Spend enough time in the company of former major-league baseball players and someone is bound to know Roger Clemens.
Not every player is one phone call away, but it doesn’t take much more than that to reach most of them. A few degrees of separation got Clemens to play for a team of former major leaguers in the upcoming National Baseball Congress World Series.
Clemens, a 53-year-old seven-time Cy Young winner and 11-time All-Star, headlines the Kansas Stars, a 25-man team that includes 24 ex-MLB players. The only one who didn’t reach the big leagues was Clemens’ son, Koby.
Fort Scott native Adam LaRoche and Wichita native and Wingnuts co-owner Nate Robertson, both former MLB players, began to organize the team after last year’s tournament and brought in ex-stars such as Josh Beckett, Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt and J.D. Drew.
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“I started calling some of the former (Detroit) Tigers that I played with, and then a guy would call another guy,” Robertson said. “Most recently, Roger Clemens is going to be one of our pitchers and Josh Beckett reached out to him. (The roster) just kind of got some legs to it, and here we are.”
The rarity of such a team isn’t lost on Robertson or LaRoche. They hardly expected a large number of former major-leaguers to be willing to play for free in a tournament mostly for summer collegiate teams.
But when LaRoche reached out to former teammates there was immediate interest, then others expressed curiosity through word of mouth. When all were accounted for, LaRoche and Robertson had built a team 11 former All-Stars who made those teams a combined 36 times.
“I put out a feeler, a text message, and I was blown away at the response,” LaRoche said. “And I mean, right away, guys responding and were really excited about it, wanting more and more information. I think something about being out of the game, whether it’s for a couple months or a couple years, not having that competition is what guys so excited to get back out and play the game.”
The Stars play their first game at 9:30 p.m. on August 6, during the second week of pool play. A championship round could follow, if the Stars keep winning and if their pitchers survive the first three games.
The team is heavy on former Tigers and Atlanta Braves, the two teams with which Robertson and LaRoche spent the majority of their careers. Dan Uggla, Ben Sheets, Jack Wilson and Rick Ankiel, among others, spent time with the Braves and Brad Penny, Adam Everett and Brandon Inge are some who played with Detroit.
Most players are recent retirees and two, LaRoche and Hudson, played last season. LaRoche retired from the Chicago White Sox during spring training when they disallowed his son, Drake, from joining LaRoche in the clubhouse every day.
Pitchers such as Beckett, Oswalt, Sheets and Penny battled injuries during their final seasons. None has reached 40 years old, but neither are they carrying the velocity that allowed each of them to win at least 100 major-league games. For that reason, expectations are low – even for the intense, driven Clemens.
“We’re kind of getting guys prepped to go three innings, max,” Robertson said. “I’ve heard Roger is going to come in here and try to throw five. I guess he’s still a machine.
“These guys wouldn’t sign up if they were going to go out and embarrass themselves, so I think their bodies are capable.”
LaRoche’s brother, Andy, played with Robertson for an NBC Alumni team last year and reported back to Adam with superlatives. Adam LaRoche used his brother’s praise to sell former teammates and other big-league players on playing this year.
Many of the players hunt together in the offseason and visit each other’s homes. They’re trading those excursions for one more chance – at least – to play competitive baseball with no strings attached. Robertson said that if the Stars win, they’ll donate the prize money to charity.
“I picture this being more of a backyard, group-of-guys get-together to go have a lot of fun and compete,” LaRoche said. “Kind of bring back that feeling that we all had in high school and college and the minor leagues, when everybody is truly pulling in the same direction and pulling for each other and, win or lose, just enjoying it and having a good time.”
A look at the MLB team roster
Rick Ankiel, outfielder
Played: 1999-2013 for St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, New York Mets
Ankiel reached the major leagues as a pitcher for St. Louis in 1999. After mechanical issues in the 2001 postseason caused Ankiel to lose effectiveness, he returned to the minor leagues before re-emerging as an outfielder in 2007. He hit 25 home runs for the Cardinals in 2008.
Josh Beckett, pitcher
Played: 2001-14 for Florida, Boston, Los Angeles Dodgers
A three-time All-Star known for his postseason heroics, Beckett helped the 2003 Marlins and the 2007 Red Sox to World Series championships, pitching the clinching game in each series. Beckett was 20-7 in ’07, finishing second in the Cy Young voting. He threw a no-hitter for the Dodgers in May 2014, his final season.
Koby Clemens, catcher-infielder
Played: Ten minor-league seasons
The son of Roger Clemens, Clemens is now a minor-league instructor for the Astros
Roger Clemens, pitcher
Played: 1984-2007 for Boston, Toronto, New York Yankees, Houston
Clemens won at least one of his seven Cy Young Awards in three separate decades, bookending those by winning as a 23-year old in 1986 and at 41 for the Astros in 2004. He Played: 24 years and won 354 games, ninth on the career list. Clemens was AL MVP in ’86, when he was 24-4 for the Red Sox. His combined record in six 20-win seasons was 126-29. He struck out a record 20 batters in a game twice and made the All-Star team 11 times. Clemens has fallen short of Hall of Fame election four times likely due to allegations he used performance-enhancing drugs.
J.D. Drew, outfielder
Played: 1998-2011 with Cardinals, Dodgers, Red Sox
Drew had 242 career home runs and was an All-Star in 2008. His career batting average was .278.
