Long before Roy Oswalt was pulled in the third inning of last night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, it was apparent that the Oswalt experiment was a mistake. After finding few takers this offseason, Oswalt chose to rest for half a year and shop his services at midseason, just like Roger Clemens did for two seasons at the end of his career.
On the surface, it seemed like a solid idea. Oswalt’s back would be better with time off, and it certainly stood to reason that what Clemens could do at 44 years old, Oswalt could do a decade younger. But despite the time off, and his relative youth, velocities that are unchanged from last year in Philadelphia, and the best strikeout to walk ratio since his rookie season, Roy Oswalt has been getting absolutely lit up, allowing a homer for every five innings he’s tossed.
Meanwhile, at 50 years old, Roger Clemens has thrown eight scoreless innings in the Atlantic League on a whim. And despite the angry vitriol from some writers suggesting that he’s poised to make a cynical appearance for the Astros to increase his chances of making the Hall of Fame, it’s fairly clear that he won’t be allowed to join Houston before the season ends in three weeks.
On Friday afternoon, the topsy-turvy world of baseball rumor mongering delivered what we in the industry refer to as a doozy. Whispers from several Major League sources suggested that the Houston Astros were planning on having 50-year-old Roger Clemens start a September 12th home game against the Chicago Cubs, after his second start for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League.
Clemens spoke with reporters this afternoon to promote his September 7th start for the team, and made his strongest statement to date on his supposed comeback attempt bringing him back to baseball’s highest level.
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.
Roger Clemens made his return to professional baseball Saturday night, and the 50-year-old right-hander didn’t look all that out of place at all. Clemens lasted three and a third innings, allowing only one hit and no walks while striking out two as the independent Sugar Land Skeeters went on to beat the Bridgeport Bluefish by a score of 1-0.
While anything short of his five decade old arm separating itself from his shoulder and seeing his flesh, bones and sinews hurtling toward an opposing batter would’ve likely been deemed a success, Clemens reached as high as 88 miles per hour with his fastball before he made his exit in the fourth inning to a standing ovation from the sold out crowd at Constellation Field. He intends to see how his body responds to last night’s outing before deciding on what happens next.
As we’ve already discussed, that next step could include involvement at the Major League level, where Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is seemingly waiting with open arms.
When it was first announced that Roger Clemens, at 50-years-old, would pitch for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League, it was suggested by some that this was the first step down the path to a Major League return. That seemed implausible to me.
Clemens hasn’t pitched competitively in five years, which in and of itself wouldn’t be enough to make a comeback seem unreasonable, but the fact that during those five years the right-hander celebrated his 46th, 47th, 48th, 49th, and most recently, his 50th birthday is not something to be glossed over. Yes, we saw 49-year-old Jamie Moyer extend his career to its limits earlier this season, but that example is an outlier. Typically speaking, pitchers at Clemens age are more likely to be broken down old men than contenders to make a Major League Baseball team’s active roster.
My father said he saw him years later playing under a madeup name in some 10th rate league in North Carolina. He said he had put on 50 pounds and the spring was gone from his step, but he could still hit. Dad used to say nobody could hit like Shoeless Joe.
-Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams
At the age of 50, Roger Clemens is heavier and it appears as though the spring in his step has been weighed down not only by that additional weight, but also by the five years of life he’s experienced since he retired from baseball. On Saturday, he will pitch in a professional baseball game for the Sugar Land Skeeters, of the independent Atlantic League. Above, we see his first mound session for his new team.