Gulfbound and down? Roger Clemens took the first step towards becoming baseball's (latest) real-life Kenny Powers Saturday, pitching 3 1/3 innings for the independent Atlantic League's Sugar Land Skeeters against the Bridgeport Bluefish.
The Rocket's presence sold out the team's 7,500-seat park, got the game broadcast on ESPN Classic and provided hardcore Astros fans with an answer to the question, "whatever happened to Tim Redding ?" (The former Round Rock Express great and Astros not-so-great joined the Skeeters just before his former teammate did.)
It also had a lot of people wondering if he'd join the going-nowhere Astros for a stint this season, which would not only give the media something to write about it but give people a reason to pay attention to the Houston ball club in the final month of this most miserable season.
Clemens, who still has a personal services contract with the team, has done nothing to encourage all the speculation--verbally, that is.
''I don't know how much clearer I can say it,'' he said Friday. ''I'm nowhere near major league ready, nor have I been training or pitching in that type of mode.''
But Astros owner Jim Crane has been more coy. He told My Fox Houston, paradoxically:
If it goes all right and he comes to us, we'll talk to baseball [i.e. the team's front office and coaching staff] about it at length. The only thing we don't want to do is make it a publicity stunt.
Everyone from ESPN's Curt Schilling to the Austin American-Statesman 's Kirk Bohls say it's gonna happen.
"I would probably bet the house and ranch on Roger Clemens throwing in a Houston Astros game in September and next season as well," Bohls wrote.
And it would be a publicity stunt. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. Here's five reasons why:
1. It's only a game, folks
The whole point of an independent team like the Sugar Land Skeeters is that baseball should be fun—for both the players and the fans. It's entertainment. It's a game.
But not so in Major League Baseball...or so the thinking goes. Letting Clemens pitch in Houston as a novelty attraction would diminish baseball's purity.
Y'know, like the designated hitter. Or having two post-season wild cards. Or playing on a field known as "The Juice Box."
Baseball has already lost its battle against novelty, with the American League-bound Astros right on the front line. And since it's gonna be awhile before GM Jeff Luhnow gets the team back to the playoffs, there's absolutely nothing wrong with giving Houston fans a little Bill Veeck-style showmanship .
Sending three-foot-seven Eddie Gaedel to the plate in 1951 didn't change the fact that Veeck was still a wildly accomplished baseball owner, and sending Rocket out to pitch won't keep the Astros from being taken seriously. Well, more seriously.
2. He's good enough to do it
"Best stuff he’s ever seen for a 50-year-old,” was Luhnow's deadpan summary of an Astros scout's report on Clemens' night in Sugar Land, as Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle reported.
Several baseball people also told the Chronicle's David Barron that they thought Clemens could do the job.
But even if that's just hyperbole, how high a bar are we really talking here? Have you seen the Astros' pitching staff? Or just the general state of fifth starters and middle relievers all over baseball? There's just no question Clemens could perform respectably.
It's also almost time for every team's September call-ups, which means by definition, teams will send out pitchers who are likely to be overmatched. They'll just be 21 instead of fifty.
3. He's no less deserving than Jamie Moyer
"Seeing Roger Clemens on the verge of becoming a 50-year-old big league starter makes me feel bad for Jamie Moyer," Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune wrote before Clemens took the mound in Sugar Land.
Moyer got the absolute most out of his career — and he didn't turn up in the Mitchell report, testify before Congress or defend himself from allegations he lied to Congress.
Moyer just kept taking the ball whenever someone would give it to him....
It would feel better to me if it was Moyer, not the Rocket, who was set to pitch Saturday night for the Atlantic League's Sugar Land Skeeters,"
Rogers says, "Moyers' comeback from Tommy John surgery at 49 was one of the best stories of the spring."
But Moyers' decision to have that surgery—his elbow injury occurred in July, 2010—and work his way back to the game was no less egotistical or nuttily competitive as Rocket's maybe-comeback.
Moyer broke that record, which had been set in 1932 by a pitcher who was 49 years and 70 days old (Moyer was 49 years and 150 days old), but still couldn't stick with the pitching-challenged Colorado Rockies. He then signed with two more major league teams, but couldn't make it out of AAA.
Call it heroic, call it hanging on too long, but don't call it any different from what Clemens might be doing.
It's just that Moyer is perceived as a good guy whose longevity and craftiness transcended his talent, while Clemens is an unlikable dude who may have cheated to exceed his. But if the Astros want him and the fans still love him...
4. He deserves to make the Hall of Fame
Many baseball folks have speculated that Clemens' real motive here is not to get back in the game per se, but to reset his eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Having been retired for five years, Clemens will appear on next year's ballot. But a mere one-inning appearance for the 'Stros would mean he unretired, pushing back the process until 2018. By then, the conventional wisdom goes, voters might feel differently about the so-called PED era.
That era is well-represented on the 2013 ballot Clemens would be on, with Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa also becoming eligible for the first time.
The Chronicle's Barron has reported