Jan 1, 2013, 9:10 AM EDT
You see a lot of Hall of Fame ballots which include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. You see more that include neither. You don’t see a whole lot of them which include one and not the other. But Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald votes that way. He gives the nod to Bonds but not to Clemens.
His reasoning: Barry Bonds was a Hall of Fame player before he began using PEDs. Specifically, if he was hit by a crosstown bus before the 1999 season, when most reliable reporting has him beginning PED use, he’d still have Cooperstown numbers. Rozner does not talk about Clemens at all, but one can assume that he does not think that the pre-PED Clemens had a Hall of Fame resume.
I don’t have a huge problem with the approach as such. I don’t subscribe to it for a couple of reasons — (a) we don’t know for sure when players began taking PEDS; and (b) we can’t simply ignore what came after PEDs as though it was purely a chemical accomplishment and pretend it didn’t happen — but it’s at least coherent.
I do take some issue, however, with what this approach says about Roger Clemens’ pre-PED accomplishments. Indeed, it’s on par with a narrative about Clemens that prevailed for quite some time after the Mitchell Report came out in which Clemens was considered a washed-up pitcher before he got on the juice and then saw a career resurrection. It’s a narrative that is bolstered by two things, primarily. First, former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette’s disparagement of Clemens when he left to join the Blue Jays, and second, Clemens’ seemingly startling improvement after he got to Toronto.
There are just two problems with this: (1) Clemens was way better in his Boston days than that old narrative would have you believe; and (2) the best evidence we have suggests that Clemens’ PED use began after his career resurgence in Toronto.
Roger Clemens was way better in Boston than you remember
We’ve heard it a million times. The once-great Rocket had run out of fuel. After dominating in the mid-to-late 80s, Clemens had grown fat and lazy and by 1997 he just wasn’t the same pitcher he used to be. That was crystallized by a now-famous quote from Dan Duquette on the occasion of Clemens’ leaving Boston for Toronto:
“We had hoped to keep him in Boston during the twilight of his career.”
And, in 1996, you could forgive casual fans for thinking that Clemens was, indeed, in the twilight. The man who had won 20 or more games three times to that point, and won 18 games three other times, had just completed a run in which his win totals were 11, 9, 10 and 10. Now, two of those years were shortened due to the 1994-95 work stoppage, and we all know now that win totals are a horribly flawed, but that wasn’t the broad perception. The broad perception was that Clemens’ race was run and he was going to end his career as an innings eater.
Which, to be blunt, was frickin’ insane. Roger Clemens may have only won 10 games in 1996, but he also pitched 242 innings, led the league in strikeouts with 257, struck out more batters per nine innings than anyone and posted an ERA+ — 139 — which was just a shade below his career ERA+ of 143. If you care about such things, know that he also finished second in the league in WAR with 7.7. In September of that year he struck out 20 Detroit Tigers in a single game. Yes, he walked more batters that year than he ever had, but it was a fantastic season nontheless, characterized more by bad luck and poor run support than it was by some farkakte “twilight of his career” narrative.
And what if, in November 1996, Clemens had been hit by that same errant, hypothetical bus that hit poor hypothetical Barry Bonds a couple of years later? What would his career have looked like then? How about a career record of 192-111, an ERA of 3.06 ERA (which makes for a 144 ERA+, or a tick better than his final career number), 2590 strikeouts, a 1.158 WHIP, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP and two — not one, but two — games is which he struck out 20 batters.
Those numbers are not as good as the allegedly pre-PEDs Barry Bonds, but it’s a strong, strong Hall of Fame resume. One that, if Clemens were a little more colorful or more media friendly, would probably get him induction on that alone, with writers arguing that the high peak and the dominance made up for Clemens not reaching 200 wins.
