For a few weeks last summer, Roger Clemens seemed committed to putting off his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. At 50 years old, he got himself back into pitching shape and made two starts for an independent-league team in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land.
Clemens pitched well, too, allowing no earned runs in eight innings. His fastball was clocked in the 87-88 mph range, but that's not as big a deal as it might sound. During the 2007 season, Clemens no longer had a blazing fastball, instead getting by with a nasty split-finger pitch and his smarts and competitive juices.
Clemens admitted that the idea of making a couple of September starts for the Astros sounded interesting, and team owner Jim Crane was intrigued. It never happened, but that doesn't mean Clemens has pitched his last Major League game.
One thing Clemens has taught people over the years is that it would be a mistake to underestimate him or count him out. For now, he's saying only that he'll be in Spring Training with the Astros as a guest instructor. Don't be surprised if it turns into something more serious than that.
If Clemens' comeback intentions were the only issue concerning his first time on the Hall of Fame ballot, he'd likely sail in as a first-ballot inductee probably with some of the highest vote totals in history.
Clemens' only hurdle into the Hall of Fame appears to be that he was connected to the use of performance-enhancing drugs by being named in the 2007 Mitchell Report. Clemens has denied using PEDs, and it will be up to each voter to determine whether he or she believes him.
Clemens is also five months removed from being acquitted of felony perjury charges related to his 2008 testimony in front of a congressional committee during which he denied using PEDs.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Shortstop Barry Larkin (86.4 percent) earned his ticket to Cooperstown on the 2012 ballot. Starting pitcher Jack Morris (66.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (56 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year. Results of the 2013 election will be announced on Wednesday, Jan. 9.
During a 24-year Major League career, Clemens established himself as one of the best ever. He's ninth all-time with 354 victories and third with 4,672 strikeouts. His name is all over the leader boards in virtually every pitching category, from winning percentage (ninth at .658) to shutouts (26th with 46) to starts (seventh with 707).
Clemens has a record seven Cy Young Awards and finished second one other year and third twice. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1986, and finished among the top 10 in the balloting five other times.
He led his league in victories four times, in ERA seven times and in strikeouts five times. He pitched more than 200 innings 15 times.
There are different chapters of Clemens' 24 seasons, but they're almost all astonishingly good. For instance, in his first seven full seasons with the Red Sox, he averaged 19 victories, 34 starts, 257 innings and 239 strikeouts. In his final nine full seasons, he averaged 17 victories, 214 innings and 212 strikeouts.
Clemens' problem isn't with his body of work, because it's one of the greatest ever. He had superb natural gifts, but he also worked harder and competed more fiercely than almost anyone.
However, a majority of Hall of Fame voters have a history, albeit a short one, of declining to vote for anyone who has been connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
As Clemens toyed with a comeback earlier this year, there were theories that it would push the reset button on his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, thus allowing voters more time to put his entire career into context.
Clemens denied the Hall of Fame entered into his thinking. He has also maintained that if his body of work isn't good enough for voters, he'll not lose any sleep over it.
"I can't control it," Clemens told "CBS This Morning" in August. "It's not going to change my life either way.
"The Hall of Fame is great. I've got a lot of great buddies there. The guys that are there paved the way for me to do what I love to do and make a lot of money doing it, take care of my family."
Regardless of how the voting turns out, Clemens put up numbers that will stand the test of time. He won more games than Tom Seaver and had more strikeouts than Walter Johnson. Clemens helped teams get to the postseason 12 times, and in eight World Series starts, he was 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA.
Clemens made his Major League debut at 21 in 1984 and pitched his final game 23 years later at 45. Whether that actually was his final start remains to be seen. For now, he's at 354 victories and counting.