Roger Clemens went to great lengths and expense to clear his name of perjury charges and now critics are saying his baseball comeback is not just for fun— but a calculated attempt to delay his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot this winter.
The 50-year old pitcher downplayed the idea that he was hoping to return to the majors, where even one pitch would delay his eligibility for Cooperstown another five years and maybe put memories of his association with steroids in the back of voter's minds.
Clemens is expected to begin pitching for the independent Atlantic League's Sugarland (Tex.) Skeeters this Saturday. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Houston Astros have already sent a scout to see the seven-time Cy Young Award winner throw. The 354-game winner's fastball was recently clocked at 87 mph on a radar gun.
Hall of Fame voters were expected to reject the inclusion to the Hall of Fame because of his high-profile role in the Mitchell report on doping in the major leagues. A jury acquitted Clemens in June of six felony charges related to his congressional testimony after he denied using steroids and human growth hormone.
"Sure the Hall of Fame is great, I've told people that. But it's not going to change my life either way," Clemens said. "But if there's something there that somebody feels like they have a grudge or want to hold something against you, I can't control that one bit."
Clemens last pitched in the majors with the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS in 2007 claims a big league return or turning back the Hall of Fame clock aren't on his mind.
"I've been to the major leagues and back a couple of times," he said. "I've retired and unretired, so I wouldn't consider thinking that far ahead. I'm just going to try to get through Saturday. I think I can compete a little bit."
Former Astros executive and current Skeeters special advisor Tal Smith knows Clemens will help put fans in the seats but won't call the comeback a publicity stunt.
"Knowing Roger and how competitive he is and what great shape he is in, and the fact that Jamie Moyer pitched close to 50 and Nolan Ryan pitched well into his 40's. If anyone can do it, Roger Clemens can do it," Smith said.
It sounds like Smith thinks Clemens' return to the majors will help the pitcher's chances of winning over the HOF voter's hearts
"I think voter's should remember that he's been acquitted of all charges and that he never tested positive," Smith said. "I hope this story dies down in future years."
If Clemens' comeback can make unsympathetic voters forget about the 10-week trial— with its images of steroid-covered syringes and other medical waste covered with the hurler's DNA— could a Barry Bonds return be far away?