What planet is Rocket on?

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Roger Clemens, wearing a pinstriped suit, a purple tie and a Houston Astros cap that signified his return to baseball Wednesday, looked the picture of polish.

Then he opened his mouth.

"Here we go again," Clemens said.

Good start.

"I'm going to give it a shot," Clemens said.

All right.

"Not necessarily that I know I need to or want to," Clemens said.


"I'm committed," Clemens said.

You sure?

"Again, it's about winning," Clemens said.

Of course.

In five sentences, Roger Clemens went from excited to contemplative to gloomy to contradictory to absurd, and he took what could have been a genuine moment – a father wanting to play with his son, a son dedicating his final season to his late mother – and prioritized winning.

Oh, it wasn't as trite as those who claim it wasn't about the money (Clemens is making around $12.6 million, the prorated amount of his one-year, $22 million deal), and it wasn't as cliché as those who insist it was about respect (he's got enough of that), and at least Clemens didn't pull a Mike Hampton and say it was about the schools.

It was, however, either a big, fat lie or a true barometer of Clemens' disconnect.

Fifteen teams in the major leagues have better records than Houston. Three of those teams are the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, Clemens' other suitors. While a team's record at the end of May counts for nothing, it generally provides a baseline for a team's success.

In on base-plus-slugging percentage, New York ranks fourth, Boston fifth and Texas seventh. Houston is 22nd. In earned-run average, the Yankees are ninth, the Rangers 11th and the Red Sox 18th. The Astros are 20th.

Numbers only begin to tell the story. The Yankees and Red Sox are tied atop the American League East, and the Rangers lead the AL West. The Astros are in third place in the National League Central, already 6½ games behind first-place St. Louis, and have the entire NL West, plus Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Atlanta to deal with for the wild card.

If it really was about winning, Clemens could have gone back to New York, where he won two World Series, and stabilized a rotation in need of a stopper.

If it really was about winning, Clemens could have gone to Boston to form baseball's scariest triumvirate with Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett.

If it really was about winning, Clemens could have gone to Texas, which is one good starting pitcher away from running away with its division.

In reality, it was about Clemens doing what's best for Clemens, and at 43 years old, one of greatest pitchers in history has earned that right. Only Scrooge would fault Clemens for wanting to come back and play at Class A Lexington with his son Koby and then make rehab starts at Class AA Corpus Christi and Class AAA Round Rock, teams he partially owns. And there is little question Clemens can still pitch. He buzzed through NL hitters last season, leading the league with a 1.87 ERA in 211 1/3 innings.

Clemens' toughest battle comes with honesty, which takes sacrifice and courage and want. It is genuinely difficult to look in the mirror and give truthful answers to questions of why.

Why do I act how I act? Why do I feel how I feel? Why do I say what I say?

Why do I decide what I decide?

Years of competition have ingrained in Clemens a primal need for competition, and that attitude warps his thought process each time he retires and unretires, this being No. 3. He might have come back to win, but he didn't come back for the sole purpose of winning, which is what he intimated. Clemens will return to the Astros on June 22, against Minnesota, because he couldn't give himself a good reason not to.

And if he came back because of flawed reasoning, why bother coming back at all?

All this talk of winning deflects the individual motivation of Clemens' decision. On a day that should have been about what Clemens did, it was more about why he did it.

"This," Astros owner Drayton McLane said, "is certainly a historic day for the Houston Astros."

Not really. For Roger Clemens, it was pretty typical.

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