MLB

What Clemens' return is really about

Ken Rosenthal says Clemens' comeback is an embarrassment.
Ken Rosenthal says Clemens' comeback is an embarrassment.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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J.R. Ewing must love Roger Clemens. He gets it. They took him out of the old folks home — Ewing, that is — and put him back in a fight for Southfork on the new “Dallas.” J.R. didn’t talk for years, but they couldn’t shut him up forever.

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Ewing and Clemens — one big Texan to another — are making improbable comebacks that will never reach their former glory. But both are defining how they are going to go out, on their own terms.

“Watch and learn,” he said, using a walker. (Ewing, that is).

Ewing has his reasons to come back: probably money, relevancy. Clemens is doing it for another reason entirely.

He will leave when he’s damn good and ready. That’s it. That’s his reason.

It’s why he pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters again Friday and — no matter how many denials or deflections for the moment — planning to return to the majors next week with the Houston Astros, at 50. It’s not that he wants to re-start some stupid Hall of Fame clock or that he misses the thrill of competition.

The people saying that stuff are giving far too much credit to the cunning genius of Roger Clemens. It’s simple, really: People want him to go away. That’s why he’s staying.

Look, Clemens is coming back for one reason: To give a big “F$#! You’’ to Major League Baseball and to Bud Selig.

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He said it to the Mitchell Report, to the federal government, to critics who demanded that he was a steroid cheat. It’s funny because it’s not easy to find anyone who thinks even for one second that Clemens wasn’t juicing.

But no one can beat him. He insists that he can do whatever he wants, and he’s right. The guy just keeps winning. And here he is, age 50, throwing nearly 90 mph, though with similar flexibility to what you see in an old-timers game. Whatever, he’s going to win again.

It really doesn’t matter whether Clemens is still a major league talent. The Astros just want him to fill a stadium once or twice as a publicity stunt. And that’s amazing in itself, that a big-league team would join in with a player’s “F$#! You’’ to MLB.

And even though people think of him as a cheat, that doesn’t outweigh the far-more-important objective of raising the middle finger to our leaders. It doesn’t say any more about Roger Clemens than it does about us.

Somehow, this guy is managing to wear the white hat? That seems impossible. And I’m not here to endorse him at all, but there is something to marvel at here.

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Clemens pitching for something called the Skeeters. That is just too funny. When we see all-time greats hanging around too long, dropping down to a team with a name like the Skeeters, it is usually sad. Clemens’ return should be maddening.

But he left the field after his first Skeeters performance to a standing ovation.

Barry Bonds left as a villain.

I figured it was just a hometown thing. Bonds was beloved by San Francisco fans, while despised everywhere else. Clemens was cheered in his hometown, outside Houston.

But Clemens was working out with the Skeeters in York, Pa., on Tuesday and signing autographs. They opened gates early so people could see Clemens work out. I’m still not sure how much support Clemens would get pitching on the road for the Astros.

No matter what the level is, though, it would be higher than anything Bonds would get if he were to try to come back.

I know that people think race is the difference. That’s part of it. But moreso, it’s about what Bonds did with his “F$#! You’’ to MLB, when he hung around to break home-run records.

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Bonds took down two beloved figures, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. He broke Aaron’s record and challenged Ruth’s iconic status as the game’s greatest all-time slugger. That’s what spurred the over-the-top vitriol toward Bonds.

There are things we cherish about sports. People, records, moments. And when someone tramples on them, they had better be respectful about it.

As a Chicagoan, for example, it was hard for me to accept anyone as better than Ernie Banks. Then, Sammy Sosa came along, and did it smiling and making kids happy. It was OK. Then, the steroid mess came up, and now, while Sosa was never actually nailed for it, it feels as if he stole something from Mr. Cub.

If that was a theft, then what Bonds committed in baseball crimes was murder. Clemens doesn’t even have a misdemeanor. His crimes are seen as more tolerable because he didn’t take down any cherished player.

If Aaron and Ruth were Bonds’ victims, who were Clemens’?

Well, Clemens said at a news conference in Pennsylvania Tuesday that he doesn’t expect to come back to the majors.

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“I don’t see it happening,’’ he told a group of reporters there. “Everybody is speculating and everybody’s got their own opinions, and that’s great. But it is still a lot of work. When I started warming up, playing a little lawn catch, I knew it was going to be a little more work than I wanted.’’

He said he isn’t close to major league ready yet, and that he doesn’t care to restart his Hall of Fame clock, giving voters five more years to welcome, and vote for, him.

Maybe he feels that he already has sent his message to the league and to Selig. He’ll decide when he’s leaving, not them.

Plus, how much more damage can he do at this age, anyway? (Ewing, that is).

Tagged: Astros

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