Commentary

Why celebrate Roger Clemens?

Pitcher is no different than Lance Armstrong, yet anticipation prevails

Updated: September 12, 2012, 6:51 PM ET
By Steve Wulf | ESPN.com

Intimidating Texan, check.

Seven times the biggest honor in his profession, check.

Dominance that can only be explained by cheating, check.

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesRoger Clemens hasn't pitched in the majors since 2007.

Damning testimony by former associates, check.

Persecution complex, check.

Ridiculous comeback attempt, check.

Why is it, then, that Roger Clemens is getting the theme music from "Rudy" for his stints with the Sugar Land Skeeters while Lance Armstrong is given "Night on Bald Mountain" for his news cycle? How is that people are clapping their hands for Strongarm and wringing their hands over Armstrong? Their sagas are remarkably similar, yet Clemens is being encouraged to line the pockets of a desperate major league owner while Armstrong can't even run for charity in the Chicago Marathon.

There is a certain, poetic irony that the Rocket would mount his comeback with the Sugar Land Skeeters.

Sugar Land is a boomtown 25 miles southwest of Houston, but it's also the state of mind of the folks who are overlooking ethics, logic and hypocrisy, all in the name of a supposedly feel-good story about a 50-year-old playing pitch-and-catch with his son against players from the Atlantic (aka Unwanted) League.

Skeeters, adorable as the mascot is on the uniform, is short for mosquitos, insects that can transmit deadly disease with their needle-like proboscises. So if you look at the name of the club as a double metaphor, Clemens has had two scoreless stints for the Clueless Carriers.

What's the harm, you say, in the old man trying to turn back the clock? Who are we to kill the buzz felt by a sellout crowd at Constellation Field on Friday night that included Toby Keith and Houston rapper Paul Wall? Why can't we marvel at how effective Clemens was? Skeeters special advisor Tal Smith did when he said, "His command, his stuff and certainly his knowledge of pitching and his acumen are good enough to pitch at any level, I think." (Hey, Timo Perez of the Long Island Ducks did play in the majors five years ago.)

Because Clemens is throwing common integrity in our face, like it was some Mike Piazza broken bat.

Look, he and Armstrong both have their Javert-like tormentors in the Justice Department and USADA, respectively. But that doesn't make them Jean Valjean. Indeed, they didn't stop at just one set of silver candlesticks. They repeatedly used whatever stuff they were using to win one more Young Award or Yellow Jersey -- sorry, I don't have the positive tests, but I do have half a brain.

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens and Lance Armstrong
AP Photo/Harry CabluckLance Armstrong was in the stands when Roger Clemens worked his way into form with the Round Rock Express in 2006.

What I don't get is the tone-deafness of the coverage of Clemens. Is he getting a pass just because his legal team cleared him of the oxymoronic charge of "lying to Congress"? Are we continuing to punish Armstrong because he did the very thing that our jock culture hates the most, which is to give up?

Whatever the reason for the disconnect, we now have this Texas Two-Step between the Astros and the Rocket. The owner, Jim Crane, says he might sign him to pitch against a noncontender. Roger says he would rather pitch against a contender. (That is so Roger.) Looking on are Hall of Fame voters who suspect that he might be angling for a major league appearance to forestall his HOF candidacy by five years, and in essence wait out the storm over PED usage. But even if that's not the case, one start for Roger would still be an insult: to the commissioner's office, which is trying to clean up the game; to all the pitchers in the Astros organization who have been working for years to make the bigs; and to the game of baseball, which doesn't need a freak show to distract from some great races. (If it happens, I do hope he's given a barrage of drug tests before the game.)

Clemens is 6-foot-4 and looking like he's north of 250, while Armstrong is 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, but they're basically the same person: a great athlete who cheated to become even greater. They fooled themselves, and they fooled us, countless times.

I'm tempted to say: We won't get fooled again. Except that I know that Minute Maid Park will be packed.

Steve Wulf

ESPN The Magazine senior writer

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