But what if that’s not the entire pre-PEDs case for Roger Clemens? What if we added 21 more wins and another Cy Young Award, ERA, wins, and strikeout title to that list? Another year in which he led the league in innings and WHIP? Wouldn’t that make those on the fence agree that a pre-PEDs Clemens was a Hall of Fame pitcher? It’s a question worth asking, because there is an argument that Clemens’ added those numbers to his statistical pile before taking PEDs. In 1997. In Toronto.
The “Clemens juiced up once he got to Toronto” story isn’t backed up by the evidence
It’s wholly understandable why the narrative has Clemens getting run out of Boston, fat, ineffective and unwanted, finding a pack of Winstrol at the bottom of a box of Lucky Charms and juicing his way to the 1997 Cy Young Award in his first season with the Blue Jays. After all, even if his 1996 was better than it’s made out to be, it’s certainly clear that his first season in Toronto was considerably better. Indeed, it was one of the best seasons a pitcher had posted in ages at that point.
The only problem with this is that the best evidence anyone can come up with is that Clemens began juicing in 1998, a year after his resurgence began.
That’s Brian McNamee’s testimony anyway. He told George Mitchell’s investigators that he began his injections of Clemens in 1998 and continued on through 2001. Granted, McNamee was shown to be an extremely unreliable witness, but he had zero incentive to put Clemens’ PED use at a later date than it actually began. If he had any incentive to fabricate, the incentive would be to put Clemens’ PED use at an earlier date, which would cast Clemens in a worse light and make the government agents and lawyers who ruled his life for a while much happier. He didn’t, however. He testified on multiple occasions that it began in 1998. Not once did he state or even opine that Clemens began using PEDs before the two of them hooked up in 1998.
Could Clemens have started his use earlier? Of course he could have. But despite the millions upon millions of dollars and the thousands upon thousands of man hours at the government’s disposal, not one witness was ever discovered who could testify to Clemens beginning his drug use prior to 1998. And you know damn well that the government was aching to find someone who could say so. Why? Because it would make for a killer PowerPoint slide to show the jury in Clemens’ perjury trial:
- 1996: 10-13, 3.63 ERA RUN OUT OF TOWN ON A RAIL
- 1997: 21-7, 2.05 ERA CY YOUNG AWARD
Sure, that’s simplistic — as noted above, Clemens’ 1996 was pretty spiffy once you get past his won-loss totals — but that’s the kind of story a trial lawyer dies for. One in which there is (apparently) a clear link between the defendant’s acts and the bad behavior of which the defendant is accused. The story for the jury is way, way better if Clemens began taking PEDs before 1997 and transformed from a tomato can to a superstar. But the government could not, despite its best efforts, tell that story.
So, while it’s quite satisfying for us to believe Roger Clemens began to use PEDs when he got to Toronto, there is no evidence to support that he did. Indeed, if one wanted to speculate a bit — and this is mere speculation, not me arguing that it’s true — one could surmise that Clemens, trying to revitalize his career, simply got in better shape before the 1997 season via legitimate means and, like a lot of PED users, was exposed to PEDs in a major way once he started living in gyms and hanging around people obsessed with nutritional supplements and stuff and after that he really began the juicing. Likely? I have no idea. But it fits the extant evidence better than the story that has Clemens starting to take PEDS in 1997, which is unsupported.
So where does that leave us?
Well, if you buy the 1997-98 story, it leaves us with a pitcher who went 213-118 with a 2.97 ERA, over 2800 strikeouts, an ERA+ of 149, a WHIP of 1.147, four Cy Youngs, an MVP and a pitcher’s triple crown. That, my friends, is a sure shot Hall of Famer, and if you’re the sort, like Barry Rozner, who would vote for guys who had Hall of Fame resumes prior to confirmed PED use, you have to vote for Clemens. Or, at the very least, make the case for why you’re not.
Jul 27, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
Ian Kennedy’s left oblique is bothering him, so he’ll miss tomorrow’s start against the Braves.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT
The Padres are expected to get Jedd Gyorko back from the DL, but lose Carlos Quentin on Monday.
