Even at age 50, Roger Clemens has still got it.
Clemens, making his first appearance on the mound in a professional baseball game since 2007, dazzled the Sugar Land crowd with 3.1 scoreless innings in a 1-0 Skeeters victory over the Bridgeport Bluefish on Saturday night. The legendary pitcher mixed sharp curves and splitters with a fastball that hit 88 mph on the radar gun, throwing a total of 37 pitches and striking out two. Scouts for the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals were in attendance, further fueling the idea that Clemens is eying a major league comeback.
Why would he possibly be considering a return to the big leagues, and is this really a good idea?
Generally speaking, there are two schools of thought to his return to professional baseball. The first is that Clemens, who has long been regarded as one of the most hypercompetitive individuals ever to play the sport, is having trouble letting go and feels the need to prove himself even at an advanced age. Clemens is hardly the first sports legend to try and hang on as long as possible even after retiring; the same could be said about Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, and (unfortunately) Lance Armstrong.
The other, more cynical explanation is that Roger Clemens wants to make a comeback in order to enhance his reputation. Clemens is due to join the Hall of Fame ballot in 2013, and there is a lot of talk that his recent legal troubles related to alleged PED usage will keep him from being a prestigious first-ballot electee - or from being a Hall of Famer altogether. The fact that the HOF ballot is due to see a mass influx of terrific candidates does not help Clemens' chances, either.
A major league comeback, however, would change all of that.
Baseball players who qualify for the Hall of Fame must wait at least five years after their career ends before their name can be put on the ballot. Participating in even one major league game, however, would restart that clock.
In other words, Clemens would be looking at entering the HOF ballot in 2018, when the list of candidates will have thinned out considerably. It will also put some additional space between Clemens' recent legal troubles and his first-time candidacy, and there could also be a very different view on the issue of (alleged) PED usage by then.
Of course, Clemens is also risking the possibility of testing positive for PEDs after so many years of denying usage, which would undoubtedly make the entire thing worse. All one has to do is look at Rafael Palmeiro to see what would happen there.
So would a Roger Clemens comeback be a good thing? It depends on your point of view. He could potentially taint his legacy by either performing poorly or creating additional PED suspicions. Or he could increase his chances by pushing his candidacy back while at the same time proving that he still has what it takes at 50 years old.
At the very least, he would give us a reason to watch the Astros.