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Archive for Saturday, June 3, 2006

Clemens returning because he can

June 3, 2006

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Roger Clemens struggled a bit trying to answer the only question that really mattered. It was almost as if he wasn't quite sure himself why he's coming back to pitch for the Houston Astros.

At the risk of putting words in his mouth, I'll answer it for him.

Because he can.

Because he can still bring it at the age of 43. Because he can get the Astros to give him a $22 million contract to do it.

Because he can.

It's really not much more complicated than that, despite how conflicted Clemens sounded Wednesday when he put an Astros cap on his head and announced plans to return to the team in a few weeks.

He talked about his late mother and what she would think. He talked about his sons and what they did think. An awful lot of thinking was going on until Clemens finally decided late Tuesday night to return.

"I don't necessarily know that I need to (come back) or that I want to, but I'm committed," Clemens said.

Clemens should be, because the Astros are certainly committed to him. They'll pay him big money for the rest of the season once he joins the team, and the best part is he only has to work every fifth day or so.

That's not bad as part-time jobs go. Beats fighting other retirees for those $7 an hour gigs as Wal-Mart greeters.

The bottom line, though, is that Clemens, who retired twice before, believes he can still pitch. So do the Astros, Yankees, Red Sox, and other teams who were trying to lure him back onto the mound.

Not many athletes who are Clemens' age get that kind of attention. Usually if clubs call past the age of 40, it's to invite you to shake hands on a cruise or indulge some beer-belly wannabes in fantasy camp.

The attention is flattering, to be sure. But the thought that he could stave off Father Time for yet another year seems to be what really appeals to Clemens.

He said as much when he made it clear he wasn't signing on for a sentimental retirement tour around the league.

"I'm not riding around in the back of a convertible, waving my hat and selling tickets," Clemens said. "They expect me to get on the field and win ballgames and do it the way they're used to seeing me do it.

"And I accept that more so than anyone."

The worst thing, of course, that could happen to Clemens is that he embarrasses himself because he doesn't know when to quit. The history of sports is littered with images of athletes who stay too long because they can't see what has happened to their once formidable skills.

Think of Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield for the New York Mets, or Muhammad Ali taking a beating from Larry Holmes.

Clemens has 341 wins, a lifetime earned-run average of 3.12 and 4,502 strikeouts.

He's just not ready to go just quite yet.

"I know it's going to be stressful, I know I'm going to be tested, I know I'm going to have some lows going through this," he said. "Those are the questions I had to ask myself, if I'm ready to do this again."

Clemens answered his own questions.

It won't be long until he starts answering some of ours.

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