High and Tight: The Return of the Rocket - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: The Return of the Rocket

Pete Yorn, Joe Pernice, Alice Cooper and more weigh in on our national pastime

Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens of the Sugar Land Skeeters

Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Roger Clemens is back. Again. This past Saturday night, the 50-year-old pitcher took the hill for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Bridgeport Bluefish. And now comes word that “The Rocket” will be launching again Friday, this time against the Long Island Ducks.

This isn’t the first time Clemens has come out of retirement. He “officially” retired in 2003, after making it to the World Series with the Yankees, then came back to pitch for the Astros in 2004. After hinting vaguely that he would go gently into that good night in the spring of 2006, he came back in June and pitched 19 more games for the Astros. In May 2007, he popped up in George Steinbrenner’s box during a game at Yankee Stadium to declare that he’d once again be donning the pinstripes – an appearance that’s now best remembered for triggering Yankees color commentator Suzyn Waldman’s slavering “Oh my GAWD” wig-out, which remains the most cringe-inducing 30 seconds in the recorded history of baseball announcing.

The reasons for Clemens’ previous comebacks could pretty much be boiled down to a combination of multi-million-dollar contracts and still-simmering competitive fire. Love or hate the guy – and he has certainly provided ample ammo for both sides of the argument – there’s no question that he lives to pitch. But the motivations behind his current minor league sojourn are murkier. Is this just for the love of the game, as Clemens claims? Does he just miss the competition and the fan adulation? Is he simply bored of sitting at home on a pile of money? Is pitching and signing autographs all that he’s really qualified to do – save for hitting himself on the head with blunt objects in front of slack-jawed crowds at state fairs?

Scouts from the Astros and Royals were spotted in the stands on Saturday night, reinforcing rumors that the Rocket is making another run at the majors, even though it’s debatable whether or not he can still get MLB batters out. Certainly, a couple of Clemens home appearances would be a massive attendance boon for either franchise, which, promotional giveaways aside, are offering precious little reason for their fans to come out to the ballpark this September.

Then again, this could also be a sneaky attempt to sidestep the steroids-related controversy that’s swirled around Clemens for several years. While his career numbers would ordinarily be good enough to give him a lock on Cooperstown-sanctioned immortality, there are a whole lot of people out there (Hall of Fame voters included) who think Clemens cheated by using performance-enchancing drugs. Clemens is currently scheduled to come up for his first Hall of Fame vote later this year; other first-timers on the HoF ballot will be alleged juicers Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa. By throwing just one major league pitch this season, Clemens will automatically set his first year of HoF eligibility back to 2018 – a move which would not only put him among less ‘roids-tainted company, but also buy him time with which to burnish his public image.

So this week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: What do you make of the return of the Rocket?

alice cooper

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

I think maybe he just misses the game. Could be a publicity stunt, but either way it’s a gamble. He could very well come back and still have his arm, but what if he doesn’t? He’s running the risk of tainting all that he’s accomplished as a pitcher if he doesn’t perform well. We all know his history, but it will unfortunately affect how people see his career if he goes out there and disappoints. You’d better know you’ve still got it if you’re over 50 and you’re trying to make a comeback! I hope he does, I really do.

Name: Steve Wynn
The Baseball Project
Vocals, Guitar

Publicity stunt? The love of the game? Running out of dough? Please. The Rocket is definitely looking for a delayed judgement on his HoF ballot. And it might just work if the voters five years from now actually forget the transparency of the strategy. Who knows? Maybe in 2017, steroids will not only be legal but, in fact, mandatory.

joe pernice

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Vocals, Guitar

He’s a distraction from what is otherwise a pretty unique season. He should get out of the way. He probably can pitch for the Astros, but not for long. A “non-medicated” guy 10 years his junior is constantly on the verge of falling apart physically. I’m in my 40s, and I injure myself around the house weekly. Dumb shit, like peeling a banana. No way a clean Roger Clemens lasts anywhere in professional baseball. Guy has a glass groin. Is this just a publicity stunt? Doubtful. I think his ego is too big for that. Is he trying to “re-set the clock” on his first Hall of Fame ballot? Probably. I’d let him in the Hall if he promised to exile himself to Cabo or Margaritaville or somewhere like that.

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Vocals, Guitar

I’m kinda into it, actually. I’m not really concerned with his motives for trying to make a comeback. Hopefully the Astros will sign him and give the people of Houston something interesting to watch in September.  

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba

In the words of a famous pitcher friend of mine, “Clemens is the greatest pitcher of this generation.” Clemens will always be a Red Sock, so I hate him. I don’t think, without juice, he’ll have a lot left vs. major leaguers. I think he is an egomaniac who misses the limelight (and, in all fairness, the competition). As far as ‘roids, he ain’t getting in in his first HoF class, if ever. I’m not sure about this entire class. I fluctuate between “Let ’em all in” and “Don’t let any of ’em in!”

Name: Ken Casey
Dropkick Murphys
Bass guitar, Vocals

He could possibly pitch middle relief with his array of off-speed stuff, but it’s definitely a ploy to cool down the heat on steroid issue; he’s looking to buy more time for his HoF induction.

Name: Scott Ian

I don’t hate Clemens, so I’m not as cynical as most when it comes to him pitching at 50. Yes, if he plays in the majors this year it pushes his name off the Hall of Fame ballot for five years, and then maybe people will be more forgiving of the PED allegations, etc. etc. My take is if he can throw, then throw. Hey, Houston needs all the help they can get.

vinnie paul

Name: Vinnie Paul
Hellyeah, Pantera

I think he will be back in the majors and kick some ass! I believe he is doin’ it ’cause he loves the sport of baseball. Roger has always been a feisty character, and I think he knows he still has it!

Name: Pete Yorn
Vocals, Guitar

It’s an unbelievable achievement for a 50 year-old to pitch at that level. Seven Cy Youngs – he is one of my all-time faves. That’s pure love of the game. I’m happy for him – and he deserves to be in the Hall. Period.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Guitar, Vocals

I’ve never been a big fan of Rogers Clemens, so whether or not he makes a comeback at age 50 is not something I will be paying close attention to.

Name: Scott McCaughey
The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Guitar, Vocals

The cynic in me says, yes, it’s all about putting off the humiliation of being dissed by the HoF next year. The cynic in me says the Astros are so desperate for some press and a spike in attendance that they’ve probably offered the Rocket a nice pot of beans for him to pitch a game for them this season. (Maybe they can work a deal with the opposing team to sign Mike Piazza for the game.) The cynic in me says that a lot of players find that “spending more time with the family” after retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when all your kids have annoying “K” names, and your wife is still pissed off about Mindy McCready, and you spend half your time in court.  But I am not a cynic, so I think the lovable cuss is just out to have some fun, and more power to him!  

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Daniel Zott
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Vocals, Guitars

I think it’s all about changing his public persona. The fact is, going out looking past your prime is only a little bit better than going out using performance-enhancing drugs.

Name: Steve Earle
Vocals, Guitar

I just think he’s an asshole.

Dan Epstein’s book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, is now available in paperback.


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