Jul 27, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
Josh Harrison kept the PIrates in the mix in Sunday’s game against the Rockies by using his legs.
Jul 27, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Pitchers do not want to be facing Carlos Santana right now.
Jul 27, 2014, 7:50 PM EDT
Baseball’s implementation of home plate collision rules, meant to protect catchers, hasn’t gone as smoothly as expected this season. There was yet another example on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
The Rays and Red Sox have been nipping at each other throughout the season, so it was no surprise that Chris Archer took exception when David Ortiz gawked at his three-run home run.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
According to an ESPN report, the Red Sox are considering a trade that could bring Matt Kemp to Boston.
Jul 27, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT
Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas gave a tremendous speech — reflecting on his parents and upbringing in Georgia — Sunday at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York …
Jul 27, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
Via the National Baseball Hall of Fame Musuem’s official Twitter feed, here are the six new plaques that will be added to the walls in Cooperstown after Sunday’s induction ceremony …
Jul 27, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT
Rangers left-hander Derek Holland is scheduled to throw a full-effort bullpen session on Monday at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. If it goes well Holland will be cleared to embark on a 30-day minor league rehab assignment later in the week.
Jul 27, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
On this Hall of Fame induction Sunday — Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre are going in — we give you Ted Williams’ speech from 1966 …
Jul 27, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
The Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Twins on Thursday for right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor, and they’re not done trying to beef up their offense.
Jul 27, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
Mark Appel was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi on Saturday despite posting a 9.74 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in 44 1/3 innings at High-A Lancaster. And he was invited to Minute Maid Park in Houston on Sunday morning to throw a bullpen session in front of Astros coaches and executives. This stuff is not sitting well with some of the players on the Astros’ current major league roster.
Jul 27, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that the Yankees are eyeing Twins outfielder Josh Willingham, who would require less of a committment in years and money than Alex Rios and Marlon Byrd.
Jul 27, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT
So I have three – no, wait, just thought of another one, so four – theories about the Baseball Hall of Fame’s decision to reduce the time a player can spend on the ballot from 15 years to 10. I am not opposed to this rule, by the way. I have long thought 15 years was too long for a player to be on the ballot. And I am absolutely for some changes in the Hall of Fame process …
Jul 27, 2014, 11:34 AM EDT
Jack Hannahan is finally ready to rejoin the Reds’ active roster after missing April, May, June, and most of July following offseason shoulder surgery.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox make up the star-studded six-man class of players and managers that will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown, New York. Here’s a sneak peek at the intro video that will be seen before the ceremony on MLB Network …
Jul 27, 2014, 10:12 AM EDT
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks got into a few scuffles last season, and now their Triple-A affiliates are taking the feistiness to another level. Check out this brawl from Saturday evening …
Jul 27, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
This doesn’t sound like a promising development. According to Nick Groke of the Denver Post, star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki flew to Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon to visit Dr. William Meyers about his lingering left hip injury. Meyers performed a sports hernia surgery on Tulowitzki in 2012
Jul 27, 2014, 8:56 AM EDT
The Dodgers are back on top in the NL West. Clayton Kershaw allowed only two hits and a walk over nine shutout innings and Adrian Gonzalez went 3-for-5 with two doubles as Los Angeles dominated the host Giants on Saturday night in San Francisco.
- Mariners’ interest in Matt Kemp is “very real” 21
- Astros players upset over Mark Appel’s promotion to Double-A, bullpen session in Houston 38
- Four theories about the Hall of Fame voting changes 21
- Troy Tulowitzki is visiting a sports hernia surgeon 9
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 29
- Giants acquire Jake Peavy from Red Sox 55
- Maximum stay on Hall of Fame ballot changed from 15 to 10 years 66
- Jon Lester is willing to return to the Red Sox as a free agent even if they trade him 32
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (201)
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (164)
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres (108)
- Who is the next Face of Baseball? (97)
- David Ortiz passes Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time home run list — is he a Hall of Famer? (92)