Jan 1, 2013, 9:10 AM EST
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.
Dec 6, 2013, 12:13 AM EST
The Rangers are zeroing in on catching help on the heels of A.J. Pierzynski leaving Texas for a one-year deal with the World Series champion Red Sox. While Kurt Suzuki was mentioned as a possibility earlier this week, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Rangers and J.P. Arencibia are “progressing” toward a deal. Arencibia…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:15 PM EST
The Legend of Sam Fuld, it appears, will live on. Fuld was non-tendered by the Rays earlier this week, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the 32-year-old outfielder has received “lots of interest” since hitting free agency. He’s only been on the market for a couple of days and is still…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:40 PM EST
Last we heard, free agent second baseman Robinson Cano was reportedly on a private plane to Seattle to meet with the Mariners, who are prepared to offer him $225 million over the course of a nine-year contract. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been pretty firm about how high they are willing to go in negotiations. And as…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:50 PM EST
According to the Associated Press, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield has joined the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) as a special assistant to new executive director Tony Clark. Clark, who played 15 seasons in the majors, was officially appointed to the position of executive director this week following the death of Michael Weiner last…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
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Dec 5, 2013, 9:02 PM EST
We heard earlier this week that free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had a three-year, $48 million offer in hand from an unidentified team. Most assumed that it came from the Royals, as they have been the hottest team on him recently, but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal hears that no such offer was made. Sources: #Royals…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:38 PM EST
The Dodgers non-tendered reliever Ronald Belisario earlier this week, but it didn’t take him long to find a new home. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Belisario has agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with the White Sox. He also drew interest from the Angels and Cubs during his brief time on…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:48 PM EST
UPDATE: The Mariners may not have offered $200 million to Robinson Cano yet, but it sounds like it’s going to happen before long. David Waldstein of the New York Times and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman are both reporting that the Mariners plan to offer nine years and $225 million to Cano. This is a slightly…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:30 PM EST
The Nationals are on the lookout for a left-handed reliever and Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports that former Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty is their latest target. O’Flaherty required Tommy John surgery on his left elbow this May and is expected to miss at least the first month of the 2014 season, but that…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:47 PM EST
Texas announced some non-roster spring training invitations and there’s a familiar name on the list: Jose Contreras. Contreras is 42 years old and pitched just five innings for the Pirates this year after coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He hasn’t been healthy and effective since 2010, but on a minor-league deal … why…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:21 PM EST
Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes reports that Robinson Cano flew to Seattle to meet with the Mariners today and they’re willing to offer him a 10-year contract worth as much as $240 million. Previous reports claim the Yankees aren’t willing to go as high as $200 million, so if Rojas’ information is correct the money…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:44 PM EST
Brian Wilson and the Dodgers have agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract that includes a player option for 2015, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. That’s a nice payday for Wilson, who looked great in 20 innings down the stretch and into the playoffs after missing all of 2012 following Tommy John elbow…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:30 PM EST
Miguel Cabrera isn’t the only MVP changing positions. As part of the Norichika Aoki trade the Brewers announced that Ryan Braun will move from left field to right field for 2014, opening up left field for Khris Davis after he showed a ton of power in a 56-game debut. Moving from one outfield corner to…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:55 AM EST
Edward Mujica‘s late-season struggles (and arm/back problems) caused him to go from the Cardinals’ closer to out of their playoff plans, but it hasn’t stopped him from getting a nice payday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that the right-hander has agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Red Sox. St. Louis acquired…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:11 AM EST
Kansas City has a new starting outfielder, as the Royals announced that they’ve acquired Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for left-hander Will Smith. Aoki has been a tremendous bargain for Milwaukee since coming over from Japan two seasons ago, playing nearly every day and hitting .287 with a .355 on-base percentage, 50 steals, and quality…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:40 AM EST
Washington has been linked to basically every left-handed free agent reliever and now Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that the Nationals have “expressed interest” in Scott Downs. Downs was traded from the Angels to the Braves in July and then left off Atlanta’s playoff roster, but he pitched well overall with a 2.49 ERA and…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:01 AM EST
When the Reds fired Dusty Baker and hired Bryan Price as their new manager there was speculation that it could lead to Aroldis Chapman moving from the bullpen to the rotation, as Price had previously indicated he’d be in favor of getting more innings out of the stud left-hander. However, now that Price actually has…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:15 AM EST
Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald reports that the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami has charged three people with smuggling Cuban prospects into the United States, including smuggling, kidnapping, and extortion charges specifically related to Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin. According to Weaver two of the accused–Eliezer Lazo and Joel Martinez–are already serving prison sentences…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:32 AM EST
From MLB.com’s Rangers beat writer, T.R. Sullivan: The Rangers had serious trade discussions with the Blue Jays about catcher J.P. Arencibia before he was non-tendered on Monday, according to industry sources. A trade was close to being completed but the Rangers were reluctant to add another arbitration-eligible player. The Rangers were willing to do a…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:05 PM EST
A bullpen pickup for the Cubs, via USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale … The #Cubs signed left-handed reliever Wesley Wright to a one-year contract believed to be for $1.425 million. — Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 5, 2013 Wright had a 3.69 ERA and 55/19 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings this summer between the Astros and…
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