens was intending to come back to pitch for the Astros this year is that his first comments suggested the opposite.
And now, once again, he's saying he has no plans to pitch for the Astros. Not “at this point,'' he said, adding a qualifier, as if one more public lie could possibly damage his credibility.
Clemens, the man whose petite wife and nice friend Andy Pettitte -- his softer-throwing and decidedly less bulked-up training partner -- did HGH while Clemens remained clean (wink, wink). The man that managed to lead the National League with 218 strikeouts at age 41, and lead the league with a 1.87 ERA at age 42, surely isn't going to go away now. Surely not after his silly favorable reviews following his scoreless 3 1/3-inning appearance against the vaunted Bridgeport Bluefish.
That was all about the Bluefish, of course. No one who owns a radar gun, scout's badge or even a straw hat could possibly believe Clemens is ready for the big leagues. His repertoire looked decidedly Double-A. The best weapons in his arsenal aren't his fastballs or breaking pitches anymore. They're his quick lawyers.
Yet, the stories about his comeback 3 1/3 were all positive. And you have to know Clemens thinks he's back.
“I can't believe everyone is raving about him throwing 87, 88,'' one scout said.
Speaking of the seemingly inevitable next comeback, one competing executive said, “That would be a joke.''
“You're in a youth movement, and you're going to bring in a 50-year-old?'' another scout, said incredulously, about the Astros.
Of course it's not just any 50-year-old. And remember, for this year, while baseball is the only major sport now testing for HGH (and actually has caught one minor leaguer, Mike Jacobs), HGH testing at the major-league level was only done this season in spring training.
So 50 could easily be the new 38.
Clemens could be returning for all the very same reasons he returned in his many previous comebacks. It could be because he loves the competition and the big stage, or because he has an ego the size of all of Texas. But people around the game suspect it's because he doesn't want to share the Hall of Fame ballot this winter with a bunch of steroid users, never mind his own accusations. They believe he wants to delay his candidacy by five years to help people forget his own links to steroids and HGH.
For his part, Clemens suggested the Hall of Fame doesn't matter all that much to him. Which, of course, means it matters a whole lot.
He also said that he can't help it if voters don't vote for him as a way to get back at him. (For the record, I am planning to vote for him because I figure he was a Hall of famer before he was linked to roids.)
The Astros, meanwhile, aren't having much fun this year, what with them on their way to top their dreadful total of 106 defeats from a year ago. And as one competing owner said, they have nothing (more) to lose.
Crane doesn't rule out a comeback for Clemens, who he already employs under a personal services contract, but told someone it wouldn't be done as a stunt. Since we can assume employing someone with an AARP card isn't part of the Astros' rebuilding process (even kids Chris Johnson and J.A. Happ were seen as too experienced!), it is of course exactly a stunt, a way to fill the stadium a time or two.
It is tradition for Astros owners to kiss up to the big names, no matter what they turn out to become. In my own personal opinion, Clemens is a steroid and HGH cheat and got off on a perjury charge because he had better lawyers than the government, the jury didn't like his accuser, or they didn't want to send him to jail for lying at a hearing they may feel should have never occurred in the first place (or maybe someone combination of all three). But that doesn't make him innocent. Everyone who's followed this at all thinks George Mitchell got it right, and Clemens juiced with the worst of ‘em.
The Astros may feel they have nothing to lose. Except their dignity.