According to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, there exists a strong speculation in baseball circles that Roger Clemens, after making an appearance for the Sugar Land Skeeters on September 7th, will then be scheduled to pitch five days later for the Houston Astros against the Chicago Cubs.

It’s not often that I would use phrases such as “sanctity of the game” or “legitimacy of competition.” It’s not often that I would find myself agreeing with the reporter Jon Heyman. However, as I’ve written before, I believe that there’s an element of good faith required in the implicit agreement between fans of professional sports and operators/owners of their leagues. It asks that those phrases that I seldom use be protected by a minimal amount of effort on the part of the operators/owners to act only in the best interest of competitiveness.

The return of Roger Clemens to Major League Baseball does not do this.

I don’t think that Roger Clemens throwing a pitch at Minute Maid Park for the Houston Astros, an event for which the likelihood of occurrence seems to increase daily, will suddenly make baseball a lesser game. Throughout its long history, the sport has overcome even more cynical gimmicks than this: little people batting, retired Negro Leaguers being brought back for publicity purposes and one dimensional athletes taking specific roles on the bench.

However, Clemens pitching at the Major League level would represent a new abuse of the sport for purposes specific to individuals, and not the interest of competitiveness that I mentioned earlier. In this case, it’s the motivation behind the act that seems most important.

For Jim Crane, the owner of the Houston Astros, that motivation is rooted in an opportunity to increase ticket sales. Even if the majority of the proceeds from the game that Clemens starts go to charity, as has been suggested, it’s still an enormous marketing opportunity to sell future tickets and leave what remains of the Astros fan base with an illusory good feeling that will hopefully last long enough to be remembered during the next ticket drive.

Alone, this element isn’t all that bad if it’s followed to an assumptive conclusion. Increased ticket sales translate into more money; more money means bigger spending budgets; bigger budgets mean increased talent; increased talent improves competitiveness.

However, when Crane’s motivation is coupled with what Clemens stands to gain by playing, it serves to act as a conspiratorial hoodwinking of sorts. At the moment, the name Roger Clemens will appear on ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time at the end of this year. With voters still exhibiting a hesitancy to honor former players associated with performance enhancing drugs, Clemens could push back his eligibility by five years by making just one appearance for the Astros.

Five years down the road, it’s entirely possible or at the very least more likely that younger voters would be more understanding to his plight and less judgmental than the current set.

Or if you don’t believe that five years will make all that much of a difference in the minds of voters, Craig Calcaterra of HardBall Talk suggests that the real reason for his return might be about the finale of his legacy and the note at which he leaves the stage.

It’s difficult for me to move past these ulterior motives. Making it even more difficult is that the parties involved seem to be putting on a charade to give this gimmick an element of legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve. Although it will never be admitted to, is it possible to believe that the outcome of a Major League appearance wasn’t the secret ambition of Clemens all along?

The 50-year-old man pitching for an independent league baseball team was first presented as a story of undying competitiveness in a former big leaguer. And then, “Oh, hey, look, what are you doing here, scout from the Houston Astros?” However, it seems far more likely that the ultimate purpose of the appearance was always the chance at a big league game for Clemens. His making his debut for Sugar Land and not an Astros farm club merely furthers the myth that Clemens’ journey to the big leagues wasn’t preordained, while simultaneously helping to promote his friend’s independent league team.

The air about this is all so conspiratorial and reeking of a plan that was hatched in a back room somewhere. While admittedly, most of this is nothing more than assumptions and circumstantial evidence, it’s something. There’s absolutely nothing to suggest that Roger Clemens will improve the competitiveness of a Major League Baseball team. And I feel as though that, whether it’s for the long-run or short-run or in-between-run, is what the purpose of a baseball transaction should be.

The moment it’s not, baseball becomes worse off for it.

Comments (15)

  1. I’d be willing to wager A LOT of people will want to see him pitch in the majors, gimmick or not, for his own personal HOF benefit or whatever, people would still want to see it. Is it extremely lame? Yes. The Cubs should sign Barry Bonds to play in that game. That would be amazing.

  2. At least whatever team he pitches against have the increased opportunity to get a homerun off thee Roger Clemens. That’s something you can tell the kids.

  3. While I agree that the motivations behind this are less than admirable (and I just plain dislike Roger Clemens too), I don’t agree that this is a real problem in terms of “the sanctity of competetiveness” or whatnot.

    The Astros have (rightly) made many moves this year where they have shown that the competetiveness of the 2012 major league team does not matter. To that end, they have essentially used whatever warm bodies were handy to stock the big league team. Why can’t Clemens be one more warm body?

    In other words, if I were an Astros fan, I’d object to this move if it took away whatsoever from the team’s development etc. – I don’t think you can argue that this is happening.

  4. Respectfully disagree. You seem to have two problems with this: (a) it’s a gimmick, and (b) the personal agenda.

    Re (a), it may be a gimmick, but it’s a fun one. If a long past his prime Dave Stieb wanted to work back through the Jays system and make some appearances on a non-competitive team, for example, I would have a great time with that.

    Re (b), since when do you care about anything to do with the HOF?

  5. As I wrote in Parkes’ previous post, baseball has a history of grand PR stunts like this. If a 59 year-old Satchel Paige could throw 3 shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 in an even bigger PR stunt (he spent the rest of the game in a bullpen rocking chair getting spoon-fed by a nurse), then the Astros can do this with Clemens. Yeah, Jim Crane is no Charlie Finley or Bill Veeck, but their season is over, like the A’s in 1965 they need to boost attendance somehow, so let them have their fun. Roger’s a Hall of Famer whether he pitches for the Astros or not.

    Also, this is kind of a nothing stunt when you consider Bill Veeck sent a little person to the plate while wearing a fraction on his back.

    • Bad stuff happened in the past, therefore it’s okay to do bad things today?

      • Only if you consider a business doing something that is socially acceptable in order to boost revenue “bad stuff”.

        It should also be noted that Bill Veeck wasn’t forced to do this at gunpoint. And I didn’t know the fraction side of the story – that’s funny.

        Mock outrage is extremely easy to pinpoint.

      • My point is that the Astros are a joke of a franchise right now with or without Clemens pitching for them in 2012. Also, if he’s pitching against the Cubs then it’s really no big deal since both clubs have been dead right from opening day. If the Astros were playing a team chasing a playoff spot and trotted Clemens out that’s a totally different story.

        I understand your views, and I do agree with it in principle despite my arguments…I’m simply pointing out they aren’t breaking any rules and this type of shit has happened before in baseball, and it will happen again long after Clemens is finished. If there’s money to be made they are going to do it because it’s a business.

        • Is Clemen’s really going to be worse than Houston’s 5th starter? I can’t say I even know who that is.

  6. I must admit, Roger Clemens would be enough reason for me to watch a Cubs-Astros game. Might be the only ever reason…

  7. I’d watch it. You’d watch it. Seems like a good PR stunt to me…..Cubs should sign jamie Moyer to face him.

  8. Man fuck roger clemens, if that honky gets to pitch that’s ridiculous. Especially considering Barry Bonds was looking for a job when he could still hit (jays shoulda signed him), I just find this so gimmicky. I believe you guys covered this topic the best this week when you talked about player legacies on the getting blanked show. Oh yea and agreeing with John Heyman might be the scariest part of this whole ordeal.

    • That’s a good point about Bonds having been blackballed. The same standard should apply to Clemens. Both are jerks who never failed an MLB drug test but spectacularly failed the public opinion test. Very comparable.

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