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.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Current pitchers all say they use pine tar to help their grip. A pitcher who has no incentive to lie about that sort of thing says it’s total B.S.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
This is a great afternoon-killer.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano has been placed on the disabled list after injuring his hamstring trying to chase down a fly ball in yesterday’s loss to the Diamondbacks.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
And no, it’s not a piece of memorabilia. It’s a brand new glove, never used by a major leaguer.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT
Undercurrent: A man with a blog attacks another man with a blog for being a blogger. Nothing worse than a self-hating blogger.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
It looked like the Mariners might give Nick Franklin an extended opportunity to earn playing time in their outfield following Logan Morrison’s hamstring injury, but one day after Franklin started in the outfield for the first time in his professional career he’s headed back to Triple-A.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
I’m sure this will change everyone’s mind about the DH and end all argument on the matter.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Daisuke Matsuzaka has made three relief appearances for the Mets since shifting to the bullpen and he’s been not terrible in them with one run allowed and seven strikeouts in 4.1 innings, so naturally manager Terry Collins is now talking him up as a potential closer.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
Don’t ask me. I’m so biased it’s not even funny. He’s a dreamboat. But someone less biased than me takes a look.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT
“No restrictions.” You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT
The next time someone tells you how bad and wrong cheating in baseball is, remember how inconsistently baseball treats cheaters of various stripes.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:14 AM EDT
Michael. Hey, Michael. You got a little, um . . . no, the other side. Yeah, good. You got it.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was pulled at 79 pitches on Tuesday at Citi Field after taking an off step while trying to track down a high-chopper on the infield. He was then diagnosed with a hyperextended right knee, but it sounds like a rather minor injury.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
As first reported by Los Angeles Times beat writer Dylan Hernandez, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday night with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the California League.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
Yankees starter Michael Pineda was very clearly using pine tar to get a better grip on his pitches during an April 10 start against the rival Red Sox. He tried it again in his start Wednesday night at a blistery Fenway Park and got caught red-handed.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
On May 21, the Angels will give away a bobblehead commemorating Albert Pujols’ 500th career home run, which he hit Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT
Tracy McGrady is going to try pitching in an independent baseball league after wrapping up his 15-year NBA career last August.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
According to beat writer Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Diamondbacks left fielder Mark Trumbo has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Trumbo is headed back to Phoenix, Arizona to have the foot examined by a specialist so that the D’Backs can get a better idea of the injury’s severity.
Apr 23, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
Another sad chapter in Josh Johnson’s injury wrecked career, as the right-hander will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery without ever throwing a regular season pitch for the Padres.
Apr 23, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels is off the disabled list and will make his season debut tonight against the Dodgers after sitting out the first three weeks with biceps tendinitis.
- Doc Gooden calls B.S. on people saying pine tar is just to help pitchers get a grip on the ball 0
- Pineda and pine tar: baseball is, once again, sending mixed signals about cheating 108
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 65
- Clayton Kershaw cleared to begin rehab assignment on Friday at High-A Rancho Cucamonga 3
- Michael Pineda ejected in second inning for pine tar on neck, facing a 10-game suspension 155
- Josh Lueke is a rapist. How often does that bear repeating? (200)
- Benches clear in Pittsburgh after the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez bat flips a third-inning triple (183)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (169)
- Michael Pineda ejected in second inning for pine tar on neck, facing a 10-game suspension (155)
- Chipper Jones chimed in on the Carlos Gomez incident (111)