Adam Everett, infielder
Played: 2001-11 for Houston, Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland
Played four full big-league seasons and was a career .242 hitter.
Justin Germano, pitcher
Played: 2004-14 for San Diego, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago Cubs, Toronto, Texas
Journeyman pitcher who was 10-30 in his career.
Koyie Hill, catcher
Played: 2003-14 for Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona, Chicago Cubs, Miami, Philadelphia
A fourth-round pick by the Dodgers from Wichita State, Hill played 11 seasons as a backup catcher. He established career highs in 2009 with the Cubs with 253 at-bats, 60 hits and 24 RBIs.
Tim Hudson, pitcher
Played: 1999-2015 for Oakland, Atlanta, San Francisco
Hudson finished in the top six in Cy Young voting six times on his way to 222 career wins. He made his first of four All-Star teams in 2000, when he was 20-6 for Oakland. He won at least 15 games eight times and helped the Giants to the World Series championship in 2014, his final All-Star season.
Brandon Inge, infielder
Played: 2001-13 for Detroit, Oakland, Pittsburgh
Inge made the AL All-Star team in 2009 after finishing the first half with 21 home runs for the Tigers. He had a career-best 27 home runs in ’06 and equaled that three years later with a career-high 84 RBIs.
Jason Isringhausen, pitcher
Played: 1995-2012 for New York Mets, Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Angels
A two-time All-Star who was fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 1995. He had 300 career saves and 30-plus saves in seven seasons.
Ryan Kohlmeier, pitcher
Played: 2000-01 for Baltimore
Salina native who played at Chase County High and Butler Community College.
Ryan Langerhans, outfielder
Played: 2002-13 for Atlanta, Oakland, Washington, Seattle, Los Angeles Angels, Toronto
A full-time player in five of his seasons.
Adam LaRoche, infielder
Played: 2004-15 for Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Boston, Arizona, Washington, Chicago White Sox
One of the teams organizers along with Nate Robertson, LaRoche retired from the White Sox during 2016 spring training. He drove in 100 runs in 2010 and hit 20 or more home runs six times. LaRoche, a Fort Scott native, hit 32 home runs in 2006, and won a Gold Glove while finishing sixth in MVP voting in 2012.
Jayson Nix, infielder
Played: 2008-14 for Colorado, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Toronto, New York Yankees, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Kansas City
Nix combined for 26 home runs during the 2009-10 seasons for the White Sox and Indians. In 2010, Nix had 13 doubles and 14 home runs for Cleveland.
Laynce Nix, outfielder
Played: 2003-13 for Texas, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Washington, Philadelphia
Nix, Jayson’s older brother, had three seasons of at least 14 homers. He batted .291 in 91 games for the Reds in 2010.
Pete Orr, infielder
Played: 2005-13 for Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia
A starter for two seasons with Atlanta before becoming a utility infielder.
Roy Oswalt, pitcher
Played: 2001-13 for Houston, Philadelphia, Texas, Colorado
Oswalt’s 2.98 ERA in 2006 led the NL. He won exactly 20 games in each of the two prior and had 129 wins over the first eight seasons of his career. Oswalt pitched in the 2005 World Series for Houston and was a three-time All-Star. He finished in the top six in Cy Young voting six times and had 163 career wins.
Brad Penny, pitcher
Played: 2000-14 for Florida, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston, San Francisco, St. Louis, Detroit
The 2006 NL All-Star starting pitcher, Penny led the league that season with 16 wins. He went 16-4 the following season and finished third in Cy Young voting. Though he dealt with injuries throughout his career, Penny had six seasons of at least 10 wins and finished with 121 victories.
Nate Robertson, pitcher
Played: 2002-10 for Florida, Detroit, Philadelphia
A fifth-round pick by the Marlins from Wichita State in 1999, Robertson pitched in the World Series for the Tigers seven seasons later. He was 12-10 for Detroit in 2004 and won 13 games in ’06. Robertson is a co-owner of the Wingnuts, for whom he pitched briefly in 2012.
Ben Sheets, pitcher
Played: 2001-08,’10, ‘12 with Brewers, Athletics, Braves
Sheets had seven seasons where he won at least 10 games and had a career 3.78 ERA.
Brett Tomko, pitcher
Played: 1997-2009, ‘11 for Cincinnati, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City, New York Yankees, Oakland, Texas.
100-103 major-league record
Dan Uggla, infielder
Played: 2006-15 for Florida, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington
Uggla made the NL All-Star team as a Marlins rookie in 2006. Over his first six seasons, Uggla totaled 190 home runs. In 2010, Uggla won a Silver Slugger as the top-hitting second baseman, batting .287 with 33 homers and 105 RBIs. He led the league in walks in 2012.
Barry Wesson, outfielder
Played: 2002-03 for Houston, Los Angeles Angels
Played 25 major-league games over two seasons.
Jack Wilson, infielder
Played: 2001-12 for Pittsburgh, Seattle, Atlanta
Wilson was a 2004 All-Star, as he led the league with 12 triples and batted .308 with a 11 homers, helping him win the Silver Slugger for shortstops. A defense-first infielder, Wilson struck out fewer than 75 times in each of his 12 seasons.