SUGAR LAND, Texas — Hours after Roger Clemens agreed to join the Sugar Land Skeeters, he was on the field playing in an over-50 softball league.
The ultra-competitive Clemens, now 50, was quick to point out how well he did against the group of geezers.
“I hit two homers, by the way,” he said.
Things will be a bit tougher Saturday, when he is scheduled to start for the independent Atlantic League team at home against Bridgeport.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner played down his major league prospects, conceding he’s nowhere near big-league shape.
“I’m 50 years old. We’re just going to go out and have fun with this and make it fun for the fans,” said Clemens.
He didn’t understand all the rules of his old-man softball league at first. When he hit his first home run and dashed to first base, his teammates told him to stop. He thought it was because home runs weren’t allowed. It turned out that the over-50 set doesn’t see the need to run all the bases on a homer.
“I really play in that league for the exercise and the fun,” he said. “I hope I don’t pull anything.”
Some believe his return to the minors is the first step to another comeback in the major leagues, where he last pitched for the New York Yankees in 2007.
Clemens is set to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. If he plays in a major league game, his consideration would be pushed back five years.
He isn’t sure how he’ll be perceived by voters when his name appears on the ballot.
“Sure, the Hall of Fame is great, I’ve told people that. But it’s not going to change my life either way,” he said. “But if there’s something there that somebody feels like they have a grudge or want to hold something against you, I can’t control that one bit.”
Clemens said thinking about a big league comeback is premature. He dismissed the theory that the minor league appearance was a step on the path to a big league return.
“I’ve been to the major leagues and back a couple of times,” he said. “I’ve retired and unretired, so I wouldn’t consider thinking that far ahead. I’m just going to try to get through Saturday. I think I can compete a little bit.”
A return at his age wouldn’t be all that outlandish, considering that Jamie Moyer returned from elbow ligament replacement surgery to start for the Colorado Rockies this season. Clemens chuckled when asked about Moyer.
“People are trying to ingrain that in my mind that 50 is now the new 40,” he said. “But I’m not buying it because I’m still having to pack myself in a lot of ice.”
He says he talks to new Houston Astros owner Jim Crane often but that he has not talked about pitching for the Astros and that he doesn’t see that happening.
He isn’t committing to playing more than one game for the Skeeters, who play in a Houston suburb, saying he wants to see how Saturday goes first.
Clemens was accused by former personal trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball of using steroids and HGH, allegations Clemens denied before Congress. The Justice Department began an investigation concerning whether Clemens had lied under oath, and in 2010 a grand jury indicted him on two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing Congress.
He was acquitted of all the charges June 19 after a 10-week trial and has largely stayed out of the public spotlight until now.
He’s glad to be talking about baseball again instead of that difficult chapter in his life.
“Everybody has their own opinion and they dwell on that so much,” he said. “In between all of that, handling that business up there and doing what was right for me and my family and taking that head on, I was still doing the work that I’ve always done. So it wasn’t gloomy or depressing.”
Clemens had two great seasons with the Astros after he turned 40, going 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 2004 to win his record seventh Cy Young Award. He was 13-8 with a career-low 1.87 ERA in 2005.
Tal Smith, a longtime former Astros executive who is now a special advisor to the Skeeters, is one person who wouldn’t be surprised if Clemens made a comeback in the majors.
“Knowing Roger and how competitive he is and what great shape he is in, and the fact that Jamie Moyer pitched close to 50 and Nolan Ryan pitched well into his late 40s, if anybody can do it, Roger Clemens can do it,” he said.
Clemens earned about $160 million and won 354 games in a 24-year career with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros. His 4,672 strikeouts are third-most and he was named to 11 All-Star games.
Now he will see what he has left for the Skeeters that have a roster which includes former major league pitchers Tim Redding and Scott Kazmir and Jason Lane, a teammate of Clemens’ on Houston’s 2005 World Series team.
Smith believes this is a great opportunity for Clemens and he thinks it could change some opinions as a possible Hall of Fame vote approaches.
“I hope this helps,” Smith said. “I think voters should remember that he’s been acquitted of all charged and that he never tested positive. I hope this story dies down in future years.”
Smith takes issue with those who think this is simply a media stunt. He said that the Skeeters regularly sell out Saturday night games and that there were only 500 tickets available for Saturday’s game before Clemens was signed.
“I can understand why he’s doing it,” Smith said. “He loves baseball. He love the competition. Baseball has been his life and there’s no reason he shouldn’t try to continue it. If he’s successful it just adds to his legend, and if he’s not, it was fun.”