Major League Baseball needs another comeback by Roger Clemens as much as it needs another positive drug test.
Clemens’ timing is impeccable, though. The multi-retired pitcher, 50 years young in his opinion, takes the mound Saturday for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters.
Clemens’ inauspicious return caps a 10-day span during which San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera, the All-Star Game MVP and contender for the National League batting title, and Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, a former Cy Young Award winner, were each penalized with 50-game suspensions for doping with testosterone.
Despite its cleanup efforts, baseball is still mired in the Steroids Era. It ain’t over til it’s over, and that may be never.
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Colon was the fifth major league player to be banned this year for using performance-enhancing drugs — the most since 2007. These aren’t little names either, and remember that 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun got off on a technicality thanks to an arbitrator who was harshly criticized by MLB.
Then here comes Roger the dodger, his ego as big as Texas, eyeing an encore with the Houston Astros and a reincarnated shot at the Hall of Fame.
The last time we saw Clemens in a uniform, he was a Yankee, forced out of a 2007 playoff game with a hamstring injury. Less than year later, we saw him in a suit, sounding as unconvincing as the players who had preceded him in telling Congress that they did not use steroids or human growth hormone.
But the much more convincing Mitchell Report contradicted Clemens’ statements, and he was indicted for lying to Congress. He spent four years fighting those charges, the allegations of his trainer, Brian McNamee, and the reluctant recollections of teammate Andy Pettitte. In June, Clemens was acquitted.
Clemens is feeling vindicated, conveniently ignoring that a court of law and the court of public opinion are two different things. They sure love him in Texas, where he led the Astros to their only pennant.
Commissioner Bud Selig is wringing his hands at the thought of Clemens as prodigal son. Selig had hoped his belated crackdown on cheating would resuscitate his legacy.
But Clemens is even more obsessed with legacy. He’s not throwing fastballs again just for old times’ sake. He has not ruled out a return to the majors, and the forlorn Astros could use him for publicity value alone. With 354 victories, he is one shy of Greg Maddux’s career mark. He could break Jamie Moyer’s record as oldest pitcher to win, and he would be behind only Satchel Paige (who was 59) as oldest pitcher to appear in a game. If Clemens gets back to the majors, he would re-calibrate his Hall of Fame eligibility clock from 2012 to at least five years beyond. His name would not be on this year’s ballot alongside those of the tainted Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza (wow, just touching that ballot might shrink your testicles). He would buy time and hope that voters’ opinions would soften.
Cabrera and Colon have tried to manipulate reality, too. Cabrera looks like a double-cheating fool after an associate purchased health product websites and created fake ads for a fake supplement Cabrera claimed he ingested and it was contaminated with synthetic testosterone. Cabrera’s scheme was quickly uncovered, to gales of laughter, we assume. Colon underwent suspicious treatment on his elbow and shoulder in 2010 in the Dominican Republic, and two years later, at 39, he was 10-9 for the surprising A’s.
Just as baseball thought it was putting the Steroids Era in mothballs, the big, bold Clemens announces, “I’m back!” And, adding another bit of dirty history, the suspended Cabrera could end the season with his inflated statistics crowning him NL batting champion.