Is the ageless (well, 43) Roger Clemens merely the greatest competitor of all time, or just the finest human being who ever walked the earth? That’s about the toughest question anyone in the State of Texas is willing to ask regarding the Astros’ pitching marvel, and while Clemens’ 2005 performances have been stunning, does anyone else find it remarkable that he’s so much better at 43 than he was when a decade younger? Anyone other than Inside Bay Area’s Monte Poole, that is. (link courtesy Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)

With Barry Bonds absent, Sammy Sosa irrelevant and Rafael Palmeiro disgraced, the duty of carrying the banner for old ballplayers who stretch the limits of human possibility falls to Roger Clemens.

Why not leave it to the oldest? Clemens turned 43 last week and continues to pitch at an incredibly high level. Houston’s ace, who won his 339th game Sunday, an 8-1 win over the San Francisco Giants at China Basin, is the only oldster in line to receive honors this season.

More to the point, Clemens is the only one of the four whose age-defying productivity, even in the age of performance-enhancing substances, generally is credited to the American work ethic.


So it is his willingness to work that has made Clemens, at his age, the most unhittable pitcher in baseball. He leads the majors in ERA by nearly a run per game, and opponents were batting a majors-low .188 before Sunday.

That San Francisco’s 6-for-25 performance Sunday is better than most is nothing less than unreal for the oldest starter going.

“I believe it,” Astros manager Phil Garner said, “because I’ve seen how he prepares. I’ve seen what he goes through.”

Fact is, all professional ballplayers sweat and sacrifice. Conditioning and preparation are emphasized by every team, and the majority buys into it.

Yet the explanation for Clemens’ numbers is as simple as his dedication?

Let’s remember. Clemens is the former Boston Red Sox ace who used to routinely lose his composure, especially in the postseason. He’s the former New York Yankee who plunked New York Mets star Mike Piazza and once picked up a broken piece of bat and flung it in Piazza’s direction.

This is the guy who pledged to retire a Yankee, bade farewell during a ceremony at Yankee Stadium and, then, five months later, changed his mind and said he’d play another year” but only for his hometown Astros and only with special travel arrangements.

Clemens now is in his second season of unretirement and, given his performance, easily could command a third.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself torn. There is something special about seeing an old man dominate, but I can’t help wondering the same thing so many wondered as Bonds was making a mockery of big-league pitching.