Why Roger Clemens is going to pitch for the Astros

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I was totally not surprised when it was revealed yesterday that the Astros are going to scout Roger Clemens’ September 7 start for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Heck, I was not surprised when the September 7 date was announced itself, because that set things up for a normal four days rest allowing Clemens to pitch against the Cubs in that mid-September series. Which I identified as the best option a week ago.

But if it’s not a big surprise that Clemens is going to pitch for the Astros, let us take a minute to ask why he’s going to pitch.  In this, I think my opinion differs slightly from most people’s.

The most common answer I’ve heard for this is that pitching now sets his Hall of Fame waiting period back five more years, buying him time.  I agree that this is one consideration for Clemens, but I doubt it’s the main one. Mostly because I don’t think five years will make a big difference for him one way or the other. If he didn’t pitch and was eligible for the vote now, he’d still be eligible five years from now when, according to this theory, the sentiment towards PED users may change. If that sentiment hasn’t changed five years from now, I question if it ever will, rendering those five more years on the back end superfluous.

No, I think the real reason Clemens wants to pitch again is so that the final paragraph of his obituary — and the final image from any documentaries made of the man — ends with triumph as opposed to infamy.

Think about it: if Clemens were to die without having pitched again, the final chapter of his story will be ending the 2007 season injured, not coming back after being named in the Mitchell Report and then fighting prosecution — and winning an acquittal most people scoffed at anyway — for the last several years of his public life.  The last image in that SportsCentury bio or whatever would be him in a suit, with a bad haircut, walking down a Washington D.C. sidewalk with his sleazy lawyer.

But even if he pitches one inning against the Cubs, and even if he doesn’t do terribly well, the last image will be of him walking off the mound in a major league uniform, tipping his cap to adoring fans in his hometown. If he strikes out some September callup all the better.  The image will be one of redemption, even if there is nothing especially redeeming about his story.  The implication will be that, questions about him aside, he was able to compete in the majors at age 50, so how dare anyone question what he was able to do when he was 37.

Images matter. Final chapters matter. By pitching in the majors one more time, even if it’s just to one or two batters, Clemens — and posterity — will get to see him closing out his public life on his terms, not someone else’s. And I can’t help but think that’s incredibly important to a guy who spent so much time in the spotlight.