Notebook > Sports

Aging ace

Sports | Roger Clemens intends to pitch for Team USA this month

Issue: "Looking for votes," March 11, 2006

Someday, Roger Clemens will make up his mind on whether to return for his 23rd major league season. Until then, the only uniform he'll don is the Team USA jersey for this month's World Baseball Classic. There, during the first-ever international baseball tournament, Mr. Clemens will gauge how his 43-year-old right arm holds up during the competition. Pitch well, and he may decide to come back to the big leagues and play for one of four teams: Houston, the New York Yankees, Boston, or Texas. If his body ache exceeds his performance on the mound, the seven-time Cy Young award winner might simply call it a career.

What would Mr. Clemens' return mean for baseball? His first start would almost certainly give baseball a feel-good storyline. But he could be anything from staff ace to team headache for the club he joins. Last year, Mr. Clemens pitched a major league leading 1.87 ERA over 211 innings with the Astros. But Houston paid dearly for his services. His one-year, $18 million contract was the richest for a pitcher in major league history. And Mr. Clemens did it his way, not traveling with the team during road trips in which he didn't start. While his health hasn't hurt his performance while pitching, a nagging hamstring injury served to limit him to just four post-season appearances and one in the World Series.

The Rocket has laid down hints that he wants to return to the game, even though he admits he might delay his return even up to the All-Star break. Before the World Baseball Classic, he showed up off and on at the Houston Astros spring training site in Kissimmee, Fla. He even threw batting practice to his oldest son, Koby, who managed to take his dad deep with a batting practice home run. Poppa Clemens demonstrated he still has his trademark competitive edge. The next time the younger Mr. Clemens, a 19-year-old third base prospect for the Astros, came to the plate, the Rocket buzzed him with a high and tight fastball. Afterwards, reporters asked him if he could ever retire: "I'm not even going to mention that word. I've been trying to do that for a couple of years now and it's not working."

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Star power

Even before it started, the World Baseball Classic could already be considered a mixed success. In an attempt to create a real world series, Major League Baseball tried to round up all-star talent for national teams with surprising success. Sure, lots of players pulled out of what baseball hopes will become a quadrennial event. All-stars like Melvin Mora, Manny Ramirez, Francisco Cordero, Barry Bonds, Mariano Rivera, and Hideki Matsui won't be there.

But there's plenty of star power to go around. Consider what could be the heart of the Dominican Republic's lineup: Adrian Beltre, Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Tejada-a quintet that combined for 165 home runs last season.

Or consider what could be the United States' opening day roster:
Catcher: Jason Varitek, Red Sox
First Base: Mark Teixeira, Rangers
Second Base: Michael Young, Rangers
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, Yankees
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Left Field: Randy Winn, Giants
Center Field: Johnny Damon, Yankees
Right Field: Matt Holliday, Rockies
Starting Pitcher: Roger Clemens, free agent

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