There are three places I have no interest in seeing a 50-year-old Roger Clemens: Cooperstown, N.Y.; on a pitcher's mound; or in front of a microphone … unless he finally has decided to hold a press conference to apologize for being a juicer.
So I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball for scheduling the Bluefish at the Sugar Land Skeeters this weekend. It got me off the hook of covering the Rocket's "comeback" in Bridgeport.
I am certain I would have hurled if I had to watch Clemens hurl at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard. The thought of running away from home even for eight hours to join the media circus and document that baseball freak show makes me nearly as sick to my stomach as it would to check his name on the Hall of Fame ballot.
"Roger! Roger! Did you have fun out there?"
"Was it fun enough to pitch for the Astros in September?"
"Roger, is this really a ploy to buy five more years with the Hall of Fame voters?"
There are a thousand places on my bucket list where I want to visit, but the inside of Roger Clemens' head isn't one of them. And after he walks off the mound in suburban Houston on Saturday night, make no mistake, the Texas Con Man will be in his element. He'll tease everyone. He will squeeze everything out of the moment. He might have had one of the greatest fastballs in history, but his press conference Tuesday reminded us again that his responses were always trickier than an R.A. Dickey knuckler.
While downplaying the idea that this is Step One in a major league trail that would lead to a couple of ballyhooed September starts with the Astros, he also said he's going to see how it goes Saturday and bragged how he hit two home runs the previous night in an over-50 softball game. Sure, Roger could have said, "I just want to see if I still can pitch a minor league game or two. That's all. Period." That also wouldn't be Roger. Roger always will be a dodger and, believe this, he'll be an Astro for a month if he's convinced that he can get hitters out. So he plays his games. If he ever does make it to Cooperstown, his plaque should read, "Only pitcher ever to speak out of three sides of his mouth."
His competitiveness is surpassed only by his ego, and that ego knows no bounds. His ego wants to write a different ending to his seven-time Cy Young career. Clemens was found innocent of lying to Congress. He also knows that what happened in court isn't the same as what happens in the court of public opinion and that most of us don't for a minute believe that Clemens didn't use performance-enhancing drugs. He just can't leave well enough alone.
There isn't a hint of romance in his return. There is no feel-good story here. At best, there only is a hyper-competitive, card-carrying AARP member reveling in the attention. At worst, there is a guy looking to get one major league start so he can push back his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot from 2013 to 2018. Because a player can remain eligible for 15 years, that ostensibly would give him 20 years to change opinions about him.
I'm only one vote among more than 500, but this "comeback" doesn't sway me an iota. In my mind, Rocket's a juicer, and until the lords of the Hall of Fame give us some definitive direction on how to handle juicers, the check next to his name will remain empty. Like McGwire. Like Palmeiro. Like Sosa. Like Bonds. That's right, even with 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts.
"Sure, the Hall of Fame is great," Clemens said Tuesday. "But it's not going to change my life either way. 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."
That'll be his forever mantra. Because he didn't fail a drug test and a Keystone Kops prosecution led to him being found innocent of lying to Congress, to Roger, anybody who sees all the evidence against him and thinks he juiced is holding a grudge.
The Skeeters, bless 'em, already sell out a lot of Saturday nights, so some defenders have asserted that they aren't in it for the publicity. That's funny. Of course they are. And that's OK. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Skeeters have arranged a $10,000 sponsorship for the team photo and are trying to have Clemens jerseys ready for sale Saturday night. There might even be a Clemens bobblehead down the road.
In the midst of one of the worst seasons in their history, the Astros fired manager Brad Mills the other day. Attendance is down. The franchise has to rebuild just to rebuild. New owner Jim Crane might do just about anything. At any rate, GM Jeff Luhnow sent a scout over to look at Clemens, and, really, you can't blame the hapless Astros for trying to put some late-season fannies in the seats.
That doesn't mean we have to buy those tickets. That doesn't mean we have to buy another Clemens coming-out-of-retirement story as anything but as annoying as getting bitten by a bunch of Skeeters.
Except for one thing. Yes, one thing. I want to thank Roger for providing one public service.
In a period of a week, we've seen Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon busted by Major League Baseball for elevated testosterone. Clemens' return to the scene is a stark reminder of how the bad stuff never really went away. Some of it, maybe an awful lot of it, is hidden in synthetic testosterone. It's hard to detect. It can vanish in eight hours. It can be used in low enough doses to skirt punishment. As hard as it is to see Victor Conte going from part of the problem to part of the solution, yes, he has been warning everybody about this.
And as much as I want to joke about the portly Colon being busted for synthetic Krispy Kreme and how the "Melk Man Delivers PEDs," the absurdity of some of this only shows how far the guilty will go to deceive. And that is no joke. A Cabrera associate created a website as evidence to support a claim that Melky inadvertently took a substance that caused a positive drug test. Man, that's so fraudulent and so ridiculous it boggles the mind as much as a Clemens press conference.
So stay home, Roger, please.
Your presence in the spotlight is a reminder of how dirty the game still appears to be and how far some athletes will go to hide their guilt.